Mass Effect Xbox 360 review

14 February 2008
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Mass Effect for Xbox 360Mass Effect is a science fiction action-RPG created by BioWare, the commercially and critically acclaimed RPG developer of Jade Empire, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, and the Baldur’s Gate series.

Find out how Mass Effect sets out to deliver an immersive story-driven gameplay experience with stunning visuals.

System: Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Action-RPG
Release dates: November 20th 2007 (USA), November 22nd 2007 (AUS), November 23rd 2007 (EURO), and in May 2008 for PC
Players: 1
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Origin: America

Mass Effect squad on planet screenshot
As the first human Specter -– sworn defenders of galactic peace –- you must uncover the greatest threat to civilization. “You must act without remorse, without hesitation, and outside the limits of the law.” Your mission is to halt the advancing armies of a legendary agent gone rogue. But as Commander Shepard of the space ship SS Normandy you lead your elite team of freedom fighters across hostile alien worlds, you will discover the true threat is far greater than anyone imagined. Your job is complicated by the very fact of your humanity, as no one trusts you and you need to find a way to convince everyone of the grave threat. You will travel across an expansive universe to piece the mystery together. As you discover and explore the uncharted edges of the galaxy, you come closer to an overwhelming truth — learning that the placid and serene universe you know is about to come to a violent end and that you may be the only person who can stop it!

In addition to the main story arc of the game, players are be able to visit a large number of uncharted, unexplored planets in the MAKO vehicle, these planets are side quests independent from the main story. At any time during the campaign, you can choose to explore one of these planets and have an opportunity to discover new alien life, powerful technologies, ancient artifacts and ruins, rogue trader colonies and a host of other discoveries.

Watch the Mass Effect launch trailer.

Mass Effect allows you to create your own customizable version of Commander Shepard (or jump in and use the pre-created character) and plunge yourself into the center of an epic science-fiction story. Choose your squad-mates, your weapons, skills and abilities, and customize your vehicles, armor and appearance – you are in complete control over your experience.

In the course of your mission you may choose to follow the path of six character classes: the Soldier, the tech-specialist (Engineer), the biotics-specialist (Adept), Infiltrator, Sentinel, and Vanguard… each of which brings an arsenal of unique yet equally powerful abilities to use against the enemy. Soldiers are the most skilled with weaponry, Engineers make use of the omni-tool and tech-abilities and the Adept are the best at using the biotics. The other three classes are combinations of the first three. Infiltrators are a combination of Soldiers and Engineers, the Sentinel is a combination between the Engineer and the Adept and the Vanguard are a combination of the Soldier and the Adept.

Mass Effect squad equipment screenshot
They wield a multitude of weapon types with precision accuracy… The game features four classes of conventional weapons and a variety of weapon and armor upgrades. You can pause the game at any time and change the equipment used by the members of the party. This is a major strategic aspect of the gameplay, as choosing the correct equipment can mean the difference between a quick victory and defeat. Equipped items are visible on the characters, the armors (classified as combat and EVA suits with light, medium and heavy armor) have different appearances and all weapons fold up into compact versions that are stored on the character’s back. Weapons can be retrieved by using a weapon wheel similar to the talent wheel which controls which of their abilities or special powers a squad mate uses.

Ammunition is unlimited; instead of needing to reload, a weapon will build up heat until it overheats, and cannot fire until it has sufficiently cooled down.Use your technical skill to turn enemy war machines against their creators… or unleash the full power of Dark Energy against your foe with devastating effects. As you progress throughout the game you will be able to upgrade your character’s skills, abilities, and equipment (including weapons, armor, biotic implants and more) using the “X-Mod” system, to ensure that you have the means to face the growing threat before you. Even more advanced talent options become available at higher levels.

Mass Effect realistic eyes screenshot
Mass Effect combines astonishing photo-realistic graphics with innovative new dialog systems to create a cast of living characters to interact with. Engage these characters in real-time conversations that allow you to immerse yourself in dramatically charged situations. Characters communicate with full voice-acting and amazing animation that displays their emotions right down to subtle nuances in their facial expressions. Every wrinkled brow and slight twist of the mouth is captured to infuse every interaction with a feeling of realism.

