28 of 39 people found the following review helpful
This series is an achievement
, November 28, 2012
This review is from: Mass Effect Trilogy [Online Game Code] (Software Download)
It's a little hard to effectively describe these games as a whole, because a lot of gameplay elements change between them. In a nutshell, though, Mass Effect is a trilogy of run-and-gun squad combat action games tied to exceptionally strong storytelling and a vibrant setting.
All three games do have similar strengths and weaknesses, though. Environments and scripted events are kinetic and interesting, and although the first installment may look a little dated, the design work is excellent. Combat has a tendency to get a little repetitive - the game's built in a way that encourages you to form a strategy and stick with it - but everything moves along briskly, so you rarely feel like any main part of the game turns into a slog. Your squadmates, selected from a pool of potential party members, all have engaging personalities and interesting stories of their own to explore.
The real strength of all three games is definitely the writing. All three Mass Effect games have scripts that easily set standards for the medium, and the setting is vast and well-realized, with convoluted side narratives and history making for a complicated political situation that feels real and whole. The voice acting across the board stands out as the very apex of the medium, with special recognition going to Jennifer Hale's absolutely superb performance as the female voice of Shepard (the PC). They're also absolute marvels when it comes to player empowerment; you have the ability to determine your choices throughout the game at every juncture, and although some of these choices initially feel a bit gimmicky (there aren't a lot of actual consequences), by the end of the series nearly every choice you make in the entire run has some significant impact on the plot, characters or world. It's a feat that I've never seen matched in any medium, and the third game in particular does a phenomenal job of bringing all the possible twists of your personal ME decisions to coherent and consistent ends. In some ways it's also one of the most diversity-minded game settings available, too; the human cast is refreshingly multiethnic and gender-balanced (but more on this in a minute). The third game also deserves special recognition for being essentially a series of epic climaxes to series-long subplots with mind-blowingly awesome set pieces. Nearly every mission would qualify as the ending sequence of a lesser game.
ME does have a handful of weak spots. Some of the minigames have been polarizing - the first one has you cavorting around in a goofy lander, which took a lot of flak for its clunky controls and shift in the game's tone, but I personally found driving it quite a bit of fun. The second and third both have variations on mining, which honestly are pretty tedious but also don't take long to complete. The games also feature a consistently iffy cover system that makes some changes over the series but never really gets comfortable. Don't expect much from combat customization - in terms of fighting, these are action games, not really RPGs. The series ending also got a lot of (deserved) complaints, but they did release a (free) DLC to expand it - and speaking as someone who never played the original ending, I found the resolution immensely satisfying and a perfect end to the series. Looking up the original ending on Youtube, though, I STRONGLY recommend making sure the expansion is installed before finishing the series (mostly it's just REALLY ABRUPT and full of plot holes the expanded cut fills in).
My personal biggest complaint about the series is that the design work of the series overwhelmingly caters to the male gaze, sometimes past the point of being insulting. Women (especially in the second game) constantly dress like strippers even when there's no justification for it, and the camera loves to linger on certain parts of their anatomy at even the most thematically inappropriate moments, especially in the second game where it gets so exaggerated that it often overshadows anything else happening in the scene. There's even an entire monogendered species whose core concept is that they're the paragons of beauty for all races, and of course they look like large-breasted space babes. What kills me about this is that these problems are exclusively design-related and don't reflect the writing at all - these same characters are also some of the series' strongest, and certainly not tokens there to be gawked at in any in-universe sense. The early series also suffers from some unfortunate implications in regards to homosexuality (it essentially doesn't exist, unless you're hot ladies, who are fair game for everyone). The third game does deserve recognition, though, for addressing that and including the best gay character I've ever seen in a video game. But obviously these issues aren't going to bother everyone (although really, guys, they probably should).
Overall the series is one of the best ever made just for the story and characters alone, and the games are also beautiful and fun to play. I highly recommend them to pretty much everyone - whether you play games for the story, the challenge, the combat, the visuals or the feeling of a world reacting to your actions, the Mass Effect series is among the best ever made.
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