Mass Effect by Bioware
The game’s setting is in 2183, when humans have discovered ‘mass effect’ a technology that allows them to use interstellar relays to travel into the galaxy, which is controlled by the council, made up of three alien races, the militaristic but honourable Turians, the devious and smart Salarians and the diplomatic, long lived and all-female race known as the Asari. Humans are pitching to join the council and as a first step they’re trying to get the council to accept a human into their elite group of soldiers known as ‘the Spectres’. You play as Commander Shepard (male or female – but Jennifer Hale, who voices the female version, is so good i’d recommend going that way if you’re only doing one playthough), the soldier accepted into the Spectres and tasked with hunting down a Turian Spectre named Saren, who has gone rogue, allied with a machine race known as the Geth and begun attacking human colonies.
The game mechanics let you play as a combat expert, tech expert or biotic expert (which gives you the power to throw or lift enemies through the air) or a combination of two types. On every mission you have two squadmates accompanying you, who have their own abilities and can be a substantial help in combat. You can choose what armour and weapons you and your squad wear and control which abilities are upgraded when you level up. There’s also a morality system: Paragon or Renegade, which allows you to charm or intimidate certain allies, merchants or enemies into helping you, selling goods more cheaply or backing down in a fight. Some of the moral choices in the game are pretty testing – whether you let defeated enemies live or die, which squadmate you save in a desperate situation, or (at the end) whether you save the council during the final battle or leave them to die to let humans take control of the new council. The choices you make carry over to the next two games in the series – and get a lot of pay-off in Mass Effect 3 – so to get the full effect you should play all three games. I’ve played the first one on PC and PS3, and while i’d say ME2 and ME3 are both best played on a console, the first mass effect game feels better on PC. Whichever one you go for, stick with it for all three games so you can transfer save files – i’d recommend PS3 or Xbox 360 versions because the sequels are definitely better on them, and the sequels are much longer games.
Your squadmates are: two humans named Ashley (a soldier) and Kaidan (a biotic), a turian detective named Garrus (an expert sniper), an asari Biotic named Liara, a Krogan brute named Wrex (Krogans are an exceedingly tough species that lost a war with the council years ago) and a Quarian tech expert named Tali (Quarians are the race that created the Geth as servants – only to be nearly wiped out when the Geth rebelled against them). You end up caring about the characters a lot, and they all have pretty emotive backstories you can uncover if you talk to them enough between missions. You can also romance Kaidan (female only), Ashley (Male only) or Liara (Female or Male). While i’d argue you should try all of them (this is a game that merits multiple playthroughs) – Liara’s probably the best choice – her and femshep (that’s her gamer nickname) are a very popular pairing. Garrus and Wrex are probably the most popular squadmates.
It’s always a bold game that lets you decide which characters survive, and in Mass Effect’s undoubted highlight the fates of 3 of your squadmates hang in the balance. Each Mass Effect Game has one level or location which is so great you always look out for it in subsequent playthroughs – in the first game this is the planet Virmire (which comes about 2/3 of the way through). Virmire has the most fun vehicle section, a major story revelation, one of the most popular supporting characters (Salarian captain Kirrahe), a showdown with the game’s major villain Saren and two very tense moments when your squadmates fates hang in the balance. First comes a confrontation with Wrex – Wrex doesn’t want the base on Virmire destroyed because it contains a cure for the sterility plague that is killing off his people. If you haven’t completed Wrex’s side quest or don’t have a high charm or intimidate score, the Krogan won’t back down – forcing you either to shoot him or for Ashley to kill him for you. At the end of the mission though – you can’t even save everyone this time – as you’re forced to choose between Kaidan and Ashley, one of whom is pinned down with the Salarians, the other with a few troops from your spaceship. Considering one of them is likely to be a love interest can dictate your choice, otherwise it’s whoever you find less annoying/who’s a more valuable squadmate. And when you go to save one of them before a nuke takes the base your attacking out, Saren shows up. After a tense exchange of words and a boss battle, Saren grabs Shepard by the throat and chokes her/him before Shepard punches him and just manages to escape with her squadmate. It’s one of the best sequences in the game.
Problems? The inventory can get tiresome to use mid to late game when you’ve collected a ludicrous amount of equipment, as can the hacking mini-game. The vehicle sections are somewhat uninspired, with some uncharted worlds being a pain to navigate around. However, you should take advantage of the uncharted worlds you can explore, and play as many side-quests as possible to get the most out of the game – the one way the first game is better than the sequels is that it has better side quests. The soundtrack is the least exceptional of the 3 (but that’s unsurprising considering it was very, very good in ME2 and ME3) and interior environments are very repetitive on the side quests on spaceships and uncharted worlds.
Overall, a great RPG, with a good story, morality system and character ensemble. Some minor gameplay issues and dull quests hold it back from the highs of it’s sequels.
Rating: 4 out of 5