Mass Effect

Mass Effect
Mass Effect Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, Windows
Genre Epic Space Action RPG
MtAMinutes to Action 20
Score 9  Clock score of 9Gameplay: 8
Fun Factor: 8
Gfx/Sound: 10
Story: 9
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Mass Effect is an action role-playing game for the Xbox 360. It was recently released in November and has received many great reviews and accolades since then. Of course, this doesn't always mean I will like it, but I have high hopes for it as it comes from a distinguished line of video games (notably Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire). Mass Effect takes place in the future after humans find out they're not alone in the universe and end up joining in a peaceful truce with many other powerful alien races. The human race has to deal with brand new styles of diplomacy and communication, but have also benefited from an influx of advanced technology. The concept of mass effect itself is similar to "the force" from Star Wars, but more grounded in technology and physics. It basically allows control over dark energy that species can take advantage of through the use of biotic implants and training.

For my review on the whole game, please see my Mass Effect review at Beyond the First Hour.

I'm starting 2008 (and Day 2 of reviews) where I left off with 2007: a new Xbox 360 game. And I'm actually really excited to be able to play Mass Effect finally (I've been borrowing a friend's 360 for about a month now, and have wanted to play this game more than any other, I even read the prequel book). Let's just hope my self-built hype for this game doesn't implode on itself, but from everything I've heard, I don't think it will. I'd like to quickly apologize for the choice of screenshots, they don't really fit the text but they are neat to look at! Now let's get started with Day 2 of The First Hour and my review of Mass Effect.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - I click Start New Career and the first hour of Mass Effect begins. I enter the Alliance Military Personnel Database. The database looks for me, Greg Shepard (Shepard is the last name the game gives me, so all the voice actors can actually say my name), but can't find me. Looks like I get to create my own character!

01 - Lots of options available, but I don't want to spend too much time on this. Character creation doesn't seem as deep as it was advertised, but there are still lots of options to tweak and the human head in front of me looks really lifelike.. Not as many hairstyles as I'd like though.

Mass Effect Character Creation

02 - I get to decide what Greg's childhood and military career were like before the game. I'm a Sole Survivor from Earth and a Soldier. Just the defaults really, a few cool things you can do is modify your history, like where you were born (on Earth or in space) and how you became famous (all my fellow soldiers were killed in an attack).

03 - The game starts loading... A view of Earth. Some men are talking about me, Greg Shepard. They seem to know my history. There I am looking out a spaceship's viewport.

04 - The men say I'm the only man left to protect the galaxy. Some text appear on the screen, detailing the discovery of a super technology that thrust humans to the technology state they are in now.

05 - A few shots of a ship flying by, Greg Shepard is walking through the ship. A man voiced by Seth Green is noting some technical details. Greg stops, he looks rugged and experienced. The ship is approaching a really large space object, a mass relay it's called. The mass relay sends our ship at faster than light speeds across the galaxy to another mass relay.

Mass Effect Shepard Normandy

06 - Joker, Seth Green, reports our arrival. An alien behind him says "good job" and Joker complains. Shepard walks up behind them. I get to respond to Joker's complaints. I tell him to "cut the chatter!"

07 - Captain Anderson comes on the comm and asks for me. I now have control of Shepard and start walking around the ship.

08 - I approach Navigator Pressly, he says there's something odd about this mission. Something about Spectres, top covert agents, being on board that makes things fishy.

09 - The dialogue options are really nicely laid out, I get a few short choices (one to three words) and Shepard expands on that option. Really cool design. The characters look so real too and I can even see some emotion in their faces.

10 - I ask Pressly a few more questions, he seems biased against this Spectre who is a Turian (an alien race). Next up I approach Jenkins the soldier and Chakwas the doctor. They argue a bit, Jenkins really wants a battle, but the doctor is sick of healing him!

Mass Effect Shepard Normandy Drive Core

11 - Everything I say is kind of mean, this is fun. I tell Jenkins not to play the hero. After our conversation I get +2 Renegade points. Sweet.

