13 December 2012

Mass Effect PS3 Review

Mass Effect was originally released on PC and Xbox 360 in 2007 and to some degree the PlayStation 3 version of the game - released more than five years later - show it. Mass Effect's problems, borne more of outdated game design choices than anything else, ultimately prove to be a minor detractor from the overall experience BioWare created.

If you've played Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 or you're simply looking for an excellent RPG than the original entry in the series is unmissable and is the best version of the game released on console to date. Motion blur is all but eliminated as is visual tear while the frame rate is less likely to drop below 30 FPS, although this does occur often when driving.

Similarly frame rates within cutscenes are much improved while texture pop-in is all but eliminated due to the requirement to install the game, which takes quite some time. Regrettably the implementation of shadows within the game is far from perfect, particularly with regard to people's faces and Shepard's hairstyle is far from smooth (though it never was), with sharp lines and edges as if the barber's hand slipped and the Commander let it be, though of course, that's a minor issue if it is one at all.

The Mass Effect saga's opening entry also benefits from Jack Wall's excellent synth sci-fi score which, while unaltered from the original release, is aided by certain added sound effects. Somewhat annoyingly however NPCs, particularly enemies, have only a small number of lines which they repeat time and again. Cries of 'hold the line!' and 'enemy is everywhere!' are far too common.

The Mako, a tank like vehicle used for side quest exploration as well as throughout the main story, was always one of Mass Effect's less popular features and handles identically to the Xbox 360 version. One feels that in porting the game to PS3 the developers could have made minor tweaks. The Mako, and the opportunities it offered to get off the beaten track, were removed after Mass Effect because handling it could prove difficult (especially in mountainous terrain) which is somewhat regrettable as the large maps offered a sense of scale arguably missing, at least to some degree, within the confines of the narrow corridors and close quarters popular in the title's sequels.

Yet it is the combat that represents the biggest snag, poor and unwieldy - particularly when using a sniper rifle - it is here you feel the developers missed the biggest opportunity to improve the title, if only to make it easier to aim weapons. Fighting in the first Mass Effect was always the game's biggest flaw and doesn't represent a particular issue with the PS3 version.

Mass Effect's problems are largely a result of its age but in the context of the period in which it was released (before Modern Warfare and Gears of War) it remains an excellent game even now as well as the purest RPG in the franchise to date. The game tells a sweeping yarn which, despite its faults, represents one of the finest examples of videogame storytelling this generation.

Having created a unique Commander Shepard, or chosen the male or female default, players are immersed in a broad universe with literally dozens of worlds to visit and hundreds of characters to encounter. What Mass Effect also excelled at, more so than it's successors, was giving gamers a formidable enemy that is easy to hate and yet remains admirable, to some degree, nonetheless. Saren is in many ways a more immediate and more charismatic foe than the Reapers who stay shrouded in relative mystery until the Leviathan and Extended Cut DLCs for Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect is also the title that arguably provides the greatest diversity in player choice. Your selections when creating Commander Shepard; whether, for instance, you were born and raised on Earth or in the colonies, have a greater degree of impact than in subsequent titles with certain quests only becoming available based on those initial decisions.

The best example of a stark choice comes late in the game Shepard visits the planet Virmire and will, without wishing to give too much away, be forced to make a choice. The Commander must sacrifice one of his/her crew in order to save another, the gravity and diverse implications of that decision are rarely replicated at other points in the series. It is also notable that this choice comes not long after a confrontation in which Shepard may decide to kill another squad member.

The diversity of the choice offers significant replay value and will take at least two playthroughs to fully appreciate the extent of the differences.

If you've never played Mass Effect 2 or 3 now is the perfect time to enter the fray. Even if you have but are curious to see how Commander Shepard's journey began than you really should consider it. Series newcomers - as well as those who have not yet experienced the game - may find some of the design choices archaic and while the opportunity for major overhaul for the PS3 port was regrettably passed by players should recall that pre-production on the game likely began in late 2004.

Mass Effect remains one of the finest games of the current generation and quite possibly the greatest RPG. The fact that the game comes with The Bring Down the Sky add-on contributes to the value of an already impressive package though the fact that Pinnacle Station is not, and will likely never see a release Sony's console, is unfortunate.

Mass Effect is available now for €14.99 from the PlayStation Store or as part of the Mass Effect Trilogy for €69.99 digitally or €59.99 at retail.

Mass Effect PS3 9/10

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