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Jonzor's Video Game Reviews (41)

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Batman: Arkham Knight 4.5/5
Magicka 4/5
Bravely Default 4/5
Awesomenauts 4/5
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon 4/5
Far Cry 3 4/5
Halo: Combat Evolved An... 4/5
Crysis Warhead 4.5/5
Crysis 4.5/5
Final Fantasy: The 4 He... 1.5/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4.5/5
Borderlands 2 4/5
Final Fight 3/5
Command & Conquer 4: Ti... 1.5/5
Resident Evil: Revelati... 3.5/5
Bastion 4/5
Defense Grid: The Awake... 4.5/5
Borderlands 4/5
Mass Effect 3 4.5/5
Mass Effect 2 4.5/5
Mass Effect 4/5
Batman: Arkham Asylum 4.5/5
Ikaruga 4/5
The Legend of Zelda: Oc... 5/5
Mario Kart: Double Dash... 4.5/5

Next 16
 

Mass Effect   PC (Steam) 

I beg you, just don't play as a Soldier...    4/5 stars

I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Mass Effect series is going to come out of this console cycle as one of the most important new IPs of the generation. If I don’t have a feel for the pulse of the industry and I’m wrong... well... then it’s their loss. Mass Effect does so many things so well (and so consistently well over the series) that the rest of the industry SHOULD be feeling pressure to step their game up.

Did I tip my hand a little early, there? Well, I guess it’s too late now: I really liked Mass Effect. To me, Mass Effect felt like a new level of success in areas video games are sometimes notorious for failure. It’s weird to say, and in a vacuum, could come off as a back-handed compliment, but my favorite parts of Mass Effect were the parts that really weren’t “the game”. To explain, I’d first better fill in that vacuum.

First, let’s lay a little foundation. Mass Effect is an action RPG, and a pretty Western one at that. You’ll create a character at the start of the game, pick a class, and pick a backstory. Making your way through the game you’ll level up your character and your squad members to get new powers, upgrade existing powers, or get some passive abilities that may even help in conversation trees. On top of all that, you’ll get to do some armor and weapon managing, which comes with the turf. My biggest gripe about the game is the soft level cap that exists just by you having killed everything in the universe worth a death sentence by the end of the game. I always feel like one of the quintessential RPG experiences is wandering around killing bandits or monsters if you so please. If I want more XP, than I should be able to go and get it in an RPG. However, this element seems like a theme in BioWare games, so I guess I can’t be too surprised.

There are really two different experiences waiting for you in Mass Effect. The first, as well as the WORST, as well as the MOST COMMON (which, to this day baffles me) is “any 3rd-person shooter”. Whether or not this is your experience with the game will depend on your class choice at the start of the game. Mass Effect is a game of cause and effect, choices and consequences, and one of the first choices you can make is to pick the character class of “Soldier” and then face the consequences. It’s not... bad. You’ll still get to experience the things that make Mass Effect noteworthy when compared to other games. Buy why on Earth a person would try and get as run-of-the-mill an adventure as possible is beyond me.

Because there’s a lot more you can do in the action sequences than shoot guns. You can play as what I’d call the “pure” classes which consist of the aforementioned Soldier, which would be the tank class in the game. Then there’s the Adept, your basic spell-caster class. And finally there is the Engineer, which is a support class. The next three classes are all hybrids of the main three, mixing and matching the skills and abilities of the Soldier, Adept, and Engineers.

Now, for some reason, EVERYONE AND THEIR DOG plays as a Soldier, robbing them of a solid... I’d say one-third... of the joy from the actual “playing” of the game. The game functions as a 3rd person shooter during the action with the basic pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, and sniper rifle. Each class will have different weapon proficiencies, and while they CAN equip any weapon they choose, you’ll find yourself sticking to the weapons your class is supposed to use. Maybe this is why people love the Soldier, who has proficiency with ALL weapons.

