Mass Effect is one of those games that comes along once in a while and ups the ante. The storyline is the best that has come out possibly ever for a video game. The gameplay is original and combines the genres of RPG and Shooter, something that was done very unsuccessfully up to that point. I was given Mass Effect as a gift, and so I did not play it right away. I was busy with Halo 3 and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2 at that point, and with school and swimming I didn’t have the time. After I did pick it up, it frustrated me to no end. The shooting was awkward for a shooter player, and the RPG elements were even harder to grasp. However, I played the last 6 hours of the game straight, finishing at 3 AM on a Monday. That is how good this storyline is.

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Mass Effect was developed by Bioware, a game developer that established itself with Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), the 2003 game of the year, and before Mass Effect was the best storyline from any video game ever. The player has no idea what is in store for him or her when they pick up KOTOR, except that there will be Jedi and Sith and epic battles. Mass Effect is much the same way, and is the spiritual successor to this amazing game.

Mass Effect was so all absorbing that I have played through the game a total of 5 times as different classes, alignments and sexes and still have not uncovered it all. The game is massive, encompassing literally an entire galaxy of information that not only adds flavor to the game, but sets up the sequel as well as informing on your decisions that affect the fate of the galaxy! Pretty cool huh?

Storyline: A+

This is my first A+ that I have given out. And I have a feeling that there will not be very many more that come after this, so if you are going to be reading my stuff, pay attention here if no where else. Mass Effect has the best story of any game that has ever been made. Period. If you don’t like it, tough, it’s the truth. It is not only the twists and turns in the plot that keep you on the edge of your seat, nor is it the massive amounts of information on this mythical galaxy that Bioware has created. It is the entire package. It flows logically, but with an M. Night Shyamalan twist that literally blew people’s minds.

The name of the game comes form the effect produced by the mass relays that make interstellar travel possible. These relays and even the massive Citadel were all found by the races of the galaxy, remnants of the once great Prothean Empire that msyeriously vanished from the face of the galaxy thousands of years earlier

You start out the game deciding on who your character is going to be. You can change your name, but the default is either Commander John or Jane Shepard. You cannot change the voice of the character, but meh. Shepard is a soldier in the human Alliance military, and is being tested for entry into the elite SPECTRE military unit that serves the federation of races called the Citadel Citadel Council. You are sent to the world of Eden Prime with a Specter named Nihilus and a pair of squadmates in order to retrieve an ancient Prothean beacon. The mission starts to go south when the planet is attacked by a giant squid like ship. You of course, go in covertly, trying to find out the cause of the attack and still to recover the beacon.

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As if a giant squid ship wasn’t bad enough, within the first 5 minutes a squadmate dies (you can’t save him) you get a new squadmate (a girl in pink armor) and the SPECTRE Nihilus is killed by another Turian named Saren, who is the main bad guy in the game, and named villain of the year for 2007. After that, you fight bionic zombies, the robot race of Geth, disarm bombs, get zapped by a mysterious beacon that scrambles your brain and somehow you save the planet, all in the first stage of the game!

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After a short investigation, you are promoted to SPECTRE status to replace Saren and given the task of hunting him down and bringing him to justice. You are given a crew of intergalactic team members, your own amazingly cool stealth ship, the SSV Normandy and after that the Galaxy is your oyster. You can choose to follow the main story only, or to track down and complete all of the side missions. Either way, you increasingly find out more about Saren, the ancient Protheans, the Geth, the mythical Reapers, and Saren’s ship Sovereign.

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The story culminates at the massive space station that is the seat of galactic government, The Citadel. An epic fleet of Geth warships and Sovereign attack the Citadel, with only the defense fleet to stop it. Here is where you hold the fate of the galaxy in the palm of your hand. You can tell the waiting Human Alliance fleet to jump in and save the defense fleet and thus the government of the Citadel Council, or you can hold back the fleet for a more opportune attack that leaves humanity with the only fleet in the galaxy and thuis the most powerful race. There are far more nuances to the story, and without giving away the big story surprise I leave you there, just trust me, this story is a real wild ride.

