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Mass Effect Reviewed
Review - posted by baby arm on Mon 15 December 2008, 01:48:38Tags: BioWare; Mass Effect
review by Andyman Messiah
Intro – Lost in the Supermarket
As early as in the aftermath of Knights of the Old Republic, acclaimed pharmaceutical company and game developer BioWare began taming the cancerous effect of mass; researching its many similarities with ”The Force Effect” from the popular Star Wars movies, among other things. Rather odd, sure, but what the hell, let's roll with it. The project, which back then was referred to as simply the ”Totally Not Star Wars Telekinesis Gravity Manipulation Biotics Brain Tumor Project”, would give not only its name but also a cool, refreshingly new gimmick to a new upcoming action-RPG set out in the dark, cold infinite vastness of space, where surely control of gravity would be worth having a couple of talent points invested in.
Years drove by and the project was soon retitled “Mass Effect”, ignoring the more superior “Space Sheriff Shepard” someone had sprayed on the bathroom wall. Released in 2007 for the Xbox 360, Mass Effect received mostly favorable reviews and the attention of mainstream media for the many naked female shoulders and the thrilling notion that these naked female shoulders apparently could interact in naughty ways with other naked female shoulders.
Mass Effect has been out on the market for quite a while now, sitting on the shelves in your favorite gaming pharmacy, and nobody here at the Codex seemed to give a shit about writing up a review about it. I mean, we talked about it a lot in the forums, but a review? An actual, official re-fucking-view? Nowhere to be found! No one was writing it! And no one was asking for it either. What the hell? That's not respectful at all. But don't worry, because we're about to fix that. The Codex finally saw the light and put me, the great Andyman Messiah on the job. Now that's desperate, am I right folks?!
Like an excellent Mojito, I give you my equally excellent review of Mass Effect.
Somebody Got Murdered
I guess we better begin the review by talking about the story. Well, it's the usual bullshit. Humans finally manage to fly up in space and start rocking the casbah, shortly thereafter they run into other races. After a couple of natural misunderstandings they finally manage to say ”pretty please” and get rewarded with a good boy and a seat at the little kids dinner table. But hey, as one of the newest and hungriest races out in space, humanity isn't exactly thrilled at the idea of sitting around and eating hamburgers and following rules all day long when there's a perfectly grilled, saturated, yummy something-or-the-other at the adult dinner table. And they want it. Goddamn, they want that something-or-the-other! But despite willing to play ball with the other, more important races, years fly by and humans are still not all that respected. Well, I reckon that's gonna change because here's Commander Shepard, the finest and most extreme humanity has to offer. I would have made a collar grabbing joke but I just didn't care.
Shepard has been planted on the Ebon Ha- sorry, the SSV Normandy, for what appears to be a little cruise to test out a new stealth system; obviously a brilliantly covered up fetch quest – literally, as Shepard is tasked with going down to the planet to secure some ancient piece of technology that local archaeologists dug up recently. As it's ancient there's a strong belief that whatever the hell it is, it might just be something incredibly awesome. But wait, that's not all! Shep has also been nominated for Spectre status and so a high ranking Spectre is going to come with him to make sure he deserves all the accuracy bonuses that special training brings to the talent table. Spectres are elite commandos, see, and they get almost unlimited privileges to dick around as much as they want as long as they keep troublemakers dead, at bay or held up in a spaced up guillotine of some kind. Humanity has struggled for quite some time now to get one of theirs admitted into the club and they're hoping Shep's gonna make old Mama Gaia proud. Now, exactly how a damn fetch quest is going to impress on the Spectres, the baddest group of bad asses in the entire galaxy, will most likely forever remain a mystery. Luckily BioWare saw this and applied a big bag of shit to a big fan and suddenly the planet was invaded by shiny robots led by Saren, a rogue high class Spectre turned Disney villain intent on making life difficult for humans and everyone else. Well, looks like the fetch quest got a little more complicated, am I right, Shepard?!
