Scott and Dave B. Chat about Mass Effect

Dave B.: *clears throat*

Dave B.: So I think both you and I have had pretty different experiences playing Mass Effect.  I had a very positive one, yours was somewhat lackluster.  Let’s address these issues by category…first up:

GAMEPLAY

Scott : To me, Mass Effect had all the makings of a great game, but they just didn’t come together well enough.

Dave B.: I know they tweaked most of the bugs of the Xbox version and refined many elements of gameplay for the PC version I played.  What were the platform versions main faults?

Scott: The controls ruined it for me to be honest. The game seems like a straight forward Over the Shoulder Third Person Shooter, a la Gears of War. The perspective was the same, there were similar cover mechanics, but I found the control system to be entirely lacking. There were too many buttons controlling the gun.

Scott : Shepard draws his gun with the press of one of 3 buttons. Then, you have to press an entirely different key to holster the weapon

Scott : this makes for some poor layouts for other keys, including throwing of grenades and getting into cover.

Scott : Gears of War required a button press to get into cover, which is beneficial. Mass Effect tended to have a problem for me reliably getting into cover.

Scott : It result in a lot of cheap deaths. Freeing one of the buttons from the action of drawing a weapon would allow for more useful cover.

Scott : How does this work on PC? I imagine the system is a little easier due to the much larger number of keys on the keyboard

Dave B.: On the PC, controls are the basic WSAD and mouse of most 1st and 3rd person shooters.  The majority of primary control buttons are within easy left hand access.  Drawing and holstering is one button – q – which is a very convenient position.  The use button is E, grenades are R and using a medpack is F.  Cover occurs by continuing to run into a wall or shield or other stagnant object, which actually works quite well.  On the PC, controls are fairly streamlined, even compared with other sci-fi RPGs like the Knights of the Old Republic series or Fallout 3.

Dave B.: I had no major problems with the keyboard layout, but you also have the option of customizing the controls

Scott : That’s true. I think that a greater degree of customization would allow me to enjoy the game a little more.

Dave B. :It’s all about individual preference

Dave B. : You should be able to tweak controls to whatever you’re most comfortable with.  I’ve always been a major proponent that a gamer shouldn’t have to get used to controls, the controls should be able to adapt to the gamer.

Scott :I think that in some cases, a single control scheme makes sense, like in sports games, like NHL 08 or the Madden series, but other should allow for greater customization

Dave B. : absolutely

Scott : My other complaint was with checkpoints and saves

Dave B.: but with RPGs, because so much involves customization – characters, decisions, weaponry, armors – controls should also have the ability to be tweaked, especially in a single player game

Scott : true, RPG’s lead to a very interesting point. There is so much to be customized with the characters and story, why not the controls?

Scott : what are your thoughts on the overall gameplay?

Dave B.: I though the HUD (head’s up display for those not versed in gaming and/or aircraft piloting) of the PC version was quite concise.  The standard crosshairs appeared at the center of the screen.  The degree of focus with which the crosshairs appeared depended on the amount of recoil your weapon discharged which I thought was a nice touch).  Ammunition, party health, shields, and radar are all displayed in prominent areas but do not distract from what is occurring in the game

Dave B. : By pressing the spacebar, you can bring up the party assignment screen, which allows you to quick-key assign certain powers to the F-keys amongst the pool of abilities your characters are able to use in combat

Scott : that sounds useful, there is a similar system on the console. Holding the LB [left bumper], you pull up a ring menu to select weapons, and the RB [right bumper] allows you to choose skills for the characters.

Dave B.: But no such screen involving all options at once

Scott : correct

Scott : its really too bad there hasn’t been any streamlining of the HUD for the 360 version.

Dave B.: that’s unfortunate, given the degree of downloadable content available

Scott : the number of health items on the HUD are too small to see from across the room. IT leaves me unable to tell if there is 1 or no health items left.

Dave B.: the size of the health and shields on PC isn’t much of an issue

Scott : its because i don’t have a Hi-Def TV

Dave B. : it should still be visible though

Scott : i agree

Scott: any other really big things you want to say about the gameplay before we move on?

Dave B. : not really.  I think it was pretty solid on PC…concise, economical and convenient controls and a well-designed HUD contributed to an excellent 3rd person action RPG experience.

Dave B. : how about you?  What was your general consensus?

Scott : it is aesthetically pleasing, but overall too much work

Scott: The HUD was nice to look at, but not useful enough.

Scott: the controls were the real game killer

GRAPHICS

Scott : Graphics were very nice

Scott : i enjoyed the world that was created by BioWare. Their attention to detail was astounding to me

Dave B.): Absolutely…fountains in pools of water, alien faces, shadowing, computer panels, blast marks, beast slobber

Dave B.: everything was gorgeous to look at

Scott : The little bit of film grit was a nice touch

Scott : gave the game a more adult touch, which i appreciate

Dave B.: definitely

Scott: Characters were nicely varied, the environments were as well

Dave B.: graphics were very cinematic in feel

Dave B. you felt like you were playing an epic sci-fi film

Scott :i agree with those point. The game had a huge scope that was very cinematic

Scott : is there anything more to say, i think we both agree with the fact that the graphics and scope of the game are amazing.