When not shooting things, the classes in the game have sets of abilities they can use to debuff, delay, or outright damage your enemies. My favorite was the Adept, who has proficiency with only a pistol, and only one pistol-buff skill (which was more than enough), but also has a slew of telekinetic powers at his disposal that were WAY more fun to use than some stupid shotgun. Knocking enemies back, lifting them in the air and from behind cover so your team can attack them, stopping them defenseless in their tracks, the fun never ends as you essentially play Jedi-minus-a-lightsaber with your firefights.

Entering each mission, you’ll have with a team of 3, yourself and two squadmates. You’ll find representatives of all classes as you acquire team members, so don’t worry, you’ll get a feel for what other classes can do as well. These missions tend to serve as mini-stories in their own right. Reason X will lead you to a planet, where you’ll meet a cast of characters in various forms of peril in, and accomplishing the task that led you to said planet will usually involve solving a lot of other problems for the citizens ranging from personal ones like checking on a loved one to grand things like saving a colony from zombies.

You’ll find side-missions too, which you should be expecting out of RPGs at this point. They’re not quite crafted with the same love and care as the main missions, but allow a good chance for XP, gear, money, and more people who generally like/fear you.

But really, the combat isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before. You’re not going to see a lot of variety in the enemies, and the fights themselves will feel fairly similar from start to finish. The powers and abilities are a welcome addition and freshen things up a little bit, but I can’t stand here and say the combat makes the game.

Equipment in this game is... not one of the high points. The inventory system on the Xbox version was UNFORGIVEABLE and the improvements made were the single biggest reason to play this on the PC, but not the only one. The inventory on PC is merely bad, but anything was better than a single, giant bag that all of your items got dumped. You’ll find new guns, new armor, and new modifiers for your grenades, ammo, and weapons to say, do more damage to robots, or shields, or organic targets. Sadly, you’ll be suffering from gear-overload by the end of the game, with far too much stuff in your possession and no efficient way to sort through it.

There’s also a respectable amount of exploration/combat in an armored vehicle kept onboard your ship. These are surprisingly hit-and-miss. The ones centered around the main story missions went pretty well, I thought. It’s something to do other than walk, and creates a reason for different level design. The vehicle segments in side quests were less enjoyable. They seemed less planned out, less interesting, and led to a lot of me taking a really awful path to get from A to B which exposed the rather... sketchy... physics that keeps your wheels on the ground.

The vehicle won't be the only method you use to explore. The central seat of power in the Mass Effect universe is a structure call the Citadel. It's a massive space station built by who-knows. It's equally as imposing in-game, as well. Perhaps too much. I found myself often times very nearly lost in the Citadel, rounding a corner hoping for a shuttle station, wondering if all this walking around was enhancing the majesty and scope of the setting... or just lame padding trying to make the game SEEM bigger. Either way, be prepared to do some walking from time to time.

After you’ve wrapped up a mission, there’s a fair amount of work that needs to be done. There’s a lot of dialog in the game, and anyone who is familiar with a BioWare game knows the drill: when prompted, you’ll be given a variety of conversation options allowing you choices like investigating for more details and back-story, talk out your differences to avoid confrontation, pick a fight, or even make game-and-story-altering decisions. I’ve played other games where I had no desire to explore all the conversation options presented to me, but for some reason I generally tried to milk conversations as hard as I could for more. More back-story. More details on the setting the game takes place in. More information as I could sense an incoming decision I would need to make. For some reason, I generally enjoyed getting as “into” the experience as possible. There is a WHOLE universe crafted here as a setting.

And what a universe it is. A colorful and interesting variety of races and cultures populate this game, and while you’ll notice a few familiar tropes from other fantasy/sci-fi stories, these will all still manage to be interesting and contribute to the overall setting. I found plenty to learn either by reading the in-game literature or through conversations about each race and was especially fond of the inter-species politics and all the interactions and conflict that had taken place before humanity joined the galactic stage.

That’s a popular theme in the game, and serves as one of the motivators for several of the characters. Humans are essentially new kids on the block still, and have a lot to prove in the way of how much they can contribute to the community. One more than one occasion, you’ll find an alien peering down his nose at you, asking whether or not your juvenile species really should be allowed input on some matter.

