9.5

Mass Effect sets a new standard for what a video game can truly be.

To put it simply, and I say this with no ego, Mass Effect is quite possibly one of the greatest games I have played. Everything from the story, gameplay, dialogue and characters flow together perfectly, even though the game is marred by some minor technical nuisances. The combat, although it may stray from what a classic RPG fan might prefer, still manages to be very fun and engaging. Bioware has crafted a masterpiece here and if you were to buy one RPG for the 360, this would be it.

The one true aspect of Mass Effect that stands out is it's story. The game's narrative starts off somewhat simple, your self-created Commander Shepard has become a candidate for the Specters, which is somewhat of a galactic police force, with the agents being unbound by codes of conduct. As the story progresses, it escalates into a genius blend of story-telling; a Specter named Saren has gone rogue and has allied himself with a sentient race of machines known as the Geth. From there on out you begin a galaxy-wide hunt for Saren, with twists and turns popping out at you every mission. I was on the edge of my seat every minute of the game, and the climax is simply awe-inspiring, depending on your ending of course. The main storyline, if played straight through, will probably take you roughly 15 hours, but with all RPG's, the bulk of your time is spent doing side quests if you prefer to do so. If you complete a good deal of side quests, at least enough to merit the Completionist achievement as in my case, you'll find yourself clocking in at around 30 hours a playthrough, and if that isn't enough, the game has a very high replay value if you want to go through a second or even third time if you wanted to explore your darker or lighter side, specialize in a different class, or even try a different relationship with one of the crew members of Shepard's ship, The Normandy.

The combat is a little different than what you'd expect from your traditional RPG, with it's blend of a third person shooter and tactical RPG elements, but it should please both the shooter and role-playing crowd. Combat and how you play it depends mostly on your class. The soldier based class will most likely have you play the game as more of a tactics based shooter, while the engineer and biotic classes tend to be reminiscent of Bioware's previous Xbox entry, Knights of the Old Republic. For a good deal of the time you spend fighting, you'll be navigating a radial menu for your special abilities, which is a fairly simple system pulled up by pressing either the left or right button. While on foot, the combat shines, but the vehicle combat isn't something to be desired. While navigating hostile environments or if you have the need to get somewhere fast, your land rover, The Mako is what you'll be using. Unfortunately, The Mako isn't exactly fine tuned for combat apparently, considering your turret can't move up or down, which makes for some frustrating moments if you're on uneven terrain.

One of Bioware's greatest merits for Mass Effect, or any of their previous games, is that they have a knack for making believable and culturally rich characters, and this is no exception. Your crew on the Normandy, each being of their own race, give you both insight into both their people's and personal past, and with all the backstory involved, you actually begin to believe you are a part of this universe (even though technically it's our universe in the future). Even though the main characters are all very interesting, a staple of a good RPG in my opinion has always been the depth of supporting or stock characters. All of the side quest characters are just as believable as the main cast, which is really a mark on how much care Bioware puts into their games. All of the races featured in the game have their own history and culture, and can also provide a bit of humor in their own quirky ways, such as the Volus race calling humans The Earth-Clan, or a flamingo looking race known as the Hanar always referring to themselves in the third person and their archaic means of speaking.

Another achievement Bioware has managed to accomplish is the voice acting and dialogue in the game. The sheer amount of dialogue in this game is mind boggling and the quality of the acting is near perfect. Their is never a wooden delivery in the acting and all of the actors manage to fit their respective characters very well. The facial movements to go along with the acting is realistic, although I encountered a few animation hiccups once in awhile.

Now for the downside...even though for the most part the game is flawless, their are a few nuisances here and there, but none truly game-breaking. The aforementioned vehicle combat is clunky and annoying but like all the problems in this game, is forgivable due to the overall quality. The game may have beautiful visuals, but they are considerably hindered by some texture popping, especially in cutscenes. I also found myself being stuck in the terrain of worlds requiring use of the Mako if I got out of the vehicle to pick up some ruins or survey a mineral, which is a bit of a pain, but the game autosaves every time you land on a planet, so repeating only 2 or 3 minutes wasn't so bad.

In the end, Mass Effect is pretty much a must have game for the Xbox 360, especially if you're a sucker for one hell of a story and great gameplay mechanics and it has already become an instant classic in my mind. Bioware has set a new standard for how a game can be on a high philosophical and intellectual level with a lot of depth, yet be fun and accessible to the mainstream.

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