Mass Effect, a game for both genders

Bioware’s Mass Effect explores gaming’s uncharted galaxies

My name is Raphael Shepard. I am a hero from the Blitz wars that claimed thousands of lives across the galaxies. Born from the human planet, Earth, I now embark on this journey that traverses through time and space?

Wait, I forgot I was holding a keyboard and typing this video game review and not holding an Xbox 360 controller, playing ‘Mass Effect’. But that’s how engrossing and captivating the game is.

Developed by Bioware and published by Microsoft Game Studios, ‘Mass Effect’ is an intergalactic voyage across uncharted planets, alien adversaries and exotic terrains. Bioware has crafted an exceptional role-playing game experience that even surpasses their ‘Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic’ game series in every way. From the combat mechanics to the epic, space-opera narration, Mass Effect navigates the RPG genre to a new, exciting direction.

Taking place in the year 2183, players create the role of Commander Shepard who is, yet again, humankind’s only hope in saving the galaxy.

However, the rest of Commander Shepard’s history and physical traits are up to you, as the game requires you to create your very own alter ego in the beginning. Players can customize almost everything in creating their personal Commander Shepard. And when I mention everything, it’s including his/her history (was he/she a war hero or a renegade rejected by his family?) to his/her physical appearance (do I make him look like Brad Pitt/Jessica Alba or Johnny Knoxville/Courtney Love?).

Aside from manipulating your main protagonist’s physical traits, you can also customize their talents and class specializations. Initially, you can choose from many different classes such as Soldier (who specializes in gun combat), Vanguard (a balanced mix of weaponry and magic called “Biotics”) and many more classes. From there on, you can fully customize your talent specifications. Should your Soldier be a sharpshooter with a sniper rifle, or should you simply sharpen your Biotics skills with your Vanguard? It’s up to you.

Mass Effect’s narration and storytelling are so deep and engaging that players will have a difficult time pulling themselves away from this epic sci-fi saga. In your interstellar quest to find the arch-nemesis Saren, you can choose to either be a Paragon or Renegade. Choosing the path of the Paragon means that you are a space Samaritan who helps those who are in need and never hesitates to lend a helping hand. The obscure ways of the Renegade befriends no one, as you are arrogant, selfish and brash in your actions. The storyline significantly changes depending on which path you choose.

For example, you may run into a civilian you may need some help in recovering stolen goods from a group of space bandits. Through an innovative dialogue toggle, you can choose to respond with a ‘Yes, I will be willing to help’ or ‘No, it sucks to be you.’ Will you be the Samaritan or bully? Again, it is up to you.

As a nice little treat, the dialogue also lets you choose your love interest. Yes, Aliens need loving too, and yes, it’s up to you if you want swing that way.

Speaking of the dialogue, Mass Effect’s voice acting is an absolute masterpiece to watch. It transcends the game to a timeless space opera (hence, the choices of love interests) that’ll make you anticipate the coming events. Along with the crisp graphics and lifelike facial animations, Mass Effect will undoubtedly play on your TV sets longer than MTV reruns of the Video Music Awards. Yes, you will want to play it that long.

But, Mass Effect does have its minor shortcomings. The interface menu could be cumbersome and inefficient at times especially during a frantic firefight. You will find yourself repeatedly logging in and out of your equipment menu to just switch out your gear and constantly manage your inventory. Also, as much as the visuals impress everyone, it tends to slowdown a little to often that uncomfortably slows down the pace of the game.

Also, some of the planets you encounter during your adventure are monotonous in terms of level design. While driving around in your ‘Mako’ assault vehicle, you will find the same familiar crater over and over again for miles on end. The vehicle controls feel a bit awkward at times, especially during, yet again, frantic firefights with your adversaries.

Bioware deserves yet another space medallion for Mass Effect.

Small flaws don’t keep the game from being massively effective

In my eyes, Bioware has always made great games. First there was Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights and the critically acclaimed and award-winning Knights of the Old Republic. Following these titles is the recently release Mass Effect, which is so close to the pinnacle of great gaming.

With Mass Effect, Bioware does what it does best: gripping story and compelling characters. You begin the game as Commander Shepard, who you customize all the from your name, background and skill set to the battle scars you can put on your character’s face. It’s amazing how detailed you can make your character, to make them resemble yourself or maybe make them look like how you wished you looked. Either way, the game is incredibly customizable. And being a female gamer, I always enjoy when games allow me to actual play a character of my own gender.

Unfortunately, the game has a couple major issue that can’t help but get a little under my skin when I play. The item menu is terrible. Like in most RPGs, you pick up items along your various quests in some magical bag of infinity that I have yet to figure out. Except Commander Shepard’s pockets aren’t infinite and as the player, you usually find out when you reach your max of 150 items and have to convert everything you’ve collected into the magical tech goo, omni-gel.

This is fine, except for the fact it doesn’t let you go through your entire inventory to delete the most outdated weaponry and armor to get rid of the most outdated items. Instead, whatever you’ve just acquired, you’ll be forced to reduce until you’ve reached 150 again. When I found this out the hard way, I decided to go in and delete a lot of the older items I accumulated. What I found is that you must manually scroll down the line for each weapon and its many upgrades to delete the lowest level item and then restart that process over again. Try repeating that 20 times and you’ll understand why the item menu is the bane of this game.

Another major item that hurt Mass Effect is the constant loading screens. Running along in the Citadel, be prepared as you open a door for you and your team to freeze in mid-step as the rest of the map loads. And you’ll quickly discover the over-saturation of elevators in the entire galaxy of Mass Effect, used as a disguise for yet more loading screens. At least though, in the elevators, the game will usually throw you a bone, either with elevator news, which will open up new side quests or chatter between your squad that reveal just a little bit more about their personality.

Other little nitpicks include the only average AI of your squad mates, which usually leaves them knocked out during a hard battle because instead of hiding behind the ample cover the game provides, they like to stand in the open and take rockets to the face. Be prepared to do pretty much all the combat yourself.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this game. For every minor negative the game has, there are five things different things to make the game great. The graphics and motion capture is good, the voice-acting- especially for female Commander Shepard- is fantastic and the music is great. The main storyline is compelling and will suck you in like a really that really good book that we all used to read. The choices the game presents your character will in fact will decide who lives and the game doesn’t let you immediately right your decision off .The ending is literally had my jaw dropping, but in a good way. Even the romanc
e subplot between you and one of your squad mates gets points from me, not just from the convincing acting and dialogue, but the fact Mass Effect gives you a choice between romanceable characters, and if you play as a woman, hey, you can have a lesbian relationship if you want. And that’s pretty cool.

In my eyes, Mass Effect is the best game I’ve played in a long time, despite the flaws and probably won’t leave my Xbox 360 for a while.