It’s hard to talk about Mass Effect without talking about KOTOR, which if you know what those initials mean you know what I’m talking about, but let me say right from the start: Mass Effect is nowhere near as good as KOTOR. Many times as you’re playing through Mass Effect, though, you feel like an old friend has come back around, because what made KOTOR so great is still alive inside this game, and pieces of it are all over the place to entertain you. Other pieces, however, are definitely missing.
We played through the game together, one evil and the other good. Unlike KOTOR, we discovered that very little about Mass Effect is what it’s advertised to be, particularly in the good vs. evil scenarios. OK, well you’re given the entire universe to explore…or is it really just a collection of planet pictures on a map with a few choice locations to land? Well, you get to decide what your character says…but then he or she ignores what you’ve selected most of the time and never repeats what you’ve chosen to say verbatim.
WHAM! Here’s a shotgun, machine gun, pistol, sniper rifle and additional squad member. Go go go! There’s no wading into the water for Mass Effect, as the game drops you into the meat of things right from the get-go. The tutorial does a decent job at first, but before very long the instructions fade away, and you’re left wondering what to do with many of the things that are placed before you.
Very early on in the game you’re buried under a stack of upgrades for everything you wear and shoot, and trying to keep up with it all for your character and your other squad members can be overwhelming at first, especially with Mass Effects “throw you into the water” type of instructions. But once you get the hang of it, the inventory system is actually very well thought-out and done. What dulls it quickly is that the upgrades really don’t seem to make much of a difference, and none of them stands out from another outside of light and color effects, not damage. After HammerIII, HammerIV, HammerV and HammerVI, they quickly blur in front of your vision and only become a chore to keep up with.
The most common thing missed while playing the game is the fact that the Mako vehicle has a powerful cannon that you can fire with the right shoulder button. We decided to tell you this right here and now to save you the trouble of finding it after dying numerous times. You’re welcome.
Mass Effect is so beautiful to look upon that it’s downright amazing at times. But to truly appreciate its looks, we recommend you turn off the Film Grain effect in the options, which originally had us worried that our TV had gone on the fritz. Really, it’s very strange, but the game actually looks much better with the video effects turned off. Trust us and try it.
Also marring the otherwise drop-dead-gorgeous graphics is the constant popping-in of textures after you’ve loaded a level or walked around the corner of a building. Loading doesn’t interfere much with your game experience, but it does happen fairly often, and every time it does you’re left with half of the graphics in front of you while the rest slowly “pop” into place.
Such pop-in has become a common trend in games lately, and an educated guess will tell you it’s to get you playing the game a little faster. This reviewer would like to ask that developers please stop doing this, because having my game come onto the screen looking like a LEGO adventure can be so jarring that I forget what game I was playing at times. So, it’s not worth the extra five seconds to bring up the game that much faster. Imagine if movies you watched on TV did that….
As shown in this 2006 demonstration, the combat in Mass Effect was intended to be like that in KOTOR but more action-oriented. You were supposed to be able to jump from one squad member to another, select where he or she would go, determine what they would do and then, unlike in KOTOR, be able to fire and aim their weapons in real time. That’s not the game that got shipped. What was rushed out the door is an unbalanced and confusing combat system that’s basic and random in nature. The enemies’ AI is very poor, which wasn’t worked on enough because of … let’s guess time constraints … so shortcuts were taken. Once you get how it works (by messing around, not instructions from the game), it works well enough to be enjoyed, but it’s a far cry from the dream combat system we were hoping for and promised two years ago.
Clearly Mass Effect is not all it was promised to be, and it doesn’t even meet up to its previous KOTOR days. But yet I still can’t help but recommend this game to anyone who loves BioWare’s games. It does deliver on many parts, such as story and music, and it gives you the feeling of being on an adventure in many strange lands and choosing your own destiny.
Just make sure to save often and stagger your saves, every time, on your adventure, because several bugs exist that can completely shut you out of your own game. We came across one such bug that had us stuck at a reload point in an elevator and unable to open the door and leave. Nothing could be done. Hours and hours of our gaming time was lost. Plenty of other bugs exist in this game, but this was the most frustrating for us.
But BioWare, maybe due to its reputation or everything else the game does well, gets away with it. Mass Effect is selling well and has gotten great reviews, because despite the bugs and shortcuts, it’s still an excellent game to play, and at the very least will give you a peek of the future of video games. As you’ve read before, if you’ve enjoyed BioWare’s previous games, you will enjoy this one, but take caution, and keep your save points staggered. Your destiny might hang in the balance if you don’t.
- Score: 8.0
- Had it finished cooking for another few months and released next summer, Mass Effect probably would have been one of the best games ever created. What we have now is very good, but it leaves us looking forward to their next offering rather than our next play-through with this chapter.
— Robert Dusseau