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Terminator: Survival

The Best Game Never Played

Terminator: Survival (Action Survival / PC, PS3)

 

Introducing the Genre

Like all great games, this one combines genres in a new and interesting way. There are survival elements with shooter gameplay, a dash of stealth, and RPG character design, having victory dependent on some very tricky problem solving . Some elements seem taken from the old NES Jaws, the indie hit Spy Party, The Sims, The Ship, and the standard 3rd person shooter’s navigation and combat.

 

Introducing the Game

In the battle of genre vs franchise, I usually compare both. There’s never been a mix of genres to create a game like this, and all the games in the franchise never quite reached this level of emotional investment and recreating the feel of the movie as this one. This is a game that could only have come out now, with the high level of detail for cities, the city’s square mileage, store and building interiors, object physics, high polycount of models, destructible environments, and dense crowd AI. There’s never been a game that perfectly captures the terror of being against the world with the paranoia level of Slender, like this one, Terminator: Survival.

 

Gameplay

For a long time, I couldn’t imagine how to properly design or play a real Terminator game. What would make it a real Terminator game compared to any other shooter with a robot in them? How would you recreate the feeling and struggle of the characters in the movies?

The game is a mix between open world, sim, role-playing, shooter, and a unique cat & mouse mechanic, like a reverse-Assassin’s Creed. The city is yours to roam like a GTA clone, complete with bystanders and police. All the time, someone is hunting you.

Once you’ve made contact with a soldier from the future, you two are joined at the hip. When you’re on the run, you cannot just camp somewhere in a corner. Remember, being thrown in a hole somewhere for the rest of your natural life is just as good as being dead. You will never be able to do whatever it is that you do to help or threaten Skynet.

Both characters have basic survival needs such as sleep, money, food, water, sanitation, and entertainment. These are reminiscent of the gauges on each Sim from The Sims or for characters in the game, The Ship. The “needs” prevent you from just camping in one spot. Venturing out when you know you’re being hunted adds a certain level of tension.

There is a rich character creator capable of generating unique faces for you, your companion, the Terminator, and the random faces in the crowd. Just because you remember what each one looked like in the last game, it doesn’t mean they’ll have the same face in this game. Since some Terminators are based on real people, your protector from one game might be your nemesis in the next.

Besides cosmetic features, the character creation screen for your character has a skill set that reminds me of some pencil and paper RPGs. You pick skills to have some ranks already developed, the more you use your skills, the more they level up, but only marginally. You cannot max everything out, and there’s a point to that. Your character in this run through will be different from your last, your next, and the one from the player down the street.

Your companion, if you’re able to find them, are generally your opposite. If you created yourself to be some kind of soldier, then your partner is more of an intel/tech specialist. If you have absolutely no knowledge of first-aid, it’s a good bet that your protector will. This fosters a sense of cooperation, reliance, and ensuring that they are always valuable. A word of warning, if your bodyguard dies, then they are dead, that’s it. You should protect them while they are protecting you.

Like Kyle Reese said, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse, it will not stop until you are dead. This can actually work in your favor since a gun wielding maniac attracts it’s own wanted level. Once a T-888 has you in its sights, you can fight or flee. In the opening of the game, fleeing is usually the best option.

Terminating a Terminator is never a straightforward task. Like the movies, Terminators can soak up a ridiculous amount of small arms fire. All that really does is slow it down, force it into hiding to repair itself, or bring the police to bear on the both of you. Having a Terminator on your tail is like having a wanted level in GTA.

An infiltrator robot is of no use if large swaths of skin are torn off, revealing the metal underneath. Once you shake the terminator, it will be in hiding longer based on the amount of damage you’ve dealt. Enjoy the downtime.

In your downtime trying to collect money, food, weapons, and the necessities of life, try not to commit too many crimes. The police can chase after you just as easily as the T-888. If you get arrested, you’ll have to break out. Your resistance partner might be able to help. There’s a good chance that the terminator will hear of your arrest and come to shoot up the police station, just like in the first movie.

Well now you’re an escaped criminal. This is where you’ll be forced to change your appearance, just like the terminator if it had taken severe damage. Fleeing can be on foot can only work for so long. Unless the terminator is severely damaged and limping, a vehicle is usually the best chance of evading.

