For the older gamer, it’s very easy to remember a time when action games were a rarity. Videogames, on the whole, were beings that required a lengthy amount of time, that’s full of talking, with multiple screens flashing at once, a fantasy plotline and a mage. Now-a-days, action games are all the range and that’s the only difference. Set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… no, that’s not right. Mass Effect, from the people who brought us Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, is set in the nearish future, where aliens and space travel is now commonplace.
Playing as Commander Shepard you are en route to the human colony: Eden Prime, where a new piece of ancient technology has been uncovered. The mission is top secret and it would appear that even the majority of the crew are unaware of this. Within a fairly short space of time, the crew are on the human colony and it becomes clear that the secret is out and the colony has been destroyed. It’s at this point we discover the true cause of the problem. So as the Commander you take these problems to the Human Council, but we’re not the dominant race in the Universe. Far from it. There’s a form of space government and a centralised hub for all politics in space called the Citidel and that’s where after a few action packed minutes, the player ends up – for ages.
Mass Effect likes to talk, talk and talk a little more. Rather than letting the player learn a little at a time between space missions, it throws you straight into the middle of some political game. After the first few action packed minutes, or an hour or so to be fair, the game suddenly becomes a case of running around a giant space ship learning about the intracicies of the political life in space. Not to mention hundreds of different species, who all seem to hate humans, gibbering away and generally being somewhat tedious. It’s at this point many gamers could easily just switch the Xbox off and forget about Mass Effect.
However, this would be a big mistake. After the first round of intergalactic politics, Commander Shepard earns the right to be a little freer with what he wants to do. With this newly found power, he’s also backed by the human council and starts to fly off all over known space to try and capture the perpetrator to the mass human murder on Eden Prime. Whilst trying to take down this evil person, you find out his true intentions, a plot that would do far more damage than just destroy the humans.
Yet, with all of the new found information, the game still wants to talk to you. It would be unfair to say that the majority of the information provided is dull, or even, unnecessary but there are methods of delivery and in many cases the delivery is failing. The actual system developed to talk to the non-playable-characters is very good, it’s essentially a question and answer game where you get varied responses depending on what sort of question is asked. The order of the questions can also be vital. It’s also challenging to get the same sequence of answers twice, if the unfortunate happens and Commander Shepard sees an early grave, replaying the level will normally lead to a different result. Then again, there’s talking and fact finding and whilst the technical elements of Mass Effect’s system works, it would just appear that there’s too much story at any one time.
There’s also a fair amount of action to be had whilst playing the game, well, after the Citadel has been left. The first thing to note is that weapons tend not to have any ammo and are usually unlimited; however, nothing is perfect in the Galaxy and whilst there may be no ammo weapons can overheat. In the early stages of the game it can take up to 10 seconds for the weapon to cool enough to start firing again and 10 seconds is all it takes between life, death, or a tactical retreat. This may at first seem like a bit of a cop-out, after all, this is meant to be a RPG game with First Person Shooter elements, where’s the tactics or challenge in an unlimited ammo gun. The tactics come from the fact that in most cases, there are multiple enemies and a limited number of shots before the weapon shorts-out.
Luckily the game can either be micromanaged to the point where even OCD sufferers can be happy, or left to grow organically. Using the D-Pad you can control the squad and tell them to shoot, go to certain places or just ignore that all together and let them kill on their own terms. Either way works and whilst it does take a little getting used to, the D-Pad works very well.
There’s an obscene amount of customisation at almost every level in the game. Commander Shepard can be a man, woman, handsome, ugly, strong, strong, clever, quick, pretty much any combination you can possibly imagine and Mass Effect will let you do this. Tagged alongside the extensive menu screens and the complex way of talking to people and this game will never be the same twice.
Mass Effect is a game that knows where it’s going and knows what it wants to say – and you’re going to listen. Even if you don’t want to. With an insane amount of customisation available, extensive levels and attention to detail abound it’s a great title to gently ease a gamer into action style games, or even back into the RPG world.