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MASS EFFECT
2007
Directed by Casey Hudson, developed by BioWare
PC Video Game
Rated M for blood, language, partial nudity, sexual situations, and violence.

Truthfully, I'm writing this at 2am and I don't know why I'm doing this to myself. I certainly desire the comforting hands of the sandman to gently brush my eyes shut and then close around my throat. Instead, I'm reviewing a video game on a movie review site. Eh, fuck it, I reviewed four seasons of Gilmore Girls, so if the deviation doesn't work for you, well, I don't know what to tell you.

This is the first review written for the site since it's gone up and the rating system was established properly, so it's only fitting that if I'm going to review something that it'll be one of my favorite video games of all time. Simply put, Mass Effect and its upcoming PC-bound sequel are excellent reasons to buy or upgrade a PC. To wit, my gaming pattern since purchasing Mass Effect for the PC in May of last year has been to play through it, go beat some other game, then play through it again. I have an absurd number of Commander Shepards saved on my desktop. The love affair runs deep.

Mass Effect is fundamentally two awesome games and one mediocre one that you mercifully don't have to spend too much time playing. The first of these is the third-person shooter, which seems shallow initially until you learn-to-play-noob. My first run through the game had me left underwhelmed by the combat, unaware that I wasn't really doing it right. On higher difficulty settings and with greater emphasis on using skills, the game really comes into its own tactically and is an excellent improvement on BioWare's predecessors like Jade Empire. BioWare keenly avoids the trap of having one skill that's stupidly powerful and reduces the game to a series of easy-to-win encounters.

The second is the dialogue-driven half of the game, and it's a treat. How you build your character and handle situations, answer questions, and make decisions...there's such a breadth to it that the game merits additional playthroughs. It's worth playing for the excellent voice acting and quality writing by themselves, but some of the decisions in the game and conversations become increasingly complex. The permutations that occur depending on when you add certain individuals to your party only make things more interesting.

The Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner part of the game is the setting and style. Mass Effect exists halfway between Star Trek and Star Wars, and commanding the Normandy will feel both unique and familiar to fans of either film/television franchise. The Normandy's crew, the alien races...there are callbacks to great science fiction in the process of developing the complex and expansive universe the game takes place in. These are homages, not rip-offs.

So if this is still a video game, what the hell brings it into yellow star territory? Aren't video games just entertainment? Well, no. I'm a firm believer in the video game as the nascent art form, and games like Mass Effect are the homerun hitters that nail the potential. It is entirely possible that by the end of the game, one or more of your party members will be dead, beyond any kind of reviving, and you will be the one responsible for it. There's gravity to the decisions you make through the game, and it handles mature and thoughtful content, especially religion and xenophobia, very intelligently.

If there's one place where Mass Effect slips up tremendously, it's in the romance subplot. While it works no matter who you romance (another interesting can of worms in and of itself) and the dialogue tends to be touching or cute, when it finally comes down to doing the deed - and you do indeed do the deed in this game - the dialogue is maybe a touch above what you'll hear in a porno movie before they get busy. Sexuality in video games thus far hasn't been handled very well, and kudos to BioWare for doing something more than making it a retarded minigame the way it is in the God of War series or The Witcher, but I just wish it could've been handled a bit more intelligently and in a more mature fashion. Unfortunately, from what I've heard of Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare's next game, it looks like we have a long wait ahead of us before they handle the subject matter appropriately.

At the end of the day, when I have nothing else to play, I play Mass Effect, and when I have something else to play, I still may play Mass Effect. Nearly everyone I've introduced it to has played through it, then turned around and immediately played through it again. It's not the egregious time-swallower that World of Warcraft is, but it's also a deeper and more intelligent game, and in this reviewer's opinion, a far better use of time.

If you haven't tried it yet, I strongly recommend it. Mass Effect stretches your gaming dollar about as far as it can possibly go.

- Dustin Sklavos

All written content and colored rating system copyright Dustin Sklavos 2009. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.