Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tech: Mass Effect review

"Mass Effect" is an action RPG from the folks at BioWare. I previewed it awhile back, and now I've finally finished the game. As I expected, it's a mixed bag with some dizzying highs and stupefying lows. In ME, you play as Commander Shepard, a human who has come into contact with an ancient alien artifact, and you are soon fighting to save the entire galaxy.

First, the good - this is one of the best original sci-fi settings in recent memory. There's some great backstory that can be examined here, and filling your in-game encyclopedia with new entries becomes as much a payoff as getting that new piece of armor. Sure, it doesn't stray too far from the mold of your standard space operas, but it's nice to get a galactic storyline in a place with no Jedi and no phasers.

Your companions are also fairly well-drawn (though your two human sidekicks are bland and uninteresting). There are ample chances for Shepard to play a goodie-two-shoes, a ruthless bastard, or someone in-between. While there's no actual "evil" path, some of the choices that the "Renegade" path offers can be pretty heartless...and fun.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of flies in this particular ointment. Chief among them are the numerous and mandatory driving sequences where you pilot a rover on planet surfaces. These parts are just plain broken - the control is awful, your rover often ends up nearly vertical if you take an incline the wrong way, and the whole thing ends up feeling ridiculous. Most irksome is that the game contains what amounts to an entire treatise on interstellar starship combat, but never seems to use any of it in the game. Maybe they're planning a "Mass Effect" RTS?

The combat in the game is also a bit disappointing. Your enemies generally have moronic AI (most evident if you like to use the sniper rifle), and while the special skills are fun to use, the game balance is heavily tilted in favor of simply shooting people with ultrapowerful guns instead of using tech or biotic skills. There's a rudimentary cover system a la "Gears of War," but it feels clunky and slow.

It may sound like I'm ragging on "Mass Effect," but it just shows how much potential the inevitable sequel has. If BioWare can address these issues and keep the immersive storyline and setting, they have yet another hit franchise on their hands.

Rating: 88/100


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