12 - In the captain's quarters is Nihlus, the Turian Spectre. He asks me about Eden Prime, the world where our mission is to take place. I tell him I'm a marine, not a tourist. Shepard's got some wit.

13 - Captain Anderson approaches, he has the voice of the Arbiter from Halo 2 and 3. Very deep and military like, his voice matches his character very well. Anderson was the main character from the book so I'm pretty familiar with him.

14 - Anderson and Nihlus explain the mission: a Prothean beacon has been found on Eden Prime. The Protheans are some long extinct but super advanced race so finding their artifacts is a very good thing. Nihlus is also around to evaluate me to become a Spectre. Must be a pretty elite squad as there isn't a single human Spectre.

15 - Eden Prime will be our first of several missions together. Joker interrupts, a message from Eden Prime. We get a jerky handheld camera view of an ongoing battle.

Mass Effect Shepard Nihlus Anderson

16 - Looks like someone beat us to the planet, the three of us watch some soldiers get shot and a giant spider like ship floats in the air. Then the transmission goes dead.

17 - We arrive at the planet, Shepard and his team are going in. We need to find the beacon, top priority. Nihlus is going in solo. Not sure how he'll monitor Shepard if he's not with me.

18 - I have control now on the planet, time to check things out. This all feels a lot like Gears of War: behind the shoulder camera, holding L aims, R shoots. I'm liking this setup.

19 - We turn a corner and that fool of a soldier Jenkins gets shot. Well, he sure didn't last long, shouldn't have worn his red shirt today.

20 - My first battle! It felt really awkward shooting these little flying drones with my pistol, didn't feel like I was hitting them at all, but I must have because they soon blew up. Even my remaining partner, Kaidan, hit one.

Mass Effect Geth

21 - Kaidan asks what to do with Jenkins' body, I say to forget about him. More renegade points!

22 - More shooting, and more similarities to Gears of War: you can cover behind objects by pushing in the left stick. The game is being super lenient with the shooting, not sure if this is just because it's the first mission or what, but I'm pretty sure I'm not even close to hitting the enemies.

23 - I take a moment and hit start and check out the Squad Screen. Here I can assign talent points to various attributes such as pistol skill, assault rifle skill, and even intimidation. I spread my points out, not trying to focus on one thing. I can also give points to Kaidan. He's got totally different options though, he can Throw (mass effect throw, like the force), and has a specialty in first aid. That should come in handy.

25 - A cutscene begins of a woman in pink running away from some drones and then shooting them down. Woah, a man just got speared by something from the ground. And now I have to shoot Geth Troopers! I take them down easily with my enhanced pistol skill.

Mass Effect Ashley Williams

26 - Ashley Williams, the woman in pink armor approaches me. She was patrolling when the planet was attacked. She says they're fighting Geth, but no one can believe that it could actually be them. I tell Ashley to come with us, could always use a helping hand.

27 - Holding L2 gives me a quick look at the weapons we have equipped and what ones I can choose. Everyone seems to have a pistol, assault rifle, sniper rifle, and shotgun, but we're all not necessarily trained in them.

28 - The game quickly shows me how to use cover and then throws more enemies at me.

29 - My super soldier mows them down and we approach the dig site where the beacon should be, no dice though. Looks like we have to continue on looking. The actual control of this game plays a lot like Knights of the Old Republic but the shooting feels like Gears of War. It's a really weird combination but it seems to be working.

30 - Nihlus comes on the comm and tells me to head to the space port up ahead. Not really sure where to go so I guess I'll go straight. There is a radar map but it doesn't seem too informative. Just points north.

Mass Effect Shepard Kaidan Ashley

31 - We approach a burned out camp, and some spikes are poking out of the ground, but with bodies speared at the top. Ouch. The spears retract and the (used to be humans?) zombies come to life and approach. These guys can take a lot more hits so I whip my shotgun out and blow out their innards (not actually graphic though).

