Let’s start with what is incredible about Mass Effect. As a child of the 80’s, I was reared on The Black Hole, Blade Runner, The Last Starfighter, and Enemy Mine — a mix of cult classics and lovable garbage that tried to capture the public’s imagination between Star Wars episodes 4-6.
From the simple but elegant jumpsuits to the cheaply designed aliens and backdrops, Mass Effect ‘borrows’ these elements and I think it’s great. It’s a wonderful style choice that is the opposite of many space adventures that wants to progressively boost the amount of detail and techy crap that usually litters the environment. Simple is good sometimes.
There’s even a film-grain laid over the screen, which shows real dedication to old-school geeks of the genre. Sure, you can turn the grain off, but why would you?
All of the aliens and creatures look like they were designed by the Muppet Factory during the time of Labyrinth and I adore it. Although the animations can get a bit choppy, I give Mass Effect the benefit of the doubt due to the sheer scope of the multi-planet adventure. I’m just willing to look the other way because Mass Effect is about style, not graphics that push the envelope.
To coincide with the visuals, the music is a direct ode to keyboard cheese soundtracks from The Terminator and Escape from New York. This impacted me even more than the film-grain. John Carpenter himself couldn’t have picked a better soundtrack! I tripped out when the music began. It is a Casio-Keyboard classic.
Mass Effect has many ways to draw the player into this universe, like a satisfying character creation option that allowed me to put my visage on screen. This is important, since you have full control of the dialogue your character spews, and essentially, your mood and personality dictate the response you give. There are a lot of choices in the dialogue, and seeing all of this interaction with your face on-screen is strange and cool.
You also have far more options than the black & white of Bioshock. The amount of dialogue is staggering and epic. Everyone communicates, and with so many potential choices and reactions, I doubt the game could ever be played the same way twice. But by hour ten you may shout, “Enough with the damn talking!”
Mass Effect has so many conversations, side-quests, details and monotony that it can be boring, or worse, coma inducing. Casual gamers need not apply. Battles are so few and far between, that it won’t take long for you to wonder if you accidentally purchased the “My Dinner with Andre” video game that Martin Prince once played on The Simpsons.
You have to constantly check journals, talk to people, fetch more items, and talk some more before finally someone will draw a gun and cause a 23 second battle. More action does eventually follow, but it takes a good 5+ hours before you can even planet-hop and take on some real challenges.
I don’t know about you, but 5 hours just to get the ball rolling on a game is 5 hours I typically don’t have. Bioware is telling a long tale here, which is pretty good but takes its sweet time getting the plot across to any players left awake. That is the deciding factor.
Hype is like a snowball, thundering down a mountain, gaining size and momentum as it barrels towards the quaint Swiss ski village nestled below. Mass Effect’s hype may have snowballed, but that doesn’t mean it’s terrible.
It’s a really good game that tries to offer the universe as its playground, but it occasionally simulates a long conversation with the old man at the bus stop who won’t shut up about Aunt Bea’s trip to Maine in 1974.
If RPGs are your thing, then Mass Effect is a fantastic investment. For those who want satisfying action and excitement, I recommend waiting until you have a vacation long enough to play this epic.