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Xbox 360 impressions: Mass Effect


It really is a testament to the quality of Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic when, years after its release, we still want to compare it to some of  the best parts of Mass Effect. The game clearly represents Bioware's desire to create involving and highly cinematic story-driven games, as it features some of the most lifelike characters we've yet seen in a video game. Upon entering a futuristic seedy bar with two of your squad mates, you strike up some conversations with patrons in the nearby vicinity. Much like KOTOR and some of Bioware's past games, the conversations are written in such a way so as to prompt the player for frequent input. Your potential responses are now mapped to different directions on the analogue stick and, because they appear on-screen before the NPC has even finished his or her (or its) line of dialogue, the exchanges between the game characters come off as extremely fluid and cinematic.

Bioware really went to town with the facial animations, something which immediately becomes obvious when you start whipping out your gun and shoving it in people's faces in your efforts to get information. NPCs become visibly frightened when threatened, their eyes widening in terror and their brows crumpling up. There's a certain sadistic quality to it, though your squad mates will quickly share their opinions on your behavior, sometimes even squabbling amongst themselves about how well or poorly you handled a given situation. Unlike many RPGs which require you to navigate large chunks of cutscenes in-between dungeons, the character interaction and plot advancement in Mass Effect appears to be really natural, cinematic and above all, fun.

The concept of a "dungeon" really seems to be in stark contrast with the scale of the world presented in Mass Effect. Actually, make that worlds. Once the central story kicks off, you're placed in command of your own ship and set loose upon a galaxy filled with multiple planets. If you find one you'd like to explore, you can drop off an armored vehicle and rove about, taking in the local sights before  promptly blasting them to smithereens. Bioware made specific mention of downloadable content, stating that Xbox 360 gamers would be able to eventually download entire new planets to explore, some with independent story arcs and more unique sets of challenges.

When it comes down to combat, the game is a mixture of traditional RPG statistics and third-person tactical shooting (think Ghost Recon). You can control any of the three members of your squad directly, but just like KOTOR, the two you don't control can often handle themselves well enough The action can be paused at any moment, allowing you to move the camera about the area and place 3D waypoints for your squad mates to converge on. The Bioware guy controlling the demonstration placed waypoints behind some nasty alien fellows and in doing so, allowed two of his characters to flank them. It was an effective strategy, though having everybody equipped with gigantic, heavily modified weapons may have swayed the outcome just a bit.

Even though your character's class, abilities and statistics determine how effective he (or she) is at taking down the alien menace, the combat still requires a good deal of input from you. Largely thanks to the game's stunning visuals and sound, firing off guns and lobbing grenades really seems like a very visceral experience, regardless of all the dice being rolled deep within the Xbox 360's processors. We'd like to experience some more of the combat first-hand before venturing any further opinions, but based solely on presentation, the combat seems to be the gun-toting equivalent of Jade Empire. As far as we're concerned, that's a good thing.

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