Gameplay: B

The gameplay for Mass Effect kind of took a backseat to the story in my opinion. The game combines the elements fo a classic RPG with a second person shooter. In the beginning, this makes the controls very awkward as you have access to special powers (similar to Force powers from KOTOR) as well as a range of weapons to choose from. A very ingenious system of overheating weapons instead of reloading allows for short controlled bursts to pretty much allow you to fire continuously.

The best part of gameplay is actually making a character. You get to choose from several things to customize your version of Shepard. You get to choose where he/she is born (Earthborn, Spacer or Colonist) as well as your psychological profile (War Hero, Sole Survivor or Ruthless) and to top that all off you have to choose your class, Soldier, Adept, Engineer, Vanguard, Sentinel or Infiltrator. All of these classes have their benefits and detractions, allowing multiple play through with different classes as well as psych profiles.

The game features a basic level up system that allows you to gain experience from solving puzzles (locks and such), defeating enemies as well as accomplishing quests. The higher level you are, the more you can upgrade your skills, armor, weapons, and abilities.

There are three different skills that you can specialize in in the game, Combat, Tech and Biotics. Biotics are very similar to Force powers in KOTOR, allowing you to manipulate the world around you by using a very specialized mass effect field to throw, paralyze and float enemies. Tech allows you to solve puzzles easier as well as lay traps for your opponents and use explosives easier. Combat makes you a hardened soldier, allowing you to give and take more punishment. On a first play through of the game, I recommend that you be a Soldier, as your other squadmates can handle the biotic and tech abilities fairly easily. However, the biotic and tech classes are trickier to use, something that I did not think made the game better.

For non-hardcore gamers, the facial construction was definitely a major appeal. You can change such things as scars, eyebrows, hair color, makeup (women only), chin, cheeks and eyes and these are only the beginning! There are literally hundreds of combinations between both the sexes allowing for a completely unique character each and every time you play, adding to replayability. It actually can get quite tedious when making a character, so if you don’t want to spend the time, the pre-sets are actually quite neat.

One of the more interesting facets of gameplay as well as story is the ability to talk to your compatriots. Depending on what you say to them, they will react differently throughout the game. Of particular interest are the three love interest characters, Ashely Williams, Kaidan Alenko and the Asari, Liara T’Soni. These characters, depending on your level of talking to each of them, will become your love interest later in the game. You get Ashley if you are male, Kaidan if you are female and you can choose Liara with either sex. And boy does this game get risque. At several points in the game (2) there are actually some “naked” scenes where the characters get down and dirty. This almost caused the game not to be released, but just created press hubbub prior to release and helped to sell the game.

There are 4 types of firearm in the game, Shotgun, Assault Rifle, Sniper Rifle and Pistol. Certain classes can only use certain weapons, where the Soldier can use them all. Of all of them, the Assault Rifle is predictably the most useful, being fairly good short and long range. The Pistol does short to medium, the sniper one shot at long range and of course the shotgun at short range. Weapons do not take ammunition as in most games, instead an ingenious overheating system allows players to fire almost continuously if they conserve their shots. Weapons and armor can also be upgraded with extra protection, ammo types and other things to make them more efficient and powerful. There are also a ridiculous amount of weapons in the game, each sporting particular advantages to ammo count before overheating, power and accuracy.

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You not only have armor, but also mass effect shields as well. Upgrades to your armor and character can allow you to have extra shields, something that is actually very good no matter your character class as your shields do not recharge especially quickly. You may also heal yourself as well as give yourself stimulants to help you out of tight spots, whcihi can make your character more powerful for a short time in a given area of stats.

One of the most important factors of the game is the vehicle, the Mako. This is the standard vehicle that you drop to planets with. It has six wheels, never flips over, and sports a mass effect gun and turret which allows it to be the most powerful weapon in your arsenal. The Mako also has slowly regenerating shields, allowing it to literally really be a tank and take down other vehicles twice it’s size. The Mako also features jump jets, allowing you to make insane jumps off of cliffs and mountains (you never get hurt from falling) as well as to get out of jams and dodge incoming fire.

There is literally too much to go over in this game in one review. If you are even more interested in what goes on in Mass Effect gameplay, I recommend that you check out the Mass Effect Wiki athttp://masseffect.wikia.com/wiki/Mass_Effect_Wiki.

