Content at a glance:
Computer Platform: Xbox 360 (Microsoft)
Produced by: BioWare Corp.
Price Range: $61 or over
Learning curve time: 1-2 hrs.
Age level: Mature Teen to Adult
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Reviewed By: Nestor Arce
VOLUNTEER GUEST REVIEWER
Genre: Action / Role Playing Game
Christian Rating: 3 of 5 (average)
Gameplay: 5 of 5 (excellent)
Violence: 2 of 5 (heavy)
Adult Content: 2 of 5 (heavy)
Mass Effect was probably one of the best and most controversial games of 2007. This action-RPG came under fire because the game supposedly contained gameplay that showed and encouraged graphic sexual acts among the crew of your ship, the Normandy. [Editor’s note: In the case of Mass Effect we agree with the reviewer that the media reaction was overblown and unjustified. However there are still some offensive content issues throughout the game which will be exposed later in the review.]
Mass Effect is an action-RPG made by the geniuses at BioWare Corp. who are also responsible for more recent classics like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. In the game you play the role of Commander Shepard, who you can choose to play as the default character in the game or make your own avatar from scratch. You then can decide to pick their class and background. Now as you can see, even before begin to play this game, the game’s main goal for the player is to give him or her the freewill to make their own choice, but more on that later.
As you begin the story in the game, you soon discover the meaning of the game’s title. Years in the future, humanity ventures into Mars and finds secret alien technology that allowed us to travel across the universe in the blink of an eye, this technology was then called the Mass Effect. Like the new kid on the block, humans soon discover that they aren’t the only ones living in the universe and soon bump into other alien races that aren’t too sure of the humans and the reputation that perceives us. Skip a couple of hundred years and you’ll soon enter the games main plot.
As Commander Shepard, you are dropped in the middle of an intergalactic war between a cybernetic race known as the Geth. The Geth’s main goal is to wipe out oraganic life as we know it. Why? Well, that’s something you need to go find out on your own. This game was highly praised as having the best sci-fi story ever written since Star Wars and to say anymore would be a sin.
Gameplay wise, Mass Effect plays well for the most part. This being and action-RPG, you can choose to play the game in an old-school turned-based form or go all-out Gears of War. The bumpers on the 360 controller allow you to bring up “wheels” (one for “weapons” and the other for “powers”) which you can use to command your party members that you pick up on your travels. This part of the game works particularly well since the party A.I. is mostly dumb enough to run out of cover and get creamed in the middle of the game’s heavy firefight segments. While the running and gunning mechanics do have their share of small problems I applaud BioWare for truly taking risks and making the game accessible to a more action-hungry crowd rather than hardcore RPG-ers. But where the game really shines is not in its combat, but in its story and the choices you make that affect it.
Mass Effect is part action and part “choose-your-own adventure” game. Many times when you speak to the characters in the game a dialog wheel will display itself on the bottom of the screen giving you the options to either say something good, bad, or something in between. But these cutscenes aren’t just filler, they let you, the player, control the outcome of the story by letting you respond on your own will to certain situations. Just beware of the choices you decide to make because just like those books we used to read in our second grade library, those choices can have consequences in the future. Your greatest weapon in this game isn’t your nifty rifle or your awesome telekenises that can send galactic mercs into outer space, but your words and actions that follow them. You will be faced with some serious moral dilemmas, such as deciding whether a few innocent civilians in your care should die in order to save the lives of an entire planet.
In one surprising segment in the game I began to converse with one of the female crew members on the ship, Ashley Williams. Out of nowhere, Ashley began to converse with me and asked me if I believed in God and how people make fun of her for believing in Him. She mentined that after everything she’s encountered in the universe, from the different races to the planets, that it was hard to believe that their isn’t a god. This was a major high, not only in this game, but in the industry itself. Games are no longer “mindless kids toys”, these “toys” are now being used to tell deeper and more though-provoking stories for audiences and I just can’t wait where the industry decides to take this idea in the future.
Yet another praise-worthy element to this game is its presentation. This game looks gorgeous and the design of the environments and soundtrack
just scream “sci-fi”. From its exhilarating techno-rock music to its futuristic architecture, and even character’s facial expressions during conversations, this game is a visual feast. The game even includes the option of “film grain” to make the game even more cinematic than it already is.
The game also features some side missions apart from the single-player campaign. These consists of dropping into the planet on a vehicle called the Mako. Just imagine a Rover equipped with jets and artillery and you’ve pretty much get the idea. In the Mako, you get to run around a couple of acres of planet finding anomalies and clearing enemy bases and even fighting some of the natural lifeforms there. All of this exploration, while a bit repetitive is worthwhile as you can salvage new weapons and armor that can be used during the campaign. BioWare has promised more planets via downloads on Xbox Live, the first which was recently released.
Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the infamous sex scene. Yes, it’s true that you can have a relationship with some of the characters on the Normandy. This brief event has caused some in the media to describe the entire game as pornography. Here are the facts: In order to fall in love with someone the relationship must first be built up during the course of the story. You will have to very deliberately suggest to the other character that you want to go to bed with him/her, and the player can skip out on the love story, as this game is about “choices”. The actual sex scene is a ten-second clip showing a side view of the other character’s naked read end sliding across the top of your character. The player can skip out on the love story, as this game is about “choices”. One unavoidable event involves a visit to “Chora’s Den”, a gentleman’s club complete with barely clothed female aliens dancing on tables. A non-playable female character whose shirt barely covers her breasts. [Editor’s Note: Mass Effect being about “choices”, the reviewer’s experience was different from mine in the following areas: I wandered into the office of the “consort”, a sort of prostitute who can pleasure one’s body or mind. I was caught off guard by sexually-charged comments from my ship’s crew. One of my female crew members asked me if I wanted her to ask a female crew mate about her sex life… as a personal favor to me. Male crewmen commented on the incredible body of a female who had come on board the Normandy. In your travels you may encounter content that we have not yet discovered.]
Shepard sees human beings impaled on spikes and transformed into robotic enemy “husks”, whom you then kill. You engage in combat with human colonists who have lost their sanity due to alien mind control. Fortunately, you can merely gas the colonists into temporary unconsciousness while you administer a cure for their madness. In the combat with life forms the game does show blood.
Cursing is present. D, a, b, h** appear regularly no matter what you do, and if you choose to play as a renegade character he/she will curse more frequently. God’s name is used in vain. The story has some pretty intense sequences in the story so it’s best to leave this game for mature gamers. And finally, this being an action-RPG, the game should take you about 20 hours on single-player to beat and even longer with the side missions.
Be it the controversy or ground-breaking game mechanics, Mass Effect is truly a gamer’s game. Hardcore sci-fi nuts will dig this and BioWare is even planning two more sequels that will tie in to the story choices that the player made in the first game. We need more games like this, games that are not only fun and entertaining, but also thought-provoking and aren’t afraid to show a soft side to discuss topics in a culture too afraid to acknowledge such things. Just be prepared for the game’s villain to talk some mumbo-jumbo about us being organic accidents. I’m pretty sure in such situations actions do speak louder than words.
[Editor’s Note: Some M-rated games would almost qualify as teen-friendly, if they are played a certain way or if certain options are toggled. Despite the fact that the game is about “choices” we do not believe Mass Effect can be played while completely avoiding the M-rated content. True, you might be able to shelter yourself a bit by making godly choices whenever possible, but it’s a harsh galaxy out there and we can’t recommend Mass Effect to those of you who were wondering if the content was “bad, but not THAT bad”.]
Edited by Staff Reviewer Phil Rownd (aka boyward)
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Year of Release — 2007
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.
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