After the mission, spoiler: the mission was a failure, you're having weird dreams, vows to hunt Saren down, finds evidence, joins the special Spectre club, becomes a symbol for humanity, receives the Eb-sorry, SSV Normandy and are ordered to search three planets for clues about Saren and his accomplices' whereabouts and finally save the galaxy or whatever is left of it once you're done. Fans of science fiction b-movies and hunting star maps alike will be delighted.
Commander Shepard is a fully customizable action hero, meaning that the players can fiddle around with a standard face generator, tweaking lip bites and adding scars to their heart's content until they finally manage to recreate their old school teacher's reasonably attractive face. More importantly however, is that it's entirely possible to switch the cock on the box art for a vagina with just a button, and that's a button you should hit like you were Knuckles the fucking Echidna. I don't wish to force this on anyone but I personally found that the sex change was entirely vital if I wanted to actually enjoy the game. Voice acting is normally no headache of mine but it is reason enough to play a female Commander Shepard. I don't know who Mark Meer is, I looked him up and saw only a handful of things he had participated in, but his Shepard is some of the most unconvincing voice work I have ever heard. He sounds awfully stiff when Shepard's lines really indicates a bit more oomph and aww yeah. The same can be said about Jennifer Hale who voices female Shep, but after a slow start she actually manages to pick up and lends a strong, at times gloriously bitchy tone to the heroine.
Players can choose to specialize as a soldier, an engineer or a biotic; the three base classes. Or they can choose one of the three advanced classes that blends two of the base classes together but isn't as good at either talents as a base class is. The three base classes offers three unique ways to kill your enemies: the engineer have control over technology and can make enemy weapons explode, for instance; the biotic woman can use the force to make enemies break dance up in the sky; and the soldier simply shoots her way through hordes of baddies. The biotic and engineer classes can use pistols and can be trained to use shotguns and rifles with a little training, or by unlocking achievements.
One More Time – The Magnificent Seven
Meet the crew:
Wrex, the tough-as-nails lizard camel who will tell you about his adventures if you ask him.
Liara, the young woman who hides her emotional distress behind a wall of young womanliness.
Kaidan, the tragic hero who lost a family member or someone he cared strongly about.
Ashley, the bitch.
Tali, the mechanic who gladly explains the joys of toys for you.
Garrus, the guy who wants to do all the right things the wrong ways but is still a good guy.
And Joker, the comic relief, pilot and, overall, most tolerable character in the entire game.
There's not much to say specifically about these characters as they're pretty one-note. All come with each of the class rainbow's colors, so if you're a soldier who want to focus on blowing things up, you might want to take two party members with you that balance out the average party strength. Because you just can't survive on shotguns alone. Unless you play on easy, you're going to need a doctor that can keep himself and the other party member alive. Heh, better make that two doctors. You generally don't have to worry about yourself since, hopefully, you're not playing on idiot level like they are.
As is standard BioWare party member design, all party members come with conversations that gradually reveals their history, dreams and taste in 70's pornography. These conversations must be unlocked by waiting a while, exiting and re-entering the ship, so why not clear a mission while you're waiting for part two of Ashley's bitching? The conversations are a way for the player to get to know the party members so he or she can better play favorites and form some kind of connection with them. Obviously I immediately bonded with nobody but Joker the pilot and Tali the engineer came pretty close, mainly because he's awesome and she proved herself to be one gosh darned effective killing machine. She also didn't piss me off with long-winded stories that never led anywhere. Whereas the other party members only talks about their own problems (well, except Wrex who you have to kinda prod a little), Tali provides some interesting information about the robot enemies you're fighting and that makes her a slightly less bad character. If I would have been given the option, I wouldn't have hesitated to sex her up instead of having to choose between Carth fucking Onasi and Imoen-Mission the blue biotic wunderkind.
