Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Mass Effect

Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: Nov. 20, 2007
Systems: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Knights of the Old Republic minus Star Wars

0:01 No discernible loading time before the BioWare and Microsoft logos, complete with LOUD sound effects. A stock shot of a planet from space with some ethereal background music accompany the title screen.

0:03 "Welcome to Alliance Military Database. Classified information requested." Weird way to start a game. I choose the pre-created John Shepard instead of creating my own character.

0:04 There's a big ship with a rotating, glowing energy core. Oh, that was just the loading screen? "Well, what about Shepard. Earthborn, but no record of his family." ... "Is that the kind of person we want protecting the galaxy." "It's the only kind of person who can protect the galaxy." Gag. It's the year 2148. Something about Mars... I can't read the backstory quickly enough while typing. Seems like generic sci-fi cheese to me so far.

0:06 Still a cut scene: Shepard walks through a spaceship hallway as some radio voice goes on with techno-babble. A sweeping violin score completes the cheesiness.

0:07 The glowing thing on the ship launches us into hyperspace, or something. The pilot and an alien boss don't get along very well. The voice acting is a little hollow, but generally convincing. Oh, it's my turn to talk. Some guy named Nihlus is here, and this is important, for some reason. I can't follow what's going on at all. "Is it me or does the captain always sound pissed off?" "Only when he's talking to you, joker." Heh.

0:09 All right, I can move. I don't go 20 steps, though, before talking to someone else, a Navigator Pressly. This conversation actually reveals more about the backstory in a comprehensible way. Nihlus is a Turian Spectre, whatever that means, and he's on board for mysterious reasons. Pressly thinks they're covering something up. On Captain Anderson: "If he melted down all his medals he could make a life size statue of himself." Heh.

0:10 The conversation system lets you choose a generalized response before the person is done talking. This works pretty well in practice.

0:12 Rumor around the ship is that Spectres don't answer to anyone and can kill without question. Intriguing.

0:13 We're making a overt pickup on Eden Prime. Nihlus, obviously not human, seems... overly interested in it's beauty. There's a Prothean beacon there from 50,000 years ago... incredibly valuable for its technology. I like the natural flow of the conversations, but I keep wondering what the other discussion options would have led too. What can I say, I'm a completist.

0:16 They're testing me out as a "candidate for the Spectres." I'd be the first human on the elite squad. The writing and voice acting are picking up, but the eerily misshapen faces and bad lip-synching hurt the presentation. Captain Anderson is especially hard to look at. And while all this backstory is interesting, would it kill them to have some more action early on?

0:19 The last two minutes or so were spent conversing about more of the universe's backstory. Apparently finding Prothean technology on Mars catapulted the humans into this futuristic space world. Good info. to have, and nice that it's not forced on you.

0:20 A video message shows a gun battle on Eden Prime. Heavy Casualties. "This mission just got a lot more complicated." Enough talk, time for ACTION! Let me in there!

0:21 Actually, a bit more talking, as Nihlus strikes off ahead and we have to back him up

0:23 All right, on the ground and moving 'round. LT zooms and RT fires. You need to lead your shots a little. There are some floating white things to shoot at ... nothing too interesting yet.

0:26 There are a bunch of weapons to choose for each of my squadmates. Not that I know what any of them are. I try to pick a good mix of big and small, I guess...

0:27 Well that was quick. No more than 30 seconds into the first firefight and I'm down. "Critical Mission Failure" the screen reads. I don't like whatever weapon I selected... too much kickback and too hard to aim.

0:29 Ah... the floating white things are harmless "gas bags." I would've found that out if I hadn't killed them so quickly last time. Also, thank god for subtitles. I can barely hear what my squadmates say most of the time.

0:30 Annoyance #1: I can't skip the 15 second, pre-battle cut scene that I already saw before I died? That's going to get annoying fast. Armed with a faster weapon, the fight is pretty easy. One of my squadmates is done for though. I can't tell if this is a scripted story element or if I just didn't defend him well enough.