There could be frequent car chases, or you could use the car as an offensive weapon against the T-888, assuming you don’t have a swarm of police bearing down on you.

Killing it will involve recreating scenes from the movies, as in some kind of industrial equipment, high explosives, thermite, electrocution, crushing, acid, smelting, radiation, or freezing. Those are just some of the more obvious ways. Desperation and creativity may reveal some others. People who watched the TV series might be at an advantage.

 

Story

“… making this the third victim with the same name in as many weeks.” You hear on a news broadcast that three people with your exact first and last name have been murdered. In the future, the character you create is very important in some way. The specifics aren’t important. What’s important is that Skynet deems you valuable enough to target for termination.

Terminator: Survival expands upon the universe created in the television series and the first two movies. We’ve seen from The Sarah Connor Chronicles that John and Sarah were not the only targets of Skynet.

One terminator, or more, models determined by difficulty level between T-800, T-888, T-1000, or T-X, are sent back to terminate your character. There is also a human resistance member sent back in time to help you. How the game plays out, life or death for you or your companion, is up to you.

This game recreates the story conditions of the first movie. One terminator is sent back in time to terminate a very influential person in the future. Additionally, a resistance member, a very mortal one, has been sent back in time as a bodyguard. You’re outmatched, outgunned, and forced to flee. There are no offensive missions where you can really take the fight to Skynet and attack future Terminator assets like Cyberdine in Terminator 2, or several sites in the TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Perhaps if there’s ever a sequel, the developers will shoot for a T-2 vibe and allow you to plan attacks against Skynet, maybe meet up with famous characters like John & Sarah Connor, perhaps have your very own Terminator at your command.

 

Graphics

The developers had a grand vision that they were able to achieve with today’s technology. They were able to render a very destructible sandbox world in incredible detail. I think it’s fair to say that the Grand Theft Auto series set the bar in regards to sandbox cities. This raises the bar just a little more with the addition of the “flavors” of the city, industrial districts, commercial districts, residential districts, a port district, an airport, a stadium, destructible elements like storefronts, malls, gun stores, a military base, a police station, warehouses, construction sites, highways, insides of buildings, and more. There is a slight loading time in between some of the different zones, but that’s the trade off for the graphics detail.

 

Music

Bear McCreary, my favorite robot musician, delivers his signature style and emulation of the original Terminator themes. If you liked what you heard on The Sarah Connor Chronicles, you’ll like what you hear here. The music sets the appropriate mood for when you’re running, hiding, evading, or involved in an all out firefight.

 

Sound

This almost mixes with music, considering who was doing the score. Lots of drums, metal banging on metal. I think the soundfont from the series was used for most of the climactic battles. Voice acting is solid, especially the signature line, “Come with me if you want to live.” Gives me chills every time, no matter who says it.

 

Controls

I was surprised that this game was available for both PC and consoles. Navigating the menus reminded me of how Mass Effect dealt with interaction, weapons, AI commands, and such.

The combat easily shifts between vehicular combat and cover based shooting. When not drawing a weapon, interacting with the rest of the environment is fluid.

 

Multiplayer

This is one of the highlights of the game. It could have been a solid game without multiplayer, but developers went the extra mile. There is a multiplayer battle mode that allows you to play asymmetrically with up to two players as humans, and more as terminators. Or, another game type with terminator on terminator action. Depending on what team you’re on, you have a photograph of your target and must protect it, or terminate. The different models are available for play, T-800, 888, 1000, or T-X.

Single player pauses the game while you choose some options, but in multiplayer, it doesn’t. So you have to be quick. Also, the need for sleep is removed in multiplayer, it’s mostly played in near real-time.

There are a few default skins for your characters, just in case you want to be obvious, like Arnold, Robert Patrick, Kristanna Loken, Linda Hamilton, Lena Heady, and more.

It all takes place, single and multi-player, in the not too distant present/past. There’s no future or post-Judgement Day maps to play on, no bleached skulls and hunter killers(except in Mods). Maybe that’s being saved for a sequel.

 

Depth/Replayability

With the ever randomizing of character skins, every game begins unpredictably. There might be some games where you never meet your bodyguard. Some games might end quickly, one way or another.

