Mass Effect

Canadian developer BioWare made itself known with plenty of well-received titles such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and in 2005 announced the development of another science fiction-based RPG, Mass Effect, which saw its original release for the Xbox 360 back in 2007 in North America and elsewhere abroad. The next year saw a port of the game to Microsoft Windows, later to the PlayStation 3 as part of the Mass Effect Trilogy collection set, and proving a solid Western RPG in spite of some technical hiccups.

Combat in Mass Effect somewhat resembles that in a shooting game, with the player controlling Commander Shepard, while the A.I. mostly controls two allies the player chooses to bring into combat. Battles begin when the player approaches enemies, with red indicators appearing on enemy targets, and Commander Shepard having a variety of firearms from which to choose, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Though combat takes place in real-time, the player can pause the action to switch weapons or give orders to allies, though the player cannot control them directly.

Killing enemies nets all participating characters experience, with level-ups happening occasionally, in which case the player gains a few points (or, when reaching later levels, merely one point) to invest into a variety of skills, such as increased proficiency with different kinds of firearms and innate status increases. The battle system works well for the most part, with occasional objects and walls behind which the protagonist can hide providing for occasional strategy, and HP and shields gradually recovering as time elapses, with the only real flaw being the loading time players must endure whenever they die in battle and need to restart from their previous save, and to an extent the rare bug where one of Captain Shepard's allies disappears for some time.

The game’s control scheme is good as well. Players can save their game anywhere except in the middle of battle, but viewing the map of the current area requires players to go into the menus, with the radar during exploration only showing enemy locations, and reloading files can take some time. The player also cannot skip cutscenes if they’ve already viewed them, inexcusable nowadays, but the game generally interfaces well with players.

The story takes place in the year 2183 AD, thirty-five years after humans discovered a cache of technology on Mars supposedly built by an extinct race known as the Protheans. The player controls Commander Shepard, whose background the player chooses himself or herself, with plenty of decisions available throughout the game providing for a nice variety of dialogue in the plot. The narrative is generally well-written, in spite of some rare grammatical errors such as a misuse of "it's," but otherwise is a superb driving factor throughout the game.

The soundtrack isn't much to write home about in spite of some decent ambience and a few standout tracks such as the ending theme, but the voice acting is largely flawless.

Graphics-wise, the game uses a realistic visual style that's mostly superb, in spite of some rare slowdown and choppiness. Ultimately, a decent-sounding and nice-looking game.

Finally, the main quest of the game is fairly short, taking somewhere from eight to fifteen hours to complete, although the innumerable sidequests can definitely bolster playing time, and the morality system and trophies adds nice replayability. Ultimately, Mass Effect, given its superb combat, story, and graphics, is easily one of the best Western RPGs in recent memory, another feather in BioWare's proverbial cap. It does have its flaws, such as some long loading times, though it hardly lacks in its other aspects.

This review is based on a playthrough on a slim PlayStation 3.

The Good:
+Solid game mechanics.
+Excellent story with plenty of decisions.
+Good visuals and voicework.

The Bad:
-Occasional freezes and bugs.
-Forgettable soundtrack.
-Some graphical glitches.

The Bottom Line:
One of the best Western RPGs available.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 9/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 8-15 Hours

Overall: 9/10

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