Mass Effect PC Review
Yes, that's the best headline I could come up with. Mass Effect--now finally making its debut for the PC after a six-month exclusive window for the Xbox 360--actually leaves me lost for words. This is one of those odd games that I love and hate simultaneously. One moment I'm thrilling to an RPG-tinged space opera loaded with realistic character actions and dialogue, bizarre alien cultures, and a fantastic attention to detail that makes the 22nd century come to life. The next I'm loathing tedious fetch-it quests, spartan visuals, and absurdly stretched level architecture that makes every assignment a marathon scavenger hunt. No game about saving the universe should be accompanied by this many yawns.
Yet at the same time I couldn't readily pull myself away. BioWare has done a truly spectacular job with the script of Mass Effect. While the star-spanning saga itself is more than slightly derivative of innumerable high-profile sci-fi novels, movies, and TV series, the story remains extremely well told, with some of the best dialogue and one of the most detailed settings to ever grace a game.
Still, nothing here is original. Human hero Commander Shepherd is a quasi-Jedi special agent called a Spectre who works directly for an intergalactic assembly of planets (Star Wars, duh).
Much of the story concerns humanity's attempts to deal with aliens who don't trust how quickly mankind has reached the stars (Star Trek: Enterprise). One of the big threats is posed by the Geth, a race of Cylon-like sentient machines who expelled their creators centuries ago and forced them into exile on a ragtag fleet (Battlestar Galactica). And the main mystery involves the Protheans, a vanished ancient civilization whose artifacts serve as the foundation for the technological revolution that hurled humanity to the stars (Frederik Pohl's Heechee, anyone?), and their vaguely Borg-like, civilization-killing machine adversaries, the Reapers (Star Trek: The Next Generation).
But I can't complain about all of this obvious ripping off because the end result is so well pulled together. The scope of the game is incredible. Even if most of your adventures are linear, the idea of being able to cruise around the galaxy in command of a starship on a grand quest is pretty intoxicating. Shepherd is a believable protagonist, if a bit of a cipher because the creators likely wanted to leave some of his character open so that players could project themselves into his space-boots.