The depth of the skill system gives you challenges and gameplay styles different each time, depending on your mood. One game might make you a perfect burglar, in another game you’re a wealthy philanthropist, in one you’re a hard boiled soldier with a computer hacker sidekick.

Then there’s difficulty levels which determine what model of Terminator is sent at you and how many. In one game you might try to destroy it or them in new and different ways.

Multiplayer gives the game a great party value to play with friends cooperatively or competitively.

Lastly, MOD support, at least for the PC, means this game can have unlimited depth.

 

Personal

The PC version is obviously superior, if only for the MOD support.

Bear McCreary may or may not be an actual robot. I suspect he is, since his career seems to have been tied to robots for a very long time. Bear composed the music for the re-imagined Battlestar: Galactica, with humans at war with the robotic Cylons. He scored Dark Void where humans are at war with a mysterious robotic race. Mr. McCreary accepted the gig since he was inspired by Capcom’s robot war epic Mega Man 2 when he was younger. Lastly, he did the music for The Sarah Conner Chronicles. So, robot? To be determined.

Creating my character’s skills and adding points into things like my finances reminds me of picking my job in Oregon Trail.

 

Boiling it Down

Recreating the terror of the Terminator movie in a game, perfectly.

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Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines

The Best Game Never Played

Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines     (RPG / PC)

Introducing the Genre

It’s been a long time since I had the opportunity to review a good, solid RPG experience, and an even longer time since I’ve played one. I grew up with a lot of RPGs and action RPGs the likes of Zelda, Final Fantasy 1, 4, 5, 6, Secret of Mana & Evermore, Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma, Breath of Fire 1 & 2, Earthbound, E. V. O. The Search for Eden, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, I even explored Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario. It wasn’t until sometime after high school that I was first introduced to the pencil and paper D&D roots of RPGs. I was completely overwhelmed with the infinite amounts of possibilities that the D20 system could create. I even eventually took it upon myself to create my own D20 mods of X-COM and Carmen Sandiego.

Introducing the Game

A friend actually discovered this game for me. He came up with the concept of a “reverse LAN” party. The idea was that we trade computers for the night while he explores my library of games and I explore his. He had a game that I’d heard of, but was never fortunate to try.

It was a gem that passed me by. When it originally came out, it had a cheesecake model on the cover, and I thought that was a marketing trick because that was all the game had to offer. Marketers and marketing “tactics” usually just offend me. Also, at the time, my computer didn’t have the specs to run it.

I heard about it again from a friend in school that was a little over-enthusiastic. I thought he was describing a D&D game, not a PC one. Certainly, a game with the sheer number of possibilities that he was suggesting was impossible. I like being proven wrong.

At the reverse LAN party, shortly after my friends and I finished the first season of True Blood, I got to get my hands on Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines.

Gameplay

I never played the original live action version of Vampire: The Masquerade. So I cannot compare how one is to the other. Though I can compare it to other modern RPGs, such as Mass Effect. This game seems to be the progenitor to those BioWare games. I’ll have to do some searching for proof, but I’d be willing to bet that some of the team that worked on Vampire also went on to create those. Or at the least, they were inspired by it. If you’ve played one of those, Vampire will be easy to pick up.

The first real “mission” in the game ought to amaze anyone. I was tasked to raid a house of gang members and thieves. I could have run in, alerted everyone and killed them in a straight up fight, but I didn’t. My character was not designed for combat. I was able to sneak by the front gate guard by avoiding direct light and hiding behind obstacles. I crept out to the back of the house and cut the power, prompting one individual to come out and check. I drained him dry. I then proceeded into the house, quietly, and used my hypnotic vampire powers to occupy one individual while I stole an item of importance. Then I went crazy and killed everyone just for the fun of it. I was still impressed that the game allowed me the choice of stealth or speed instead of “kill ’em all.”

When I analyzed later missions, I considered the possibilities of playing with other builds, other classes, or as the obscenely ugly nosferatu class that has to travel through the sewers and never be seen by the general populace. There’s an incredible amount of design and creativity to the levels and other areas, allowing for multiple solutions to the same problem.