The role you choose to play in Mass Effect will have consequences on the galaxy around you. You will face moral dilemmas in which the decision you ultimately make will significantly alter the fate of civilized life in the galaxy, as the following distress call video will give an example of…

So what are the main features of Mass Effect?

* Immersive RPG: Determine the fate of mankind as you lead an elite tactical strike force as an epic galaxy-wide conflict unfolds. Mass Effect will take the player into new depths of an action-roleplaying game, with choice-based gameplay.

* Rich and engaging storyline. While defending galactic peace and earning a position of respect for humanity in the community, gamers will discover that a greater conflict between organic life and artificial intelligence exists. Players’ decisions and actions will serve to shape the destiny of all life in the galaxy as you become absorbed in the story that is Mass Effect, the first game in an epic trilogy from BioWare. They will become the center of an engrossing story as they battle against alien life forms to save the galaxy from threatening armies.

* Player controls the ultimate fate of the galaxy: The player’s decisions and actions will serve to shape the destiny of all life in the galaxy, while raising humanity to the pinnacle of galactic civilization via noble means or via tyranny.

* Real-time squad based combat: Mass Effect employs a real-time, squad based, tactical combat system. Players will be immersed in intense, challenging and exciting combat.

* Explore uncharted worlds: In addition to the main story arc of the game, players will be able to visit a large number of uncharted, unexplored planets which are not directly tied to the main story. At any time during the campaign, a player can choose to explore one of these planets in an all-terrain rover in order to discover new alien life, resources, ruined civilizations and powerful technologies.

* Digital actors: Mass Effect features a huge cast of in-engine digital actors that you will encounter as Non-Playable Characters, enemies or as party members. Each will have life-like facial and body movements, and an advanced dialogue system will give them engaging personalities.

* Character customization. Players will be able to choose from a variety of stunning, photo-realistic character appearances at the start of the game, and throughout the game can increase various statistics which will have an impact on their performance during gameplay. Equipment, weapons and armor that are acquired during the course of the story will change the appearance of the characters.

* Next-generation gaming defined. Mass Effect takes advantage of Xbox 360’s hardware providing gamers with exciting new experiences, including photo-realistic, high definition graphics on an epic scale. As the future of gaming goes online, Xbox 360 online features, including premium downloadable content and recognition of achievement will be available via Xbox Live.

Watch more Mass Effect gameplay footage.

As a conclusion I have to point out some minor complaints. As you explore Mass Effect’s planets you’ll notice sometimes movements slow down mid-game as a new section is loaded or a large scale battle takes place, and texture pop-ins and tears will make the game appear unoptimized. Also the camera controls don’t have a button to auto-align behind you, so you’ll find yourself adjusting the slow-moving camera a lot, which might not sound like a big deal… until you’re surrounded by multiple enemies and get killed because you didn’t see them all quickly enough. The camera on the Mako is hard to handle too and makes controlling the already floaty vehicle worse. While I’m a very patient person, a lot of annoyances seem to have to do with slow movement; The same goes for the inventory system that takes ages to go through the long list of weapons and upgrades, since the items are arranged in the order you obtain them (or at least not well organized) it becomes ungainly. — At some points in the game reloading was required because of bugs, one time the game even froze up entirely. So in short, while the game itself is great, there are a lot of little technical bugs that hinder the fun because they shouldn’t be in the game to start with (hopefully future patches will fix them). Those bugs keep the sci-fi epic from being as good as it could be.

Now let’s see how much fun Mass Effect is on a scale from 1 to 10?

Mass Effect is a good game for RPG fans who don’t mind mixing it up with squad-based action sequences. The classic sci-fi story becomes amazing thanks to its cinematic direction of the camera and life-like character animations (yes, even for the aliens). While it’s doing a lot right, it also has a few technical problems (mentioned in the conclusion above) that keep it from being a more fantastic game. These issues include slow camera controls and framerate slowdown in the middle of battles, although most disturbing aren’t the technical bugs and glitches like clipping and getting stuck in objects, instead it’s when on occasion the game’s controls stop responding or the game freezes up entirely forcing you to reboot. While that may sound annoying, and it is, it can also be forgiven.

