Has the sci-fi genre ever made a great impression on me? Not really. But it has never been packaged in a title as appealing as Mass Effect. For those of you who have had the displeasure of having lived under a rock for the past 5 years of your life and, for obvious reasons, been out of the loop of the gaming industry, Mass Effect is a role playing game (RPG) which details the feats of its main character, Commander Shepard, in his quest to save the world from evil. Sounds simple, huh? Here’s the twist: the game’s mechanics. The series has had the benefit of encouraging players worldwide to ‘feel’ in games. Yes, ‘feel’. Actually envoke some form of emotion in regard to characters, decisions, and consequences concerning the title. I myself started the series off on the second installment and still found that the game managed to pull me into its world just as well as any other – in fact, even better. Since then, I have gone back and played the first title in the series for these games encourage you to do so. Why? Your actions and their corresponding consequences travel from one game to another – an ambitious proposition if you ask me. I mean, how often does a game developer provide you with over 100 hours of content at the expense of your time and money? (Oh wait, Bethesda’s been doing that for years). This time, however, Bioware’s Mass Effect series takes it to a cosmic setting drastically different from the mythical vistas forged by Bethesda Softwork’s in their Elder Scrolls series, Mass Effect brings players into a universe which they have the opportunity to affect in some way or another. It is not often that developers bring this opportunity to players and actually deliver.
For example, do you remember the plot to Bioshock? The game was exuberant in its ability to bring players into Rapture, keep them there wistful in anticipation and instill in them the desire to explain the inexplicable, however, in comparison to titles such as Mass Effect, Bioshock falls short in its ability to provide players with the opportunity to change the damaged world of Andrew Ryan. It becomes apparent half-way through the game’s progression that you are at the whims of a greater entity. Mass Effect allows you to feel empowered even in the face of impending universal catastrophe it seems illogical to think that you, as the player, cannot bring down the Collectors in their quest for galactic domination. This brings me to my next point: the story arch. The most advertised feature of the titles would by far be the ability to transfer saves from one game to the next. This has been a common trait of the Need for Speed series for quite some time now. Need for Speed, however, made use of it to a reduced capacity in its inclusion of bonus upgrades or vehicles that were only available to players who spent the $20 – $50 for the previous installment in the series. Mass Effect takes this failed dynamic and takes it for a loop. From one game to the next, players are given the same, familiar layout but are given the tools to make the experience their own. With an impressive emphasis on the cinematic aspects common to games of our day that contributes to a journey that any gamer can find a home in. Furthermore, it is quite obvious that the presence of the previously mentioned game play mechanics explains each title’s progressive increase in sales according to vgchartz. Not a common trait to most video game series. But what sets the game apart from the slew of other titles which have taken their hold on the market? Mass Effect has longevity. It is a series that you will still be talking to your friends about years from now because it presents video games in a manner that sets them on par with film (the older brother, if you will, of the video game industry). It can be quite difficult to do so even with most games these days boasting beautiful CG cut-scenes and the like but Mass Effect allows for the culmination of brilliant writing, cinematography, and creativity that come together to form a complete product (minus a few bad endings). Ironically enough, it is in those moments where the next decision you make will eventually have a drastic effect on the universe around you that you truly feel at ease – knowing that you are part of a greater beast: a magnificent one at that.
UPDATE: “Mark Ryan” was changed to “Andrew Ryan”. I apologize to my fellow fans.