You gain experience for completing missions, not for the number of people killed. It doesn’t care how you complete the mission, just that it gets done. The game rewards creativity, you really do have to keep your eye out for alternate paths. It never shoehorns you into a play style that you didn’t choose. If you want to be diplomatic, be diplomatic. If you want to be a strong ferocious ripper, be a strong and ferocious ripper. If you want to be a master manipulating psychomancer, you can be that, too.

The game has some fascinating mechanics that make it unique and a definite “vampire” game, and not just a game with a vampire skin. There are 5 “Masquerade” vouchers. If you violate the masquerade, you lose one. Once you violate the masquerade enough times, you can incur the wrath of other vampire clans, or attract vampire hunters. It reminds me of the wanted level in Grand Theft Auto, only much more serious, and much harder to shake. You can gain a voucher if you do enough quests.

There is also a level of humanity to consider. You have about 10 points of humanity. Humanity acts as protection and a check against going into an uncontrollable frenzy. You can go into a frenzy if you take enough damage or if you need to feed. Sure you deal more damage, and it can come in handy if you’re in a pitched battle, but the uncontrollable aspect of it might get you killed or earn you a masquerade violation. The more humanity you have, the less likely you’ll frenzy. You can gain humanity by being gracious to some humans that you encounter. You lose humanity by murdering civilians.

Special abilities are governed by blood. You have a blood meter on the side of your screen. Every time you feed, it refills up to a limit. Every time you use a special ability like hypnosis or a strength buff, you lose a bit and will need to feed.

Feeding is handled by just hitting the F button. Normal people tend to freak out if they witness a vampire feeding, so you will have to sweet talk someone into an alley, stalk a street bum, or find a willing individual in a bar, hypnotize someone, and try not to bleed them dry. If you are in combat, you can feed on someone, but they’ll be on alert and there’s a chance they’ll
resist and throw you off. That happened a lot to me since I wasn’t built for combat. Stronger vampires ought to have an easier time feeding on the unwilling.

Besides masquerade violations and loss of humanity, you may need to worry about criminal violations. Running up to someone in view of a patrolman will get the police after you and you have to hide or run into a building. Or, if you wish, you could kill the police and just go on a spree. But I don’t see that lasting very long.

Story

Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines is a specific campaign in the RPG series, Vampire: The Masquerade. The frame story reminds me of True Blood or Blade many years before they entered pop culture. They’re not exact matches, but if you’re familiar with vampire “culture” from those series, the game is easy enough to transition into. Vampires are not quite out in the open yet, but their system of government is similar. I must investigate further to see which one came first, which one may have influenced the other.

Most vampires participate in what they call, The Masquerade, a code of behavior that keeps them hidden from public sight. There are various clans all vying for political power. Some younger generations dislike the masquerade and believe they should rule. Most vampires follow a local leader or elder.

I haven’t finished the game, so I cannot exactly critique on how it ends. I’m still in awe of the many broad different paths that you’re allowed to explore. There are a number of quests and side quests, like Dragon Age or Mass Effect that you can choose to partake in, or neglect. I’m not sure what the “main” story of Bloodlines is yet, there’s a lot of different branching stories and agendas of the different people that you meet.

Once you’re finished, there are many different fan made campaigns for you to download beyond Bloodlines. I didn’t see any editing or mod tools included with the game, so these must be from the most dedicated fans. You can probably expect a very high quality experience. The world behind the game is rich enough to support those mods. It deserves props for that.

Graphics

The graphics are a bit dated. You can tell they’re from an older game. If you’re really sharp, you could probably guess the engine and the year it was made. But honestly, that doesn’t matter. You can easily, visually tell what everything is supposed to be. The gameplay more than makes up for it. Only the most dedicated graphics whores would pass up on the game for that reason.

Music

A game as good as this deserves a memorable melody, but it doesn’t get one. Given the subject matter, something Castlevania-like would have been appropriate, or maybe some pipe organ.

Since vampires live the night life, there are the occasional nightclubs to visit. Inside the nightclubs, the soundtrack shines. The developers contracted a gothic metal band to provide the music for the nightclub scenes. It’s no Nightwish or Evanescence, but it’s pretty good. Perhaps by the end of the game the music will grow on me enough to put it on my iPod.