Speaking of sexing up hot alien babes in tight suits, BioWare has never backed away from giving its fans a shot at love and this time they even included a sex scene. This review has been immature enough so let's talk about sex for a moment. Although it's one of the most family friendly scenes I've ever seen and run through a blurry filter (steamy, as BioWare would call it), it gathered some mainstream media attention. Fortunately I managed to sleep right through the whole controversy so I have no experience of my own regarding what exactly happened, but obviously someone managed to connect ”video game” with ”sex scene” and unleashed some of the best and worst publicity BioWare could have hoped for. Tits in my BioWare game? Now that's incentive! Imagine mine and sephirothfan88's disappointment when we discovered the horrible truth about the severe lack of naked breasts in the game. Goddammit, you should have heard our teeth! Never again, BioWare! Never again!
There's also a club where you can sit down and watch one of those blue sextra terrestrials dance repetitively for you. So, I mean, if you're looking for a complete waste of time, go nuts.
Every Little Bit Hurts
Side quests are as varied as ever and if you're into moving from place to place and killing bad guys over and over again, well, Mass Effect's gonna give you plenty of that. Don't even think about how many different ways you can achieve the plausible goal of killing the bad guys. You'll go blind!
They all have you drive your magical Jefferson to a planet, land on the planet in your fantastic jumping jeep and drive to the place where you have to kill and/or get something. The jeep handles pretty well and comes with a powerful cannon. But you know what I say about the side quests? Fuck the side quests! They're repetitive, unrewarding, too much of a fucking chore and serves mainly as a way to level up your characters to that awesome level 50 (level 60 once you get the “beat the game”-achievement). Fuck the side quests. Fuck them the wrong way. Sideways if you can. Hanging from a goddamn cliff.
Some quests can be solved with the two diplomacy skills charm and intimidate, and these skills make some quests.... even more boring, considering BioWare's ineptitude. Luckily they're not exactly all over the place and, heck, unless your quest giver specifically suggests that it might be possible to talk the problem out, and they mention this to you at least three times; god dammit, get ready to apply shotgun wounds to heads everywhere 'cause, fuck it, there's just some people who just won't listen to extreme intimidate skills! We're lucky there are no space rats running around--OH SNAP!
You also get bullshit collect quests like finding minerals and ancient emblems which possibly could have been made interesting if it wasn't just a way to get more money to swim in. You would have thought BioWare could have recorded some guy saying “Shepard! Humanity need resources for the big yadafuckyada project! If you find any, please claim it and put a flag down in the name of humanity! Maybe we can, I dunno, use it fight bad guys!” but there's none of that so these collect quests are even worse than the side quests! You know what I say about collect quests? Nothing. They're worthless. I wouldn't even send a hitman after them. Forget about them. Fucking them the wrong way won't make you feel better. In fact, that's what they want you to do.
So in conclusion; if you want to enjoy Mass Effect, focus on the 10 hour long main course and fuck the little bits. Take a fork and catapult them right in the eye of someone you hate.
Long Time Jerk
I would have written “Hot dialog wheel action” but I couldn't be bothered to mess up my fine use of The Clash songs. Anyway, I almost forgot to talk about this awesome new feature. Uh, it is truly a completely awesome, fantastically rad and new feature that BioWare developed especially for Mass Effect to, apparently, make dialog flow more natural. And I only have one thing to say about that:
Taking a page from Bethesda's one word says more than two words dialog design (which, incredibly enough, Bethesda actually seem to have abandoned now) BioWare turned a dialog rectangle into a dialog wheel and bribed reviewers with several delicious sandwiches so they would call it innovative. I guess. As someone who didn't get a sandwich in the mail, I'm a little more critical. And guess fucking what; there's nothing innovative about the dialog wheel. It's just a fucking wheel, for crying out loud! They invented a goddamn wheel! Thank fucking God!