33 - I just realized I leveled up, so I spend some more available talent points on my heroes. Plus I can put points into Ashley as she's a new team member. Cool. I put more points for her into Assault Rifle.

35 - I open some crates and find supplies, and then approach a security door. I have to play a quick game of Simon Says to open it. That was easy enough. There's some scientists inside, looks like they were hiding out. We ask them what happened to the beacon, Nihlus was right, they moved it to the space port. One of the scientists think that the beacon could be the greatest discovery ever, the other thinks it is the fall of mankind.

36 - I leave them in their boxcar and then a cutscene starts. It's Nihlus, he's found another Turian, Saren. Nihlus asks Saren what he's doing there, but then Saren shoots Nihlus in the back of his head! Guess there won't be any more Spectre evaluating.

Mass Effect Saren

38 - As we approach the space port, we see the giant spider space ship flying off into the sky. Maybe that's Saren leaving?

39 - Not too much time to wonder though as we get into another firefight. Well, it's actually us shooting at the Geth and them running at us like suicide bombers. They don't seem to be doing any damage though.

40 - Haha, I shoot at an exploding crate and Kaidan dies. Whoops. He gets back up a moment later though. We approach Nihlus' body. A man appears from behind some more crates and says he saw another Turian shoot Nihlus. He said Saren shot him right in the back of the noggin and then headed towards another platform.

Mass Effect Ashley Williams Gun

42 - I push the guy a little further asking how he wasn't killed, turns out he was napping on the job and when the Geth attacked he was sleeping behind the crates. The three of us rip on the guy pretty badly. We leave the guy and head for the other platform too.

43 - Dang, Shepard is a really good shot with the pistol! I also take out a thug by blowing up the barrel he was standing next to. Loser.

44 - We're supposed to head down a narrow passage now, but there's tons of bad guys. This may take a few minutes. A Geth Destroyer shoots what looks like a rocket at us!

46 - My team ends up making pretty quick work of them. We reach the end of a platform, hop on a mini train and a cutscene begins. It's Saren, he says to set the charges. He approaches the beacon and he's suddenly lifted up off the ground. No explanation there but it looks like he's received some kind of power.

Mass Effect Saren Geth

47 - Woah, I have four minutes to dismantle four bombs. I head to the first one and shut it down. Three more to plus there's bad guys shooting at us.

48 - I press Y to heal my squad and then dismantle the second bomb.

49 - I overheat my gun by shooting too much, it doesn't seem that I have limited ammo though, just can't fire too many bullets in a small length of time. Another bomb down too.

50 - Shepard disarms the fourth and final bomb. We're safe in that respect at least.

51 - I'm able to press right on the D-Pad to tell my squad to attack the guy I'm attacking. Pretty nice tactics there.

52 - I take out the last of the Geth and level up, I also receive a 360 achievement. I head to the talent screen to assign a few more points to weapons and training. Well, actually I'll max out my intimidation skill!

Mass Effect Shepard Geth Shock Trooper Shooting

53 - I walk up the beacon, looks like I beat the mission. Shepard reports in to Normandy (the ship) that we found the beacon. Williams approaches the beacon and she starts getting sucked into it! Shepard runs up and throws her away from it.

54 - But now he's getting lifted up! I see a bunch of bloody red flashes of something on my screen, and then I must have passed out.

55 - A cutscene with Saren and The Matriarch (no idea). She tells Saren that one of the humans (me) touched the beacon. Saren gets ticked off and throws a tantrum. Loading.

56 - Shepard wakes up in the infirmary, Ashley calls for the doctor. The doc tells me I was out for 15 hours. Ashley blames herself for the incident, I tell not to worry. She smiles... I think she likes me.

Mass Effect Normandy Deck

57 - The doc says she detected some abnormal brain activity and I tell her about the red vision I had.

58 - Captain Anderson approaches and I ask why Ashley is on board, he says she's been reassigned to the Normandy.