I suppose since this is an RPG and not an action game, the music shouldn’t be used to reinforce action. Outside the nightclub experiences, it’s used as an indicator of status. If you’re in an action sequence, it picks up, it lets you know that you’ve been spotted, outed, and are now in trouble.

Sound

The haunted house is a great example of where the sound is the most effective. I was on edge the entire way through. Most of the characters, with the exception of your played character, are fully voice acted. In fact I can’t find a character to interact with that isn’t. That’s pretty impressive for a game as old as this.

Controls

The controls are very simple and easy to learn. Switching to certain weapons or to certain vampire abilities could have been simplified. It reminded me of a slightly less complicated interface than Bioshock when it had you switching between weapons and plasmid powers. One set uses the number keys, the other set uses the mouse wheel. I’m sure I can set up some hotkeys, but it’s just not that big of an issue yet. If I die from the interface, it’s probably because Plan A was too flawed to salvage.

Multiplayer

Unfortunately, there is no multiplayer. For RPGs, that’s not uncommon. There’s a ton of dialogue. Verbal interaction shares just as much importance as the combat segments. There’s so much combat “downtime” that a 2nd player might just be impatient and not want to sit through everything. Or, they’d make the opposite choices and accidentally go to war with a faction. It wouldn’t be impossible, but it might have been impossible with the technology of the time. Perhaps with the recent revelation of multiplayer in Mass Effect 3, any potential future RPGs can take lessons on how to do it.

Playing with a friend would make things much more interesting. Throwing another player in the mix would open up more tactical options on a game that is already overflowing with them. Especially if that other player was from a different clan and had different abilities to offer. One player can be a decoy or a diversion while the other sneaks in the back. One player hypnotizes everyone while the other can kill with impunity. It would be fun.

I’ve played World of Warcraft since it’s beginnings. I’ve played the original RTS games. I’ve dabbled a bit in DDO, looked into a few others like Horizons and The Secret World. I have to say, I’d be interested in seeing a Vampire: The Masquerade MMO, or at least a sequel. There’s definitely room to grow with this franchise. The fan community of people who keep the game alive with mods would all be members, as well as anyone who fell into the vampire-mania surrounding Twilight and True Blood.

Depth/Replayability

This game shines brightest in this category. It’s possible to have multiple save files running in parallel and develop your characters radically different from each other, or tackling the same mission in radically different ways.

Like traditional D&D, you can build your character to be combat or diplomatic and intuitive. My character specialized in lockpicking, computer hacking, and stealth. I have a love-to-hate relationship with doors, so it was natural for me. There are other categories like finance which increases haggling and shop prices, attractiveness increases “seduction” feats, and skills relating to firearms, grappling, or melee combat with a weapon. I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure, that by the end of the game, you will not be able to max out your skill in everything. You won’t be like a Kratos that can max out everything. You really have to make a choice and stick to it. So even if you decide to pick the same vampire “clan” with their unique special abilities on your second play through, you can have a very different experience.

You might have to replay various sections because you weren’t paying close enough attention to the situation. I’d recently come off of Mass Effect and the dialogue options were all very general. The top option was nice, the bottom option was hostile. Vampire isn’t like that, you can really screw up your intention if you aren’t paying attention. For example, I had to retrieve an amulet for someone, but when I returned, they weren’t there. Instead, I handed it over to their sister, and she promptly destroyed it. My bad.

I haven’t beaten the game yet, but I’m already interested in replaying it with the other clans and other powers. This is what it takes to provide replay value, offer a great number of choices, not just two morality choices, go overboard. I’ve replayed Diablo 2 dozens of times for that same reason, you cannot max everything out.

Personal

I wonder if you can be a very charismatic nosferatu? Would letting people see you still be a masquerade violation?

Instead of a Masquerade game, I think I’d rather see an Anita Blake adventure game or action/RPG. Go look it up, Guilty Pleasures: An Anita Blake novel by Laurell K. Hamilton.

At one point in the game, I picked up someone’s severed arm and beat another person to death with it. Wild.

