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Mass Effect

Developer: Bioware | Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Players: 1 Player Game | Genre: RPG

Release Date: 11/20/07

Bioware is famous for telling incredibly deep and rich stories with great gameplay. Some of their past titles include Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate II, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, and most recently--Jade Empire. Beginning with the original Xbox, Bioware provided players with some great RPG experiences. I had great expectations when I entered into a private showing of Mass Effect behind closed doors at Microsoft’s booth. What I was shown quickly became the best game at E3 2006.

Players control Commander Shepard of the Spector Agency who is tasked at keeping peace in the galaxy. This is no small task and Shepard won’t be alone in his missions for Spector. Alongside of him will be a multitude of companions--up to two of which will be with you on foot at any given time. The E3 demonstration we were shown only had two companions available. They were chosen mainly because they were exactly opposite in their personalities, feelings, and beliefs. As the player controls Shepard through his journey, your companions will chime in and express their concerns or agreement with your decisions.

Also, I should point out that while Shepard is the primary character in the game and the series, the player is not forced to use him as the default character. While we weren’t shown the process at this demonstration, we were told that players can choose to make their own character for use in the game and future installments of the series. As in previous titles Bioware has created, we expect something similar but more detailed than the character creation process in Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights. Also, regardless of if you select a male or female character, for the first time ever in a Bioware game, the player will finally get to hear a voice for their character. When I heard these words, I almost leapt out of my seat and screamed “WooHoo!” However, I maintained my professionalism and just smiled really big. For those of you who have never played a Bioware game before, having the main character actually speak is a huge deal.

Bioware next showed us a brief glimpse at the game world and conversation trees. Shepard and his team were brought into a bar and we were shown some incredibly detailed graphics. Before I could ask if this was pre-rendered, we were told that all of the things that they were showing us is real in-game graphics shown in real time. They were not showing any pre-rendered graphics at all. After seeing the game running before my eyes, I can see why cinemas aren’t needed. If you have seen a movie of Mass Effect running or a trailer of the game from prior Microsoft events, what you saw was the real gameplay.

As I sat there in disbelief, I watched as Bioware began moving the Xbox 360 controller around the screen. Shepard moved and they began to strike up a conversation with the bartender. This is where some new elements of the gameplay in Mass Effect were revealed. In the past, the conversation trees in Bioware games revealed the exact dialogue your character spoke. Instead of hearing your character speak that, you would get the response. Trying to make their title seem more cinematic, the player will not receive a brief reaction to what they can say. Then Shepard will speak these words based on what that reaction says. For example, one conversation choice could be “I am going to snap you in two.” Shepard would then go into a very aggressive conversation that might not even include the phrase “snap you in two.”

This new conversation tree actually allows the player to choose the reaction they feel most comfortable with. However, as in past games, your choices have an impact on the game. Humanity is fairly new to the galaxy and the species you are coming in contact with are not familiar to humans. How you choose to handle situations will impact how these species think about humans. We were told that the storyline gets very intense and the fate of the entire galaxy will hang on you succeeding. Sometimes tough choices have to be made in order to complete your goal. This sure sounds like a Sci-Fi version of 24 to me!

Another thing interesting about the conversation tree is that for the first time in a Bioware game, players can quickly react, continue the conversation forward, and feel more involved in the storyline. Another conversation we were shown with a diplomat had an interesting element to it. With this new system, Bioware has successfully created a way for you to argue with characters in the game. If you can’t already tell, I am very excited about what this system will bring to RPG’s in the next-generation.

I wanted to touch on the graphics again for just a moment. As I mentioned above, the game looks and feels like it is a cinematic sequence. The graphics are excellent. However, when having a conversation with another character, the visuals are even better. Players are taken to a close-up to the face of the character you are speaking to. You can see every wrinkle, every skin imperfection, the sparkle in their eyes, etc. The Player will also, for the first time, be able to tell if a character is hiding something, is upset, is happy, etc. While some want to argue that graphics aren’t needed for next-generation gameplay, this is an example of how it improves upon the gameplay.

Mass Effect is the most ambitious game Bioware has ever attempted to create. The entire galaxy is at your fingertips and players will need to explore the galaxy, locate planets, and explore them to not only complete the main quest but also for side quests and to find unique characters, weapons, and treasures for your party. The next part of our demo focused on the combat. On a desolate planet in the middle of the galaxy, Shepard and his team wander onto this planet to try and continue on with the main storyline.

Upon arriving on the surface of the planet, our characters encounter an ambush. This time, numbers do matter and while your team is strong, you have to use tactics to successfully achieve victory in combat. The Player can instantly change to another one of their teammates if you wish to control them. However, the preferred method is to issue them a specific tactic to attack the enemy. In the example we were shown, Shepard hit the middle while each one of your team went up on either side. This confused the enemy and allowed for your team to take them out.

Another thing I should mention here is that the gameplay does not mirror the majority of past Bioware titles. While you can still pause the combat to issue orders and contemplate your next move, players will control the action from a First Person Shooter viewpoint. Not knowing a lot about the game before E3, I was a bit surprised to see the action elements of the combat be as a FPS. However, it is engaging and seems to be done very well. So while I still have a few reservations about making everything real-time, I fully trust Bioware to make the proper decisions. They have never let us down before.

Overall, Mass Effect was easily the best game shown at E3. In a sea of great Xbox 360 titles, it is further proof that not only is the next-generation here right now, Microsoft has a very big lead that they continue to build everyday PS3 and Wii aren’t on store shelves. I full expect Mass Effect to be the greatest Bioware game ever made and I can’t wait to see more of the title. This is definitely one to keep your eyes on..

By Daniel "Monk" Pel... - 07/25/07
ESRB Details: Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence
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Screenshots for Mass Effect

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