0:32 The shooting controls are pretty nice. The auto-targeting helps immensely for an FPS noob like me. But the frame rate's hiccuping a bit as I run through the over-detailed environments.

0:33 Wow, the pause screen is chock full of information on my squad and their equipment. Lots of things to spend level points on... I could be here all day. Luckily, there's an "auto level up" option that just puts points wherever they fit best.

0:36 A summary of the last 15 minutes or so: Walk walk walk, shoot a group of three drones, walk walk, more drones, walk, drones, walk.

0:37 Cut scene of a woman running from some drones. She quickly turns and makes garbage out of them. Er, why didn't she do that earlier. Suddenly, she spies a human getting impaled (!) by a pair of humanoid-ish robots. She runs for cover. Back to controlling Shepard ... I run to her and help her take them out, no questions asked. Nice flow here.

0:39 She's "Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams of the 212." She thinks the enemies are "Geth" which haven't been seen for over 200 years. "They must have come for the beacon." NO SHIT SHERLOCK! I ask her along on my team.

0:43 So during the conversation I got turned around and spent a minute running the wrong way before figuring it out. Partly this is my fault for having no sense of direction, but would it have killed the developers to put some sort of subtle hint about where to go next on the radar or something?

0:46 OK, that was entirely awesome. I crouched behind some cover and popped out to take out two enemies, threw a grenade at a third, then used a brief burst of super-speed to ram into two more. Of course the tutorial guided me through each step, but still it was relatively seamless. Can't wait to pull this stuff out in real battles.

0:49 Seems those impaled soldiers are now GETH ZOMBIE ENEMIES! AIEEEE!

0:50 Door unlocking mini-game time. I have to press buttons as they light up. In this case... Y three times. Wow... tough...

0:51 Dr. Warren was hiding behind the door. "They must have come for the beacon," she says. WE KNOW, WE KNOW. But it's not here anymore. Oh. Dr. Manuel, her assistant, seems to have gone a bit batty. "Genius and madness are two sides of the same coin." Warren says. Manuel insists he's "the only sane one left." Uhhhh... sure.

0:53 Damn. I choose the "I can shut him up" option for our conversation and Shphard goes ahead and knocks Manuel out with a single punch! That's hardcore! Dr. Warren is remarkably amenable to the idea, after a quick explanation from Shepard that "he's better off." What is this, Die Hard: Space Edition?

0:55 Jump cut to Nihlus. He comes across someone he knows... another Turian named Saren. "The council thought you could use some help on this one." The creepy music means we should be worried. Saren pulls a gun on Nihlus and the scene cuts back to Shepard just in time to hear a far off gunshot. Nice.

0:57 A quick firefight and we find Nihlus' body on the ground. A human named Powell is conveniently hiding and tells us what happened. Hooray for plot device characters. Apparently he took a nap there before the attack started. He sounds a bit ashamed about it. We lay into him,basically calling him a coward. It's actually surprisingthey flesh out such a minor character to this extent.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Despite a confusing start, the story and characters are developing nicely, and combat is simple but thrilling.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Microsoft.


Ironhammer said...

Disagree about your assessment of the confusing start of the story, especially since you admit you weren't paying much attention to begin with. This game is great from start to finish!

Anonymous said...

I agree with ironhammer in that I dissagree with you. I had no trouble following along with the story. The game has some problems, yes (such as framerate issues, textures popping in late, and redundance in the vehicular planets later) but not in the story. You've spent too much time on vacation!

Sasha said...

ooo so glad you reviewed this. can't wait to see for myself.

Jason said...

Just FYI, the map function highlights important "plot points". Makes navigating the game a lot easier.

ballistic said...

btw the "coward" is actually has an even deeper story. if you went to shed on the right. on the way down there you would find out why he was "sleeping" there.

PsyGuy said...

i love the nutshell part... LOL