The Malkavian clan is completely loony. Insanity runs in the blood, but they have some insightful moments and pluses to perception. I have no idea what half of their dialogue options mean. It’s kind of fun that way.

Female vamps always seem to dress kinda slutty.

Boiling it Down

This is a great game as a whole, considering it’s depth and strategic choices available for missions and character design. Any other game that follows this format is sure to be a hit, regardless of its theme.

Mass Effect

Originally written on 2/15/2011

The Best Game Never Played

Introducing the Genre

I’ll say Action/Adventure/Sandbox/RPG, that ought to cover all the different genres this game dabbles in to.

Introducing the Game

This is a very special case. Normally in my column, I review only the games that get misfiled in the bargain bin or forgotten from yesteryear. Mass Effect was a major Tripple-A game title that was widely praised, and that’s why I shied away from it. I figured that the constant loud praise was just loudmouthed individuals who wouldn’t know a good game from a demake a decade later. Mass Effect doesn’t belong anywhere on my list.

One day, around the time where the sequel was soon to be released, Steam had a steal of a discount, so I thought I’d give it a look when I wanted to see something different. Nearly a year went by in between the time that I bought it and when I first fired it up.

A few hours into it, I had the feeling like I wanted to review this game, praise it in some way. Then I realized, I already did. This game was already on my list. Mass Effect is a spiritual sequel to a PC game from the early 1980s, Starflight.

Gameplay

In Starflight, you are the captain of a ship, recruiting a human/alien crew of the most influential races in the galaxy, training them, and are sent on a mission for humanity’s survival. Along the way you scout planets, search for ruins, land and disembark in an all terrain vehicle, mine rare minerals, fight off hostile aliens, and uncover a secret about an ancient race thought to be extinct.

In Mass Effect, you play Commander Sheppard. After a few hours, you launch yourself into the main game. Through a series of story related events, you recruit a set human/alien crew of the most influential races in the galaxy, level them up according to your preferences, are sent on a mission to save humanity and the rest of galactic civilization. Along the way you can visit planets important to your mission, or just go exploring and pick up raw minerals by landing on the planet in an all terrain vehicle, fighting hostile monsters, while uncovering secrets about an ancient race thought to be extinct.

I’m convinced that somehow or somewhere Starflight is responsible for Mass Effect. Either Binary Systems, the original studio behind Starflight, had someone working on the team, or someone working on Mass Effect had played and loved Starflight growing up. They’re related, somehow.

Mass Effect could be described as Dragon Age in space. But that only covers about half of the gameplay. Since there are guns, overheating, accuracy, and cover based shooting all involved, there have to be differences. Most of the similarities come from the dialogue options, characters screen, and party system. You can definitely tell it shares the same makers as Dragon Age.

The game play gives you enough control over you and your party that I feel like they really are the party I want them to be. I’m deciding how to level them up, in what areas, fields, and specialties. My team makeup will be different from the guy down the street. That gives a great sense of personalization and ownership of the characters.

Story

Both Starflight and Mass Effect have stories that require the player to save humanity, discover secrets of a lost galactic civilization, and survey planets for minerals and money. Since I’m barely a fraction into the game, I can’t fairly evaluate the story. We’ll see, but I’m actually looking forward to delving more deeply into it. The story is not 100% concept based, there’s some personal character driven emotion involved. I think it will be one of the best I’ve played in a long time.

Mass Effect actually reminds me in part of Chrono Trigger with how the story is handled. You have your main character Commander Shepard/Chrono, and before every mission, you pick from two of seven support characters. Mass Effect took a stylistic liberty with the crew compared to Starflight. In Starflight, you could pick a crew, name them, train them, and that was really about it. They could be injured and die, and then you would have to replace them.

In Mass Effect, the characters cannot permanently die, they all have names, histories, back stories, personal motivations, personalities, etc. They’re named characters, not NPCs on your crew which you happen to assign names to. This gives them character, character the like I haven’t seen for a long time. The most stand out example of “characters with character” that I can think of is Chrono Trigger. Everyone definitely had their own personality in that game.

I’m sure that by the end of the game, each character will have a personal quest or two to do, like all the side characters in Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI.