Let it be known: ANYONE who is caught ON MY GODDAMN WATCH calling INVENTING THE GODDAMN WHEEL “INNOVATIVE”, in the year 2008: I will find you. And I will hurt you. There is nothing innovative about turning a row of replies into a fucking mind map! Here, watch! Watch me do innovative!
See that? Basically, the only difference is that it is more discrete than a box but other than that it's really the exact same thing. As a system, it's okay. As an innovative feature, it's as fantastic as a freshly laid shit. If they truly wanted to make something innovative with the dialog, they should have made all characters communicate in sign language.
Aka “HEY ANDY! WHAT ABOUT THE GRAPHICS?!” Someone asked me to include my thoughts on the graphics so here you go: graphics bore me to death. This dick waving contest needs to end. I don't care who can make the game with the most realistic pee stained boxer shorts. I care about games where graphics are functional and add to the game design.
Seriously, don't fuck with me about graphics. I shot a man in Counterstrike just because he asked me about anti-fuck-aliasing, shaders and bloom. I really don't give a shit about it. I don't play games with my dick hanging out and a bottle of lotion on the desk and I'm probably a horrible person because of it. I am completely uninterested by graphics and when I eventually go to jail I'm going to continue being a horrible person. I have no regrets.
Mass Effect is very neatly optimized and looks great on whatever settings you can afford. Enjoy your bloom.
The Sound Of The Sinners
The music was mainly composed by Sam Hullick and Jack Wall, and it's the type of epic sounding, bacony Michael Bay action movie fuck off soundtrack that has always been a standard in BioWare's games. It's really not my thing at all but it's certainly epic enough to fit the game.
So let's talk voice acting for a second. It's very, very bland. Among the more known actors, we got Keith David, Jennifer Hale, Raphael Sbarge, Cam Clarke and Grey DeLisle. Then there's a bunch of unknowns that more or less manage to get the job done. Hale does a good job. David has voiced strong authority figures all his life so he couldn't do a bad job even if he tried. Sbarge has a sexy voice that make some fans drool profusely, I won't hold it against him that he's been cast as a pretty boy again. Now, DeLisle and Clarke are definite A-list voice actors, yet they got stuck in the Additional Voices file. As a fan of good voice acting, I can't say I'm not disappointed.
As for the obligatory celebrity actor: BioWare fucked up the obligatory celebrity actor part. They fucked it up beyond all recognition. BioWare managed to get Lance Henriksen and while that's awesome, for reasons that I shouldn't have to explain to you, they had him voice a character that exclusively hands out some of the previously noted boring side quests, and that's just a severe waste of a great voice. And money.
Like any respectable console to PC port, Mass Effect comes with a couple of hiccups. I'm not expecting that BioWare's gonna drop by or anything as these are things they should already be aware of. And if not, I'm going to Canada as soon as possible to clear things up. Little things that piss me off – let's do it!
1: Mouse support failure. I can navigate the menus but not open a goddamn door? What? Controlling the player character with the usual WASD tango and the camera with a firm grip on the mouse is a trusty setup that plays better than any Xbox 360 controller (but I'm extremely biased as I've never been able to handle a gamepad that was more complicated than a NES controller). Mass Effect's controls are solid and while it's bullshit that you can't use your mouse to interact with the environment it's something you'll eventually accept, just like you finally have to accept that your cock will never be as big as the cock you see on late night cable TV. The world shouldn't have to be this way, you grudgingly think to yourself, tears rolling down your cheeks. That guy on TV can handle mouse support! Why can't BioWare?
2: The inventory. Everyone need to understand that BioWare has ALWAYS been light years ahead of other game designers when it comes to the noble idea of designing an inventory system that suck and Mass Effect hits a new all-time low. A normal page of Mass Effect's inventory can look a little something like this, (shortened so it doesn't take up so many pages);
See that? That's threehundred super rifles and fivethousand super guns. Doesn't it just make you want to take a rusty fish knife and stab yourself in the fucking heart? I know I got close a couple of times. Holy hell, who looked at that and thought “yes, that'll bring down the suicide statistics faster than a drunk truck driver!”