Dave B. graphics kicked ass

Scott : very cool, the whole art style was nice

Dave B.: definitely…the game world had a wonderfully massive scope, was populated with compelling characters and adaptive AI adversaries

Scott : absolutely

Scott : that is perhaps the best aspect, followed closely by:

SOUND

Dave B.: indeed.  I felt the sound in Mass Effect was phenomenal.  Environmental effects were immersive, and they finally got the sound of walking on grass to sound like you were actually walking on grass

Dave B.: voice-work was top notch.  I especially enjoyed Keith David who played the Arbiter in the HALO series) as Captain David Anderson

Scott : He also starred as the leader of the gang in Saints Row

Scott : and Seth Green as the navigator Joker

Dave B.: yes he was really great as well

Scott : the sounds of the game, from gunfire to the environment was top notch. The music was excellent as well

Dave B.: I thought the music was really appropriate…it struck me as a mix of the epic orchestral scores we’ve become accustomed to in recent big-budget film music with a more synth-based      ‘ 80s sci-fi mentality

Dave B.: retro but modern at the same time…I’m actually half-tempted to buy the soundtrack

Scott : haha

Scott : that’s not a bad thing to think

Dave B. nope

Scott : i like the music as well, it didn’t get in the way of the rest of the sounds, like so many other games does

Scott : you don’t have to fight with the music in order to hear speech, nor do you need to worry about the music betraying the emotions of the nest scene too early, it is timed perfectly for the best possible emotional effect

Dave B.: absolutely

Dave B.: anything else you think we need for sound?

Scott : i think that covers it

STORY

Scott : the story is pretty epic. The material isn’t terribly original, with an ancient race’s technology being used to destroy the world and so on…

Scott : but the story tellers are BioWare certainly have the ability to spin a narrative that is tight and compelling

Dave B.: absolutely

Dave B.: I felt the plot was extremely similar on the surface to the Halo series, but with a great deal more refinement.  The world is so richly populated that there are seemingly infinite possibilities that this game world can tap into

Dave B.: However

Dave B.: I DID love the concept that humanity is the youngest member of the interstellar community

Dave B.: too many times, humans are depicted as being as advanced culturally and accepted by other sci-fi races

Dave B. : i.e. star trek inspired sci-fi)

Dave B. : Mass Effect took the approach that humanity needs to prove its worth

Scott : I think that as a concept, Mass Effect was very well executed. Human needs to join a group of aliens to save the world from another type of alien, and the premise that he was the last choice and the only hope is kind of a visceral thrill for me

Scott : knowing that the fate of an entire universal community is relying on someone they can’t trust makes the story seem more fresh to me.

Scott : can’t=don’t

Dave B.: definitely…there’s something absolutely original about the story decisions Bioware decided to take within their somewhat typical sci-fi framework

Scott : their storytellers are second to none, character development was top notch, the story was certainly entertaining…

Scott : the aesthetics are what make the game tolerable for me. The gameplay is lackluster in my opinion, but the story and audio/visual aspects make me want to see more.

Dave B.: definitely

Dave B.: with the refinements to gameplay they made for PC, you can understand why I absolutely adored this game…I’ve never felt so immersed in a game world.  Even the KOTOR and Baldur’s Gates (old BioWare properties) were a few notches below Mass Effect’s extraordinary creative design

BUGS

Scott : yeah

Scott : the Xbox is pretty good about getting games that are completed, at least for the most part

Scott : there are fewer bugs because the hardware is always the same, and you don’t need to worry about chipsets and all that jazz

Scott : the occasional bug does sneak through though

Scott : in Mass Effect, i noticed very few, excepting a little bit of collision detection and the cover system not being fully functional all the time

Scott : the last one is a designs choice i think, or at least that is what it seems to me to be

Dave B.: Yeah, collision detection on the PC version wasn’t entirely functional either, but I didn’t mind.  What did bug me immensely was a MASSIVE graphic anomaly for those with dual or quad-core AMD processors.  The expansion/patch Bring Down the Sky was supposed to fix it, but on my computer it didn’t

Dave B.: Essentially, the textures on a plot-essential lava planet are entirely black.  Depth and the difference between stone and lava are indiscernible.

Dave B.:I died every other step…I’ve never quicksaved so much in my life

Dave B. : at the same time

Dave B. : it almost harkened back to the days of oldschool games in regards to difficulty

Dave B. : but the anomaly was still obnoxious

Scott : lol, the game was fairly simple, at least puzzle solving wise. Combat was made difficult, but i can imagine invisble environmental hazards being a game breaker for me

Dave B.: oh it definitely was

Dave B.: haha

Scott : well, it seems that Mass Effect is similar in aesthetics only between that platforms. the same name, the same story, but totally different experiences due to their controls.

Dave B.: exactly

Scott: i think it is safe to say that anyone willing to look into this game should go PC correct?

Dave B. : controls are smooth and quite good on the pc and lackluster on the platforms

Dave B. : definitely

Dave B. : and do not go Mac

Dave B: For PC, Mass Effect gets a 9/0

Scott: For Xbox 360, Mass Effect gets a 6/10.

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