Graphics

The graphics were great for their time. My computer has some heating issues and can’t run the game at it’s absolute best resolution. So when the action heats up and there’s a lot of characters on screen, I have trouble focusing with the drop in framerate.

One of the race of creatures of sentient machines looks strangely familiar, “Didn’t I see you in Dark Void?” I asked. Maybe an artist somewhere was inspired by the same source material. Also, I noticed a great many similarities to the art style in Halo. I wonder if there were some shared artists between the teams. Did any of the artists work on both projects? Did they change studios over time?

During the downtimes, standing around, dialogue segments, waiting in an elevator, I’ve noticed that this is really one of the best animated games I’ve seen in a long time. The characters have spectacular idle animations, shifting their weight, stretching, cracking their neck, or just looking around.

Music

The music is nice and atmospheric, suitable to the situation. I might eventually buy the musical score even though I haven’t played long enough to find myself humming any memorable tracks. One of the tracks reminds me slightly of something that wouldn’t sound out of place within Blade Runner.

Sound

The voice acting is a highlight to the game. Everytime a new character appears, it’s like playing a game of “guess the voice actor.” You’ll find yourself saying, “Hey, I know him/her from —” more than once. I mentioned Halo before, and I will again. There are some sound effects that are shared between the games.

Controls

I’m still having some trouble getting the hang of the controls. Popping out from behind cover, or detaching from cover to shoot is still a bit picky. I’ll click to fire and nothing will happen. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. And the end result is my death. A few more loaded games later, I’ll eventually get past it. Still, when the game won’t respond sometimes, it’s frustrating.

There are times when I’ve tried to walk in a direction and a teammate is in the way and won’t move. I’ve been blocked for five minutes until I encouraged them to move by running as far back into a corner as possible. That was a frustrating five minutes.

Also, trying to focus on an item that is behind a teammate that doesn’t feel the inclination to move is tricky. It’s more frustrating than it has to be. But I’ve got to give props to the team that created such a rich world and incredible game. There might be a few faults to overcome. Just be aware of them while you play. They’re not as sharp in some moments as they are in others.

Multiplayer

None. Maybe that’s for the best.

Depth/Replayability

I’ve only skimmed the surface of this game. From the beginning, there are various character classes of Soldier, Engineer, and Biotic, and several in between that hybridize the specialties, soldier/engineer, soldier/biotic, engineer/biotic. Even though your party all represent one of those other fields to fill in the gaps and do what you cannot, it might be pleasant to take over the role on another playthrough. There are also decisions and side missions which you may or may not ethically accept. These change how people perceive you. So if you want to be the great hero of the galaxy, be a renegade, or somewhere in between, it’s a nice option to get to go back and then take that road not traveled.

Additionally, it’s wicked fun. I like playing it. Playing it again or just exploring the universe can keep me pretty busy.

Personal

At one point, I shot a person, in the face, with an anti-tank, pistol. The ridiculousness of that sentence alone should be enough to encourage you to check it out.

I like being the Engineer class, I get to hack, decrypt, and use manual override on locked doors, chests, and artificial intelligences. I always liked the thief classes, getting into areas where you probably shouldn’t be. This goes back to Diablo II and my great hatred of doors.

In Diablo II, I made a level 30ish Necromancer who specialized in poison attacks. Late in the game, I came up against a door. The door had 8x the normal hit points of a door because there were 8 players in the game. Doors cannot be poisoned and all I had was a dagger. It took me minutes what should have taken any other character class or build a second to destroy the door. When asked by the rest of the players what was holding me up, I lied and said there was a mini-boss to fight.

I tried again and made a Paladin. In the same area, I came up across another door. I used a Sacrifice skill which deals tremendous damage, but at the cost of 8% being dealt back to you. I was clever! I had 9% life steal so every attack actually healed me. But doors aren’t “living” and cannot have life stolen from them. I died instantly.

In World of Warcraft, I was sure to make a Rogue. I wasn’t going to let any door stop me ever again! In Dragon Age, I was a Rouge, pick pocketing and unlocking everything I could find. So for Mass Effect, when the choice was there, I was sure to take it!

Boiling it Down

If you loved the games like Starflight in yesteryear, this game was a long time coming! I’m happy to see it get the praise it deserves, even if it’s 3 decades late.