Now, this is what the monstrosity should have looked like:
Super Rifle (2)
Super Gun (5)
That's five super guns, two unmodified super rifles and one beefed up super rifle that I will shortly equip my character with. You might notice that eightthousand rows managed to turn into three. That's the kind of efficiency that happens when you STACK THE FUCKING ITEMS. For the love of whatever, game developers, stack the items. It's really fucking easy and it's been done fucking forever. Exactly what is so difficult about making a good inventory, BioWare? I thought we had left this bullshit behind with KOTOR? Not even the console kiddies I've talked to like this shit very much so I know this isn't just an extreme Mass Effect PC guy bitching and moaning and chafing the propelling bits inside his underwear. A badly designed inventory can annoy anyone and it proves that there's really not that much difference between console and PC gamers. Except of course for those ugly warts every console gamer seem to have.
Seriously, BioWare. Fix the inventory, then show it to us so we can tell you it's fixed. Then, when we say we're happy, don't you ever fucking touch it again! Just let it stay the way it is! Alright? Sound like a good fucking plan? Of fucking course it's a good fucking plan.
3: Speaking of annoying! Items are annoying! During the course of the game you're going to get a lot of shit. It's an unavoidable fact and it doesn't matter that you carefully avoid opening crates and lockers everywhere you go because you get these things force fed after killing enemies too! You don't even get a choice in the matter there. You just immediately pick them right up and put them in your infinity pants. I'm sure that's really good design for someone who lives out in the middle of nowhere and talks to a moose all day long and is completely fucking insane, but please, BioWare! Please. Spare me this ridiculous forced reaching for a soap I know I don't need.
A lot of items only means that I'm going to have to drop them or sell them when I get back home, and let's make something very clear: money... money has never, I repeat, never been a concern in any game unless it's Championship Manager and you desperately need two hundred more euros before you can buy the great Whatever van Whateverson from Holland and you're trying all you can and the negotiations are going nowhere and you really need that fucking extra cash and there's not a single “sell your worthless fictional kids for cash” option ANYFUCKWHERE!!!
But in an RPG, money is one of those things that you just need to break open a few barrels to find, and in Mass Effect you get money and experience for pretty much doing anything. Hack that console. Shoot that enemy. Boom! Five thousand credits. If you set out on a quest to do everything there is to do in Mass Effect you're going to be swimming in money way, way before you even start visiting the three planets, I can assure you!
And before I forget, here's the actual complaint; items are automatically sorted with the best items at the top and the worst items at the ground. That's alright. Until you have to sell the things and are forced to scroll down, click on the item you want to sell and click the sell button, because for some reason I must handle each item individually and I have to repeat the procedure because the inventory scrolls straight up to the top again. This is annoying and has in fact made me cry numerous times. It's a fact: BioWare makes me cry. Why are you so mean, BioWare? Why would you make the Messiah cry?
One final thing that make me cry, here we go! Fucking Xbox achievements for the PC! What the hell is that about? To make the game easier the more you play it, that's what!
During the course of the game you can fulfill certain requirements and earn badges. Some of them are just for showing your friends that, fuck yeah, I beat the game. But most are badges that significantly boost stuff, like damage dealt to enemies. And while it's good to have some sort of incentive to play Mass Effect – other than the promise of a lame sex scene hur hur hur – I'm not sure that making the game easier and removing any kind of challenge is anywhere near “it”.
One of them doesn't even make sense. By earning a million credits you unlock an achievement that give you access to Spectre equipment. Great, but I'm already a Spectre. Shouldn't the equipment come with the, I dunno, job? I don't know, folks. I'm just a small time writer who swears too much. Achievements are weird. It's also not possible to turn them off, so if you want to start a fresh new game you either have to reinstall Mass Effect or, I guess, dive into its config files, something I really didn't care about or had time for.
