With Mass Effect Andromeda coming out in March, I felt the urge to refresh myself with a crash course through the original Mass Effect trilogy. It’s been awhile (ten years!) since the original came out, and I did not remember as much of it as I’d like to. I had only played the first two Mass Effect games, my Xbox 360 red-ringed before Mass Effect 3 came out, and I never got around to replacing it. I didn’t remember much about the Mass Effect games, except for the notion that Mass Effect 2 was a better game than Mass Effect 1, which is a common opinion. But equally as common is the opinion that players should not skip Mass Effect 1, as it has some key moments and decisions that affect the outcome of the rest of the series. So with that in mind, I made a brand-new captain, and in no time, Sam Shepard was on her way to becoming a galactic legend.
The music of Mass Effect is the first aspect of the game that I encountered. The main menu music sounds sorrowful, but hopeful, hinting at your future. As Commander Shepard, you’ll be making decisions that impact not only your crew’s ultimate fate, but the fates of every inhabitant of every planet and space station you set foot on. It’s an exciting and intimidating adventure, and the music keeps the mood amplified throughout every second of that adventure.
Mass Effect is a decade-old game. While the music holds up excellently…visually, Mass Effect is very dated. Environmental textures are blurry. Character models speak with rigid motions, and the mouths match with the voices decently, at best. With that said, the developers figured in the technical limitations of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 into Mass Effect’s design, rather cleverly. Many environments take place on space stations where flat surfaces and clutter-free spaces are the norm. Elevator sequences substitute for extended loading screens, and a grainy filter gently distorts the rough edges of the game’s graphics in an effort to make the game feel more cinematic.
I don’t remember how impressed, if at all, I was with the game’s graphics back in 2010, but this time around I was certainly more forgiving than impressed. With that said, Mass Effect opens with some truly dull level designs, but the final few levels and planets make up for the unimpressive ones.
The gameplay itself wavered between being as solid as the soundtrack, and as hit-or-miss as the level design. Taking place entirely in third-person, Mass Effect allows players to switch between weapon types (there are upgrades galore) and dispatch their own, class-based abilities with ease. It is the handling of squadmates where things get muddy.
At any time during combat, players can freeze time and pan the camera around in order to pinpoint exact enemies that they want their squadmates to use their own class-based abilities on. I found that this function was rarely available, as my squadmates rarely sought proper cover so their abilities were either unavailable due to jamming, or they were unavailable because they were dead. The artificial intelligence in Mass Effect is very, very basic. That lack of intelligence, I should add, applies to both friends and foes.
Sometimes I managed to clear an entire room by simply side-stepping around a corner, firing a sniper shot, and stepping back around the corner while the enemies just shot at the wall I was standing behind, rather than the area I kept appearing at. Squadmates were equally useless; oftentimes I witnessed them standing perfectly still, gun at the ready, while an enemy rocket flew down a very long hallway, killing them upon impact. There were times where I took splash damage because I’d dodge a rocket, but a squadmate, hot on my heels, would just run straight into the rocket.
Luckily, the game’s bread and butter, the dialogue/conversation systems, keep the experience alive.
When the game gets back on the rails, the experience is epic, to say the least. The conversations that players have with the aliens and humans have an amazing flow to them, regardless of which choices you make during the game’s pivotal, and at times very tense, conversations. By the end of the game I felt like I really knew my crew, and that made it even more difficult when it came time to say goodbye to a couple of them.
VERDICT: A decade out, Mass Effect remains one of the best interactive, science fiction stories that you can find in a video game series. With a bit of imagination, and a healthy dose of forgiveness, the Mass Effect universe can come to life…you’ll just have to put up with some less-than-stellar gameplay issues.
PS – I played the PC version of Mass Effect. I originally played Mass Effect on the Xbox 360. My memory of my original playthough isn’t great, so I can’t compare which version runs better. I spent around twenty hours in Mass Effect, skipping quite a bit of the side quests, in favor of completing the main story.