Genre: Role Playing Developer: Bioware Publisher: EA Classification: MA15+ Consumer Advice: Game deals with issues or contains depictions which require a mature perspective
Release Date: 11th Aug 2009 Platforms:PC
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The Good bits
Excellent optimization over the Xbox 360 version
Enthralling and massive game universe
The Bad stuff
Online Activation, although sadly this is a necessary precaution in this day and age.
Elevators. For the love of god, Elevators.
Devil May Cry 3. Metal Gear Solid 2. Resident Evil 4. Halo. Excellent games on their original systems rendered practically unplayable when ported to the PC. Considering the track record, why would anyone in their right mind bother playing a game on the PC originally built for a console? While the game installed I wrote a point form review of everything I thought would be wrong in this review. The game launched and I prepared to confirm each point and call it a day. 12 hours later it was dark and I was wrong. So wrong.
Mass Effect is a sci-fi action RPG with a powerful graphics and physics engine and 30 hours + of game time. First released on the Xbox 360 in November of last year, it has now been converted to the PC format. It is not a port, BioWare don't make ports. This seems like some intense pedantry at first, but it is actually an important distinction to make. Faster loading times, bug fixes and crisper graphics are some of the staples one expects (but doesn't usually receive) in a console port. Mass Effect takes this one step further, adding a myriad of design and interface changes to make the game more compatible with the keyboard and mouse. The end result is a conversion, it has the same storyline voice acting and basic gameplay as the 360 version, but it is a proper PC game, built with the PC in mind.
The most drastic difference is the new HUD. Gone is the command wheel design, implemented for ease of use with the analogue stick. Now holding space bar pauses and brings up all of your abilities, and your team mates abilities, on the edge of the screen, allowing you to see the action going on in the middle of the screen, and plan your tactics accordingly. A hot bar has also been implemented, meaning if you are a lone wolf like me, you never need to pause the game at all, as you can access your most useful force powers biotics with the press of a button. These two features alone make it all worth it, changing Mass Effect from a 'Run, Pause, Scroll, Click, Rinse, Repeat' type game almost to a tactical third person shooter. However, BioWare didn't stop there. They have reworked the inventory system, and made the Mako (moon buggy) much easier to handle. The PC version also gets the first DLC 'Bring Down The Sky' free, because BioWare are sweeties.
The game itself has a fairly generic story. "Well respected elite soldier goes bad, decides to destroy the universe and it's up to you and a ragtag group of misfits to stop him." All the common elements are here, the officials who don't believe there is a threat, the team member with a dark past [Guess which one it is (Hint: it's all of them)] and the main character is above the law. If you define a good RPG by its storyline, at first glance Mass Effect fails.
However once you look past the plot, and into the actual storyline, Mass Effect is deeply involving. The plot follows some basic elements, but the story and history BioWare have created for this universe is huge, and meticulously thought out. Almost all NPCs have an interesting story to tell, and while it can sometimes be a single line, there are details for every single planet in the galaxy. You also have the Codex to look at, the in game encyclopaedia, which documents everything from the races in the galaxy down to what makes pistols work. You will spend hours in this game doing nothing to stop the destruction of the galaxy, instead just learning about the galaxy, or chatting with people and helping them out. The universe is bigger than the eyes on an anime character, and while that is mostly a good thing, it does bring me hurtling at FTL (you'll get it when you've played the game. You won't think it's funny, but you'll get it) to my only serious problem with Mass Effect.
This game is too big. After the introductory level, you go to a gigantic place called the citadel, a gigantic city where all the aliens meet up and discuss things, a la the cantina in star wars, minus the cool music and like one hundred times as big. Two sections divide the city - The Presidium and The Wards. There are quick jump shuttles, that take you to any destination in the city, but you have to have been there previously, meaning you have to have walked everywhere in the city at least once. At first you don't think this is much of a problem, you like Dora, and she likes exploring, maybe you will like it too. For the most part you are right. Then you have to go from the Presidium to the Wards and everything goes to hell.
The problem here is the elevators. When mankind gained access to the Mass Effect technology, allowing cheap reliable faster than light speed travel, they had to do something to balance it out. What with karma and all that, something had to be made painfully annoying and the decision was made that from now on, elevators would be eye-gougingly tedious. Sometimes your team mates will chatter. Sometimes a radio will tell you about things you just did. Most of the time though, nothing will happen, and you will sit there for a minute watching your characters do absolutely nothing, 'to hide load times'. Give me loading screens. When you jump in the fast travel machines around the city it takes you where you want to go in 10 seconds. I don't care if it ruins my immersion, I've sat through loading screens for 18 years I can do it a little longer thanks.
I only had one other issue with the game, and that was the history of the Krogan. The story mentions a species called the Rachni, insect-like creatures bent on taking over. They almost succeeded, until the Krogan - a species of bipedal reptiles, came to the rescue and wiped out the entire species. That's right; the lizard people hunted the insect people to extinction. I don't have a problem with BioWare borrowing ideas from other sources, but Futurama? Really? Still, I might be pedantic, but I'm not pedantic enough to give up on the game for that.
Artist's rendition of the Rachni/Krogan conflict.
One last thing, Mass Effect uses the Securom online activation to stop piracy. This means if you buy this game, you will need an internet connection when you first boot up, for it to make sure it is a legal copy. Originally the game was going to require an ongoing activation, every 10 days, but BioWare wisely decided against this. It will now only check the legality of the game again when you download content or patches.
If the only thing wrong with a game are its pseudo loading screens and a throwaway line about the history of one of the races, it is a winner. If you haven't already played it on the 360, get it right now and see what you have been missing. If you have played it on the 360, get it right now and play it properly, the way it should have been in the first place.