If you've ever borrowed a great novel from a library (ask your parents), you would know that all those reams of text can latch on to your thoughts regardless of the tattered, pig-eared and terrifyingly sticky pages they're printed on. Mass Effect is just such an experience, its story spread across technically dubious and slow-turning sheets filled with text that randomly pops in and out of existence. You also have to read several chapters while standing in the world's slowest elevator, for some reason.
Still, these are complaints that are best gotten over with in the first paragraph and promptly forgotten, for Mass Effect makes its rich story heard well above the incessant clacking of the Xbox 360's exhausted DVD drive. It may seem strange to place emphasis on the massive universe and nuanced characters over the increasingly vague term of "gameplay," but BioWare's craft has masterfully blurred the lines between plot and play. We can't remember the last time we preferred chatting to aliens as opposed to shooting them in... whatever approximates a face.
A laborious inventory system and initially confusing combat certainly detract from the game's (forbidden) planet-hopping journey, but the cinematic ambition on display and tough choices to be made will linger in your memory for much, much longer. In a bountiful year which encouraged us to breathlessly rush from game to epic game, it's remarkable that Mass Effect could make us pause long enough to consider the consequences of our actions.