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TUAW at E3: Mass Effect Galaxy on the iPhone


EA brought a few iPhone games to the show in Los Angeles this week -- first up, we got a look at the Mass Effect entry for the iPhone, recently titled Mass Effect Galaxy. The game takes place in the same universe as the popular console game (and its sequel), but it focuses around a separate, non-customizable hero named Jacob Taylor. And while the game was designed by Bioware, it plays very differently from the regular console versions. It's much more action-based, and while it does tell a pretty enticing story, it's much less of an RPG.

While Mass Effect played as a third-person shooter, Mass Effect Galaxy actually goes with a top-down view, and takes basic aiming controls out of your hands completely. Instead, you send the main character running around the map with the accelerometer, and he aims and fires at enemies for you. Along the side edge of the touchscreen are your bionic abilities, and you can throw them in as you fight, but mostly, the game is just about navigating Jacob behind cover by tilting the accelerometer.

So, does it work? Kind of. Unfortunately, it seems like Bioware used the accelerometer function for the sake of innovation, rather than having gameplay that demanded it. So while it is an innovative little control scheme, it doesn't really feel connected to the Mass Effect aesthetic. And even if you've already played through the first game, the skills you picked up won't help here -- though Jacob is doing the same things that Shepard did in Mass Effect, you're controlling him in a completely different way. And while it is new, it's not that great.

That said, fans of the series will probably get used to it, because this game also recreates the other big draw to the Mass Effect series: the branching dialogue and strong storylines. As in the original, the option to interrupt and respond however you like to the NPC you're talking to is still there, via a wheel on the side of the touchscreen. After the game begins and you grab a weapon to repel early enemies, you get asked by a rookie soldier how you feel about the killing you just did, and you can respond with vengeance, regret, or a few different places in between. Unfortunately, I didn't play long enough to see what kinds of consequences your different responses make (the original Mass Effect had major story resolutions revolve around your choices, and the producer of this game does say that there are a few branches to find in the middle), but the dialog system is implemented very well.

There's still no release date or price announced (I wouldn't be surprised if EA goes $9.99 on this one, though $4.99 is probably a much more fair value), but the real question is: is it worth picking up? Fans of Mass Effect will enjoy it -- they'll get past the wonky combat into the story of the game, and get a nice good look at the time between the two major console sequels. Those looking for an interesting shooter with a better-than-average story will probably enjoy it as well, though without knowing the context of the Mass Effect setting (the version we played had a tutorial on how to play, but didn't explain what bionics were all about or why Jacob started out with all of these powers), it might be a little confusing.

Anyone expecting a real Mass Effect experience will probably have to wait for Mass Effect 2, which we've heard is just as good as the first one. The iPhone version does try some interesting things, but it ends up being more of a Mass Effect game in name only, rather than a real translation of the series.

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