Chances are that if you’re reading a site called The Shameless Geek, you’re more than familiar with Steam and its nerdgasm-inducing sales. I’m fairly sure most things warrant a sale over at Steam these days, though Christmas and Hallowe’en tend to bring out the price-slashing side of Valve’s online store. A year and a half ago, I bought multiple games at reduced prices. By multiple, I mean more than a year and a half’s worth – at least for me, the never-tiring MMO/MOBA fanatic who routinely refers to single-player games as “games where you can’t show off to your friends”. During my spending spree, I picked up Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. I had heard a lot about the games and thought it was worth picking up both for less than €10 (I can’t remember the actual price). I’d heard a lot of comparisons from friends in order to convince me of their worth – Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are generally far as I go into the terrifying void of offline PC gaming. Buying them was the first step.. Playing them has taken until this week. That’s quite the incubation period for thoughts in anyone’s head, but the whisperings of “What’s a Reaper?” got too much and I had to see what the fuss was about.
Oh, and I’ll embed the Mass Effect gamer poops because they’re too funny not to include in anything related to Mass Effect! The article may contain spoilers depending on your definition of spoiler, beware!
First impressions were pretty good – the game afforded a fair amount of choice in what your character’s background would be and where their main specialisations would lie. The graphics haven’t aged that badly considering the game has been out quite a while; I’m interested to see how ME2 and ME3 look. Games with the depth and detailing present in games like Fallout and Mass Effect tend to have some license to skimp on graphical integrity here and there but Mass Effect has fairly solid visuals across the board, with the only real eye-burners being the occasional stretched texture or off-time lip-sync during dialogue. The film-grain effect that I’d only seen previously in Left 4 Dead serves to both mask these issues but also makes things a bit too melodramatic in parts – for the early stages of the game I left it on but opted to switch it off around the time I set out to Noveria.
Initially, the controls were a concern – I wasn’t sure how much stopping and starting combat would involve given the apparent need to micro-manage party member’s movements, abilities, and targets. After only a short while I found myself only using the spacebar-mode if I really wanted a target crowd-controlled or to make sure a certain ability was already auto-cast by a party member. Thankfully this meant there was only as much stopping-and-starting as I wanted there to be, much like VATS in the Fallout series. On the subject of party members, the AI did have some shortcomings but as the game went on I found both AIs I took with me put in a lot of work, efficiently casting abilities to hack and disable targets to the extent that I rarely needed to micro-manage them at all. Shepard’s combat mechanics were intuitive and made a significant impact on gameplay without making it a faceroll type of affair.
I opted for a pure Soldier class and tended to only deal with the main storyline as I’m eager to see the main parts of the whole trilogy for the time being. I’ll likely try other specialisations in my next playthrough; I used Tali and Liara as my party members for the entirety of the game, specialising Tali in hacking and electronics with Liara playing support by way of Lift and other biotic powers. The game’s dialogue is rich and varied, with plenty of options all along the hero-to-asshole spectrum throughout. While the game does give you some functional invisible walls as far as plot progression goes, you do get quite a lot of autonomy when it comes to decisions critical to a mission and presumably the canon of the later games. I opted to play the renegade, being a total dick as often as it was made possible – this ranged from melting the progenitor of an entire race to treating sick people like they were lepers. The real power of the game’s writing is made apparent when you go this route – despite the pleasure I took in taking the renegade route in a tongue-in-cheek, look-what-a-prick-I’m-being way, I still felt sympathy towards whichever NPC it was whose life I was destroying with my decision.
The exploration of space offered by the Normandy’s galactic map is a nice added feature but ultimately comes off as an illusion of a bigger playable world. Most of the planets are either scannable for added information or resources or simply offer a generic blurb about their environment. That said, there are plenty of side missions to complete that I simply skirted around on my journey to the sequel – I won’t pass a real judgement on the extras in the game until my second completionist run-through is done. I never ran into any problems with equipment though I played through on an average difficulty – I got the impression some of the bigger Geth units would be harder than bosses themselves on higher difficulty modes. Hacking and decryption are performed via a minigame that scales in difficulty based on the significance of the find – these are however skippable by spending omni-gel, a material that can be salvaged from looted equipment.
The climax of the game’s storyline was engrossing and kept me playing for three and a half hours – that’s a long time in one sitting for someone that usually saves and goes off to play something multiplayer after thirty minutes or so! My Steam client says I’ve played the game for twelve hours, but I’m fairly sure it took a little longer. Regardless, the game felt well-paced given my relative urgency to get to the end. Overall I had a great time playing Mass Effect and look forward to revisiting it after Mass Effect 3 is done and dusted at least once. Here’s to taking alpha-male douchebag Shepard into the series’ second installment!
What I played Mass Effect on:
Intel i7 @ 2.8GHz
6GB DDR3 RAM
24″ Samsung Syncmaster, 1920×1080 resolution
All graphics maximum