Mass Effect: A Flawed Gem

It’s been a struggle for me to get through Mass Effect, but I recently managed it at my third attempt. One spell on Christmas Day 2007, another attempt in early 2009, and then a final, successful run at it at the end of the year, finishing it at 8pm on the last day of the year. Even though I came away from it eager to play the sequel and with a thirst for more on the game’s universe – I’m reading Mass Effect: Revelation at the moment, which is up there with the Halo novels as great sci-fi literature – I still have some massive reservations about the game.

Mass Effect

Generally speaking, it’s a bit of a kludgy mess. Graphically it’s nothing all that special and yet has a poor, frequently awful, frame rate. There’s very little guidance, instead dropping you immediately into one of the game’s more intense action sequences. Item management? Don’t even think about it; I didn’t brave that menu until I was warned about running out of space, at which point I had to scroll down a gigantic list of items that couldn’t be sorted. Dialogue trees work well but are sometimes marred by that frequent gaming pitfall of giving you a ‘choice’ between sweetness and light or pure evil.

The dialogue and writing are very good, but really, would it have killed the characters to move occasionally while speaking? Or even – God forbid – have your party of three break from their V formation when conversing? One thing that entertainment media has known at least since The West Wing is that people standing still and talking is boring to watch, especially when it’s two human characters in an identikit corridor who look vaguely like melting mannequins. Look at Captain Anderson and his perpetual look of mild surprise.

Like I said, I did ultimately come away with a positive impression of the game, just because BioWare created such a good universe here, and from what I’ve heard, Mass Effect 2 is a significant improvement in every area, so I’m very much on board with that one. It just escapes me how such a fundamentally flawed game can get such unanimously superb scores. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to like a game so much and yet had to fight so hard to do so. It’s good, for sure, but full marks? You must be joking.

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