And here comes one of my favorite parts of Mass Effect: getting to tell alien jerks exactly what you think. If you get mad at some alien snob, the odds are good that the conversation options will let you make your feelings quite clear. If you genuinely want to help someone, you’ll find some heartfelt conversation options to convey it. While I generally don’t play “the jerk” in games, whenever I felt like I’d been crossed and picked the “angry” conversation option, I was usually quite satisfied with the result.

Maybe that’s why I enjoyed this game so much. I really did make the game personal, and if that sounds like your bag, I’d suggest you do it too. My character played “me” in the game. I kind made him look like me, and I picked conversation options that are what I would say were I in my character’s position, and I make the story decisions that I would personally have made. Instead of me playing the role of the character, the character played the role of “me”. Other people don’t do that, and it’s by no way a requirement. I tend to play games with “options” using my own moral compass anyway, but in this game it just... I don’t know... felt more convincing. I felt like I got more opportunities to further immerse myself in “playing me” in the game, and perhaps that wealth of decisions I got to make are what helped suck me into the game.

It helps that the parts of the game highlighted during those choices are so well-done. A convincing and interesting story actually surprised me with when it wrapped up. I fully expected the game to carry on for another 8-10 hours, just because not many RPGs wrap up in 20-25 hours. But that doesn’t mean the ending was lacking, it was more that my expectation with previous games made me think I was in for one more twist or mission, but what looked like the end actually ended up being the end. I’m going to spare most of the story points, but it follows the usual path of routine-mission-turns-into-quest-to-save-everything we’ve seen before.

The voice acting in the game is superb. You’ll recognize a few voices in the game from movies or TV, which helps, but those celebrities aren’t a crutch the game rests on. The major players in the game are simply talented voice actors with good material. Conversations with characters also pull double duty as a good way to meet their respective races, which is a good way for the game to sneak in some universal backstory to help flesh out the setting. I can say I liked the various squad members who will be fighting by your side, and really hated some of the jerks that I ran across, which I think means the writers did a good job.

The visuals are quite good, but then, what game has an excuse for bad visuals these days? I really enjoyed the art design, though. Not because everything looks wild and imaginative, but because things seem practical and believable. The game has a futuristic style all its own that seems futuristic and sensible at the same time.

The audio is as well-done as the visuals. Maybe a little better. I especially enjoyed the music during tense battles or epic cinematic sequences.

That last real success of this game is one of the hardest to put a finger on. The game has an... I hate using the word, because of its near-meme status on the internet... the game has an “epic” feel to it. And I don’t mean the size of the game, though if you wanted to drive around each planet you could easily waste a day or two. I’m just talking about the size of the moment in the game. The mixture of the musical score, the narrative, the voice acting, even the cinematography/direction of the cutscenes, all combine to build actual tension in a video game like I don’t think I’ve ever had. That feeling you get watching great scenes in great action/adventure movies like The Lord of the Rings or The Avengers? That point where you’re enjoying the tension and suspense built by the action unfolding in front of you? The Mass Effect games found a way to deliver that to me, and do it better than video games are supposed to.

I think a lot of it stems from the cause/effect nature of the game, that you’re still making choices throughout the final sequence and watching the results play out. But going through the final firefight while being asked to make calls about ordering the under-staffed human fleet to save the ruling Galactic Council or let them burn while the fleet waits for backup felt a lot more tense than just being in a final boss fight trying to decide what orders to give my team. Lots of video games end with a fight for the fate of all existence, but a lot of them feel like you are finishing someone else’s story. Mass Effect treated me like I was finishing my own story, and the difference was clear.

When the game wants to, it just feels... big. Those “big” moments aren’t necessarily born from the “game” aspects of the game, but rather from BioWare’s aspiration for the other elements the “game” is supported by. Not every great game needs big stories and voice acting, but those that want them need to stop making excuses. If video games are going to take another step as a form of media, then we all need to dream as big as BioWare.

 

 


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