“In the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling travel to the furthest stars. The basis for this incredible technology was a force that controlled the very fabric of space and time.
Story and Presentation – 10/10
Mass Effect is one of three games that tell the story of Commander Shephard, a human soldier with a giant following in the galaxy, and the colorful crew of the Normandy ship that supports Shephard in all of his or her adventures. Down to it’s core, Mass Effect is a third person, over the shoulder shooter, with a splash of RPG elements that make it stand out from the crowd. Mass Effect prides itself on the customizability of the player, who controls whatever version of Commander Shephard they wish to control. You can be male or female, good or evil, look almost anyway you want, and pick from a certain number of special classes that determine Shephard’s combat effectiveness.
Right away, from the moment you click “New Game” in Mass Effect 1 and finish creating your own Shephard, you are brought into this sequence of epic cinematic, bringing you right into the immense world. You listen in as Commander Anderson, current commander of the SR1 Normandy, speaks of Shephard and his/her past (something you decide when creating your character). You’re unaware who exactly he’s speaking to, but you watch outside with Shephard as planets pass you by, listening for a moment at your success. All is quiet and relaxed. The helmsman of the ship, Joker, introduces you to to the game’s powerful and realistic voice acting as the music picks up. Normandy speeds towards a device floating in the darkness of space, and light engulfs the ship. Suddenly, they’re gone. The crew quietly celebrates a successful warp through space.
I can’t speak too much on the story, as you’ll want to experience every moment for yourself, but I can say it takes you through every inch of the universe, interacting with new and believable alien civilizations, as you race to save the galaxy from oncoming threats. Every single character you meet, even the obviously unimportant ones, feel as though they live and breathe with their own unique personalities. The free-roam exploration allows you to go wherever you want, whenever you want to go. Explore the planets, help out or even destroy colonies, maybe find some new additions to the crew as you travel. The main storyline takes about 25 – 30 hours to finish casually, not including the insane amount of side events and DLC.
Gameplay – 6/10
Surprisingly enough, gameplay is Mass Effect 1’s biggest weakness. But it’s not what you think. The game handles similarly to the Gears of War series; third person shooting based on taking cover, strategically picking your shots, and advancing the battlefield. On each mission, you take with you two AI controlled squad(party) members, whom you can direct and use as you will during battle. The game switches between this, and missions where you get to pilot a tank through waves of enemies instead. The problem is, the game was made in 2007, and did not age well. At all. 2007 is a long time ago in gaming years. Compared to other shooters in this age of gaming, Mass Effect 1 feels clunky and you’ll find yourself struggling in a fight sometimes, and you will die at least once (if not more) because of this. On top of it, the tank missions don’t really make you feel like you’re in a tank. You feel more like you’re driving a piñata horse. It takes more shots than it should to kill enemies, the tank’s armor is a bit fragile, although it does regenerate, and the controls feel unfinished.
Conversation is controlled through dialogue trees, containing Paragon (selfless good guy) options, Neutral (Idgaf guy) options, and Renegade(mean ol’ bad guy) options. Talking to crew members, especially your squad mates, yield interesting and fun conversations that help you learn and understand the lifestyles of the different alien races. For example, the Quarian people need to wear environment suits when not on the homeworld to make up for their poor immune systems, and the Krogan people are the most feared military race, and have an insatiable bloodlust that ends up destroying themselves more than others. Some of the conversations can even lead to romance, and various sexual scenes depending on who you choose to be your lover.
You gain experience and level up your class and powers in a traditional RPG style, and these add an interesting element of depth to the firefights. You can collect different weapons and armors that help you outfit your team to look the way you want them to. The worst part of the game though? You have to save often. Very very often. There is an autosave feature, but you’d never fucking know it with the amount of backtracking you’ll have to do if you play it like a modern game and don’t save, hoping the game does it for you. It’s a minor gripe, but a fair warning. Save a lot.
Don’t get me wrong. The gameplay is very fun and enjoyable to old-school gamers with open minds, but it doesn’t even compare to it’s sequels. It’s worth mentioning that, upon completing the story, it is possible to transfer your save data right over to the next game in the series, netting you a lot of nice bonuses for you to use in Mass Effect 2, and showing you how your decisions have impacted the galaxy so far.
Graphics – 8/10
Even for an older game, the cutscenes and gameplay alike look incredible. There are a few glitchy points in the game where Shephard’s head will go crazy trying to look at every important item on screen, but they’re more funny than bothersome. The character models look very realistic, the mouth movements are relatively accurate, though a bit choppy at times, and the beauty of space is captured perfectly.
Overall – 8/10
It amazes me that there are still people who know nothing about Mass Effect, or they’ve never played a game in the series. I have friends who’ve never even heard of it. Don’t pass this game up. The gameplay can be a pain, but everything else about this game easily makes up for it. If you consider yourself any kind of gamer, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Because of the many gameplay flaws, it is possible to skip over this game entirely. Mass Effect 2 released DLC that allows you to make all of the decisions you could’ve made in Mass Effect 1, and transfer a character over while Shephard tells you the story so far himself/herself. But I don’t exactly recommend this for your first playthrough. Knowing nothing about the story, if you were to watch the “story-so-far cutscene”, you may have to watch it a couple times to fully understand what exactly is going on. If you’re going to get into this series, you have to start from the beginning.