Is this Microsoft's best title all year?
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Mass Effect is the long anticipated title from BioWare - makers of the hit original Xbox titles Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2. As a huge fan of these games, I was jumping for joy when Mass Effect arrived, and promptly decided to give up any social engagements, work and conversation with "friends" or my "wife" to make sure I'd squeezed every last science fiction fuelled drop from their latest title. I've suffered the loss of various crew members, about a stone in weight, and nearly a divorce in my dedication to getting the most complete review possible from this game. Was it worth it? Of course it was!
BioWare have decided to go it alone with their latest galaxy spanning space opus, leaving the lucrative Star Wars tie-in out of the loop this time. While the previous games made the most of the licence, Mass Effect never feels to far away from the Lucas universe, and is certainly a spiritual successor to KOTOR. Indeed, the lack of light sabres are the about the only point of difference to ensure this can't be called KOTOR3 and avoid a heavy lawsuit.
You start the game as Commander John Shepherd, although initial character creation means you can name your character something else, or play through the game as a woman. Incredibly realistic faces are available and unlike most games you will also be able to decide what background your character came from, is he a loner, a miraculous survivor? Or is he a battle hardened war hero, prepared to sacrifice himself for the sake of his troops? These initial choices are simply part of what proves itself to be a game filled with choices on how you deal with others - from the most xenophobic crew on your craft to alien consuls who seek to be all things to all races.
You start out in your ship the Normandy, a high tech prototype for the human Alliance Navy, which has been constructed with the aid of Turian allies. You are swiftly sent down to a planet to investigate some Promethean (ancient forefathers of civilisation) ruins. Relics let behind from the Prometheans have been dismantled and used to provide most of the technology required for space travel, so the council of interstellar races are keen to get their hands on anything that may provide more technology for civilisations use. Humanity has not earned itself a place on the council, having only been a space faring species for a hundred years or so.
It has been decided that humanity's best interests would be to have a human Spectre - the secret agents of the council, who are above the law and decide how best to resolve situations the council deem of interest by themselves. Shepherd has been selected as a likely candidate, so another Spectre, Nihilus, joins you on this first outing to see how you cope with the task at hand. You will quickly discover on landing that a race of sentient robots, the Geth have attacked. Led by a rogue Spectre named Saren, they are using the Promethean beacon for their own purposes and it's down to Shepherd to stop them.
Of course this is only the beginning, but I don't want to ruin the entire plot of the game for those of you who haven't had the chance to play it yet. The plot also bears striking similarities to the Star Wars saga - the council are a bumbling bureaucracy, unwilling to face your calls of alarm in case a wider galactic war breaks out. They do however, manage to give you permission to track down the renegade Saren using any means necessary.