Visuals/Music: B

The great thing about this game is the amount of visual candy you get. The amazing Citadel is still a cause for wonderment for me. It is in a pink nebula that literally looks like cotton candy, and combined with the sun in the background some of the art can be breathtaking. The amount of detail that went into the game is amazing,a s you can clearly see your characters individual facial features even in the middle of combat. Like in Halo Reach, the maps are enormous, literally almost planet size in some cases (not really though).

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The problem with the visuals is not really even the visuals. In some scenarios, the game physics literally trap you in a certain spot. Definitely no fun especially if you are in combat and cannot save. Mostly this happens when EVA on a side mission planet, but can sometimes happen in the middle of a fight. The game also often has problems processing the visual effects of the game they are so detailed, sometimes for as long as 5 minutes. This is often an irritant only, but can sometimes caus eyou to miss shots you would have otherwise hit with.

The music is the one thing with the game that I did not like. The developers tried to make it sound futuristic, with lots of synthesizer in there, but to me just was hokey. And at certain points in the game, I wished that the music were different or simply not there. You can change the music settings, but while reviewing a game, I try to take in the whole game as a person first playing would experience it, and the music is simply not a strong point in the game.

There is some good news on the audio front though, the weapon and ships sounds as well as character voices are exquisite. Although in the side missions it can be annoying to hear the same things over and over again, there is a rather large repertoire of dialogue. The sound effects also contribute immensely to the lackluster music, allowing the sounds of the Mako and gunfire to be your beat to beat face.

The absolute best part of audio was not the sound effects though. An all star cast of actors allows this game to be far more focused on dialogue. Jennifer Hale and Mark Meer voice Shepard while other all stars contribute to the rest of the cast. These include well known actress Kimberly Brooks, Raphael Sbarge (you will recognize him from KOTOR), famous actress Ali Hillis, Steven Barr, Keith David (the voice of the Arbiter in Halo and a host of other cartoons, games and movies), Seth Green (Family Guy, Austin Powers and Robot Chicken to name a few), Bill Ratner, Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi on Star Trek The Next Generation) and Peter Jessop. These all star voice actors really contribute to the whole experience of the game by literally bringing in the voices of people that players will recognize from out of the game.

Originality: A

The game’s originality literally does not entirely come from the story. Though the story is great and is incredibly original, it still is not really the most original thing about the game. The game genre is really what originality is all about. It meshed RPG and Shooter genres together in a way that no game had ever been able to do seamlessly before. It does have it’s problems, as the shooting style is very clunky at first, but the RPG and story elements more than makeup for the slow spots in the game.

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It also features an ability to allow players to dissect weapons, ammo and upgrades in order to produce gel that they can then shape into other upgrades, repair the Mako, or do other tech things like hack computers and open locks. Med Gel does what it sounds, but healing in this game is more of a secondary function, as the Medic class is generally no very good, a departure from other games where a medic or healer is required in pretty much every party.

The game also features a villain that is not only really evil incarnate, he doesn’t even realize it! Saren is worth talking about almost as much as Shepard in the game, as he does what he does in what he believes is in the best interest of organic life. However, mind control is an insidious tool, and Saren falls victim to the mind controlling aspect of, oh, well you will just have to find that out won’t you?

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Overall: A-

A total score of A- might seem a little harsh to such a great game, but trust me, like any game, it has its flaws. But on my scale an A- is what it should be, almost perfection. The game incorporates excellent story, original game-play, incredible voice actors and even combines two genres that many players and developers were too different to successfully combine!

The bottom line is that if you call yourself a gamer and have not played this game, on XBox or PC, you pretty much are missing out on one of the most amazing games oif the last decade at least. I do recommend staying away from any more spoilers of the story, as it is far mroe interesting and exciting to experience them first hand rather than get them second hand from a friend or some guy online.

This is one of my favorite games of all time. That was why I was so disappointed when so many of my friends and relatives said that mass Effect 2 was so bad. I suppose if the original is good enough, a sequel is just always not going to live up to it. However, expect a review of Mass Effect 2 to be up here soon, as an unpopular game a cheap game does make.

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