I’ve been replaying Mass Effect lately. While Bioware has a good track record when it comes to games, Mass Effect is the least impressive of the bunch. It’s still a good game but compared to Baldur’s Gate or Knights of the Old Republic, it’s clearly not in the same tier.
Mass Effect combines science-fiction with Jade Empire’s real-time combat. The player is Commander Shepherd or however that last name is spelled. A candidate for the SPECTREs (badass galactic enforcement), the first of your trial missions goes horribly wrong and soon, you and a party of humans/aliens are off to save the galaxy. Without spoiling Mass Effect’s plot, that’s the best summary that can be put into words.
The universe of Mass Effect is more fleshed out than Jade Empire’s (both are original Bioware creations, whereas Baldur’s Gate and KOTOR derive from D&D d20 and Star Wars), but only on the surface. The planets feel rather limited, something that wasn’t present in KOTOR. While the galaxy is a big place, most of the area is unexplorable. The player can “survey” certain planets but most are only there to be looked at and added to the codex. The few planets that are explorable (aside from the ones essential to the plot) only have two-three places of interest and once the player lands, they’ll wonder why they even bothered.
Then again, gameplay has never been a major focus of Bioware. These RPGs are story-based and Mass Effect continues that trend. Bioware put a lot of time into this universe and want the player immersed in it. This is done pretty well although the dialogue is a bit much and strays into Metal Gear Solid territory of “shut up and get back to the gameplay.”
Bioware must have taken a ton of flack over KOTOR’s gameplay because Mass Effect follows Jade Empire’s real-time combat. Except instead of martial arts, guns are used. Mass Effect plays similar to a shooter, meaning the player needs to take cover whilst filling their enemies full of bullets. It’s nice having an infinite ammo gun (an actual gameplay mechanic, not a cheat) but the shooter elements could stand additional refining. The squad A.I. could use a boost as well, as the player’s “allies” will constantly take all the good cover and proceed not to do anything with it.
The game looks impressive, as current-gen games should. There are some rendering issues that come up and glitches, but none are terribly problematic. Still, it is noticeable when they crop up. While the music is nothing to write home about, it does its job as standard sci-fi fare. The voice acting is good, only marred by some occasional odd lines by your player character. Sometimes he/she sounds good and other times, they are a complete tool.
Don’t let this critical review damage Mass Effect’s goodness. That’s just it, though. Mass Effect is a “good” but not “great” game. Being produced from the same company that brought us stellar titles like Baldur’s Gate or KOTOR, Mass Effect had some lofty expectations to meet. Mass Effect stands up well enough on its own but it’s not worth mentioning in the same breath as those two great games. 8.2 out of 10.