Time Is Tight
It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that the story is the same old BioWare epic that we've grown used to ever since we played Baldur's Gate 2 and was perfected (read as: dumbed down) with Knights of the Old Republic. If you are surprised, then here's two more surprises I have to spoil for you: werewolves don't exist and people get hungry when they don't eat! Consider yourself surprised.
I'm not complaining, though, because this way I know exactly what I get every time I buy a BioWare game. Same old story, same old chosen one, same old villain, same old companions. In different clothing, yes, but come on, man. Get fucking real. Hey, did ya miss me, you grizzled old mercenary guy who is now some kind of lizard camel man? Of course, you did. And you even have a couple new stories for me. How wonderful.
Mass Effect is also one of the shortest games I've played. If you ignore the many pointless side quests, I suspect that it's possible to beat the game in ten to twelve hours or less if you also listen to every painstakingly voiced piece of dialog. There are only about four-five locations in the game that you have to visit, and the rest are planets intended for side quests. Because the game is so short, the game constantly feels like it moves too fast. And while I like to think of myself as quite the Jack-off in the fast lane, I prefer slower pacing and a longer experience. Mass Effect wastes next to no time at all when it comes to laying all the cards on the table right at the very beginning. The villains and their motivations are explained way before you even get the official assignment, and while it really isn't anything to bitch about, it just feels like someone at BioWare said “Fuck it, by now the fans should know the score already. Let them know what they're up against right at the beginning. Don't waste their time.” I for one was disappointed to learn that the strangeness I was sent out into space to go up against wasn't all that strange after all. Heck, the plot twist is revealed before you even become a Spectre.
Now, I know these are ridiculously personal complaints and probably not something you give a fuck about, but even some lame-ass fake build-up would have been nice. At least we could have pretended that the game wasn't as subtle as an elephant in leggings drinking herbal tea from your “world's best Dungeon Master”-coffee mug. In your bathroom. While you're in the shower. Soaping up.
Outro – Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
You might have noticed that I'm being very negative. This is correct. I might even be accused of looking especially for things to complain about. This is also correct. I happen to judge games based on how much of a piece of shit I think it is, and Mass Effect ranks really high on the piece of shit scoreboard. It's not a good game. BioWare is not a good supplier of good games. They provide you with quick fixes that will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth unless you're twelve years old. Their Baldur's Gate 2 days are long over and I'm simply not enjoying their games. Call me biased and I'll call myself a guy who like good games that won't insult me or sleep with my cat. BioWare need to shape up, fire at least 99.9 percent of its employees and hand out extremely rigorous tests to anyone who wants to join the company. They need to test the writers especially. Preferably by putting a talking hamster up each of their asses so the hamster can report back and tell BioWare “these people are okay, they can work for us, they shit from the correct hole.” Because if you ever need something to tell of the dangers of mouth diarrhea, it should be ME, dammit! Yes, that was a “some kind of double entendre”. Enjoy.
Alright, seeing as it's almost Christmas, let's bring up one positive thing: while BioWare rarely brings something new and fresh to the table, their writing, at the same time, has always managed to be consistent. And if you like one BioWare game, you're going to like ANY BioWare game. It's a simple thing; they know what they're good at. Yes, they're very keen on recycling and they rarely take any chances, but if you can get past that, either by ignorance or massive alcohol consumption (personal favorite of mine), Mass Effect is another hit. And whether or not this has anything to do with how starved we are in this day and age is another obvious thing I'm not getting nearly enough not-paid for to point out for you.
If you like it when things go boom and are into epic sci-fi drama written by people who most likely hang out at fanfiction.com, then Mass Effect is a good game and you're going to find that it is a fun ride from start to finish. Just don't expect to play it more than three times and don't expect any surprises.
Werewolves, gawd demmit!