Like a diseased steak thrown to the wolves, so this travesty of a downloadable add-on has been tossed to hungry Mass Effect fans. Contrary to its high-reaching title, Pinnacle Station is a creative nadir in an otherwise excellent sci-fi universe. By downloading it, you get a simulated battle arena (one of video gaming's most arthritic cliches) and--a gun. There is hardly a smidgen of storytelling or role-playing, and the battle types and maps feel tossed together due to poor level design and problematic combat scenarios. Even at 400 Microsoft points ($5), Pinnacle Station is a condescending insult, the digital equivalent of scraps fed under the table to the family pooch.
To visit the simulation, you travel to the Arghos Rho system from the Normandy's galactic map. Once on the station, Admiral Ahern introduces you to Tech Officer Ochren, a disapproving Salarian who serves as the station's know-it-all computer geek. Ochren is the highlight of the expedition; he's superbly voiced with a patronizing sneer that gives him a touch of goofy charm. Unfortunately, his only function is to activate the simulator. He is one of only three characters with whom you interact; otherwise, there is little role-playing or storytelling aside from a few conversations and a basic narrative structure. The content is confined to a series of simulated combat scenarios that remind you that Mass Effect is a merely adequate third-person shooter. In the context of a far-reaching role-playing game, the combat was an entertaining extension of traditional BioWare battle mechanics (attack, pause and consider, and attack again). In the framework of a battle arena, it is enjoyable but awkward, and this awkwardness is magnified by flawed battle modes and numerous bugs.
There are four modes total: Survival, Time Trial, Capture, and Hunt. Survival is a typical battle mode in which you and your squad fend off attackers as long as possible, while in Time Trial, you take down a set number of enemies as quickly as you can. These modes are simple, but they're conceptually solid. We did run into a few bugs, however. In our very first Time Trial battle, for example, an enemy got stuck in the middle of some crates and couldn't be damaged, which forced us to restart the battle. Capture and Hunt are more problematic. In Hunt, a timer counts down to zero, and you add to your available time by defeating enemies. What the game doesn't tell you is that once you kill a certain number of enemies enemies, you can no longer add time to the clock, for reasons that are never clarified. In Capture scenarios, you run to a predesignated point and hold your position for a short while until the capture is complete, and then you move to the next. This mode is the least fun, given that it involves running to a node, standing in place while shooting a few foes, and running again. The three simple, uninspired maps culled from the main game don't help matters; they're very small and funnel you down narrow paths, so there are no real tactical considerations in any of these modes. You just run and shoot, or simply exploit the pause-and-aim nature of the combat to easily beat the target time.
Your goal in every case is to reach first place on virtual leaderboards; you won't be able to compare your results with those of other players. Once you rise to the top of the initial set, your primary challenger gives you your choice of a few different weapons as a reward, and you unlock a few final scenarios. But the unlocked battles are a joke: you're really just unlocking the ability to play every mode on every map (before these battles are unlocked, each mode is playable on only two of the maps). The only worthwhile unlockable is a final combat simulation assigned by the Admiral himself, which is at least more challenging than the easy battles that precede it. It's just as buggy, though: On two different attempts, enemies stopped spawning into the map, and the countdown timer disappeared, again forcing restarts. Assuming that bugs don't force you to give up, Ahern gives you the keys to an apartment in the sector, where you can stock up on medi-gel and grenades. A couple of hours after you start, you're done, with no reason to return and with no better understanding of the universe or its characters.
To add insult to injury, if you purchased the Greatest Hits edition of Mass Effect, Pinnacle Station won't function unless you employ a work-around that involves deleting the packed-in Bring Down the Sky content and then purchasing it from the Xbox Live Marketplace--essentially doubling Pinnacle Station's price. A future fix may remedy that problem, but even when in perfect working order, the latest Mass Effect add-on is shameful. It's unimaginative and soulless, and considering that it has been almost two years since the original game was released, it's too little, too late.
Editor's Note: The Mass Effect: Pinnacle Station review originally stated that there are four simulation maps, rather than three. GameSpot regrets the error.