Why? Because Mass Effect has an amazing strong and long storyline that helps avoid “save the galaxy” cliches, it’s brought to you through excellent voice acting and the dialog makes for a very interactive and continuously developing story. It’s further improved through the characters’ facial animations that express various emotional states. The gameplay delivers deep character customization, but still offers simple action-oriented yet strategic combat, it’s more of an RPG than a shooter though. You’re getting a good soundtrack and of course the graphics look fantastic (as you can see in the above videos) and work to great cinematic effect in combination with the storytelling. Definitely the next-generation action-RPG to own right now for Xbox 360 owners.

Graphics – 9.0
The facial animations and body language system is just amazing to see in action. These character animations are extremely fluid and react to changes in the environment (rag doll physics) perfectly. The various planets and pristine space cities are artistically sound and the overall graphics make Mass Effect breathtaking to look at, so far it’s definitely one of the most beautiful games this generation.

Audio – 10
The game’s 37 song-strong soundtrack was composed by Jack Wall, Sam Hulick, Richard Jacques and David Kates, who said the music was inspired by classic sci-fi movies such as Blade Runner and Dune, all very fitting and attune to the narrative and going-ons. The sound effects are suitably futuristic space themed and along with the soundtrack really don’t do themselves justice unless heard on a 5.1 surround sound set.

Mass Effect introduces a new dialog system in which responses to non-player characters (NPCs) are displayed as the general tone of the message, rather than a word-for-word transcription of the message. You’ll be using a dialog wheel to choose the approach you want to take (for example: bully, bribe, or be nice) and each of the up to six sections for you to choose from displays a brief preview of the response like “What’s going on?” and your character Shepard takes it from there. All the game’s dialog is subtitled as well as spoken and the (in-game and in cutscenes) voice acting is absolutely superb (and present) throughout the entire story. There are two reasons for this: 1. The direction and morality of the storyline is mostly determined by your choices during conversations. 2. The voice cast performs entirely believable performances, especially celebrities like Keith David (Saints Row, Halo 3) as the Normandy’s captain David Anderson, Marina Sirtis (Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Matriarch Benezia, Seth Green (Austin Powers in Goldmember, Robot Chicken) as the Normandy’s pilot Joker, and Lance Henriksen (Millennium, Alien vs. Predator) as Admiral Hackett. The Commander Shepard voice actors Mark Meer (if you play as a male) and Jennifer Hale (if you play as a female) are suitable too, and your team mates even talk to you in between dialog- and cutscenes about context-related subjects. This game might have the best voice acting ever in a game and there are thousands of lines of dialog to enjoy.

Ingenuity – 8.0
The game could’ve used some good tutorials, because you get thrown right into the action and are left to figure out the gameplay on your own. Outside of the deeply customizable six character classes you choose from to level up and upgrade, with the dialog wheel you have full control over where the story leads and this really helps put you in the role of Shepard like any good RPG does. While there are bugs during gameplay, and the A.I. could use an upgrade themselves, they serve their purpose well in guiding the story to whatever direction you choose to take. The bugs and glitches can really hamper the gameplay and this is definitely the biggest downer on the experience Mass Effect delivers. There’s no denying how fantastic the classic RPG elements are fleshed out and (as mentioned below) it will keep you playing for a long time.

Replay Value – 9.0
Expect to play through the main campaign in 20 to 40 hours depending on your skills and difficulty level you choose. There’s plenty of replay value as there are multiple endings and you’ll be able to do loads of side-missions that could possibly bump up the total playtime to 40 to 60 hours, if you’re that thorough and patient. BioWare has also announced a Bring Down the Sky downloadable content pack will be available on the Xbox Live Marketplace on March 10th, 2008, that adds a new world with its own scenario to the game.

Mass Effect: Revelation bookIf you can’t get enough of Mass Effect’s story, then you should check out the prequel book titled Mass Effect: Revelation. And in summer 2008 the book Mass Effect: Ascension will be released that bridges the gap between the Mass Effect game ending and the start of the upcoming Mass Effect 2 game. With the Mass Effect sci-fi game series already confirmed as a trilogy, the (so far) 1.6 million fans will have a lot to look forward to in the next five years. For now I think I’ll just go and passively watch Firefly.


About the author

Ferry Groenendijk By Ferry Groenendijk: He is the founder and editor of Video Games Blogger. He loved gaming from the moment he got a Nintendo with Super Mario Bros. on his 8th birthday. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and at Google+.

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