59 - Anderson says the Council wants answers, things are not looking good. He tells me that Saren is also a Spectre, but that he's gone rogue. He has allied himself with the Geth.

60 - We talk a bit more about my vision and Saren. This guy is obviously a bad dude as he doesn't like humans and seems to have the firepower and willingness to knock us out, and maybe all the other species to boot! I like games that introduce the main bad guy early on! Well, that's it for Mass Effect's first hour.

Now for some scores out of 10.

Mass Effect Shepard Kaidan Ashley Normandy

First Hour Scores

Minutes to Action: 20

Gameplay: 8
Running around and interacting with objects in Mass Effect feels a lot like Knights of the Old Republic. This is both good and bad. The good is that the system is familiar and it works pretty well, the bad is that it feels a little last gen. I still feel like I don't have 100% total control when moving around. The action feels a lot like Gears of War. This is also both good and bad. The good is that this system is also familiar and it works pretty well, the bad is that it's hard to live up to a system like Gears of War, things just don't feel as fine tuned and a little sloppy. When I'm shooting at things it doesn't really feel like I'm hitting them, there's a health bar at top and that's really the only indication that I'm doing any damage. Assigning weapons to my squad is very easy though and they seem rather intelligent. The dialogue system is brilliant and works a lot better than the past games.

Fun Factor: 8
I was pumped to play Mass Effect and while I enjoyed it, I was surprised by a few things. I was super surprised by how the action played out, and was pleased with it at first. The shooting engine started showing its flaws along the way but my soldier was so strong I had no problem mowing down enemies. I think I had the most fun during the conversations, examining the character's faces and their reactions to what I said was really interesting. You can tell Bioware spent a lot of time on all the small muscles in the face. The story was also fun to follow but it took a while to get to the action, even longer if you want to read everything (but then maybe you don't really care about shooting things).

Graphics and Sound: 10
Mass Effect is running the Unreal Engine 3, so you know it's going to look great. The characters look awesome, more realistic than Gears of War (same engine) if you ask me. There's some funny looking texture draw-in that can draw your eye away from the real scene, but it's not too bad. Honestly, this game is like a movie, the default graphical settings have a white noise effect on and motion blur that gives Mass Effect that unique and realistic look. Sound wise the voice acting is outstanding. Shepard's voice sounds really good (both male and female versions, male in this review) and the other cast members are recognizable and even fit the part. The presentation in this game is outstanding and the best I've experienced on the 360 yet next to Call of Duty 4.

Story: 9
Mass Effect has a huge story to tell, and the amount you want to take in is really up to you. During my review I didn't dive too deep into conversations and just skimmed any Codex entries I received. This allowed me to progress the main story and experience more action, but I started another new game and barely got off the Normandy in the first hour because I was reading so much information. The game also has a prequel novel available written by the game's writer, so there's plenty of history and backstory. However, looking purely at the first hour I experienced, the game still manages to pack a lot of cool development in. We get to meet an alien race, explore an advanced spaceship, and get to see a trusted super agent knocked off by the game's villain. There's drama and action, just what its genre of action role-playing game promises.

Overall: 9
Mass Effect really does a lot of things right in its first hour: the graphics are amazing, the voice acting is outstanding, and the story is engaging. I have a warning though: if you are expecting an RPG with guns, you will probably be disappointed. The game is very action orientated, a lot more than I thought. Jade Empire also had a lot of action but that was martial arts, actually shooting something takes a lot more thumbstick skill so be prepared. Either way, I'm really excited to play the rest of this game. The minutes to action score (20) is probably the worst I will ever give to a game I scored a 9, but keep in mind that's just when the shooting starts. There's plenty of interesting cutscenes and dialogue trees to work through before then. When I reviewed Star Control 2 I made a conjecture that the classic game may have inspired Bioware to create Mass Effect and I look forward to seeing if that's true.

Mass Effect Shepard Ashley Garrus Mako