games / Previews

GDC 2007: Mass Effect (Xbox 360) Preview

March 8, 2007 | Posted by Ramon Aranda

I got a chance to attend Bioware’s meeting yesterday regarding Mass Effect at the GDC event. We were demoed (and by demo I mean an early build of the game and not a “demo” version) the first hour of their sci-fi epic. What was shown was very mouthwatering indeed….

First and foremost, Bioware explained that with Mass Effect, they are looking into really pushing the presentation by offering emotional aspects to the characters. Many players criticize games for having either unrealistic or boring dialect which can be caused by poor localization or lazy writing. Bioware has seemingly done an excellent job in pushing realism into that subject. In looking at the cut scenes and player interaction with NPCs (non-playable characters), it’s easy to see how fluid the conversations have been implemented. Not only do they flow naturally, but the expression in the character’s faces and tones in their voices appear Hollywood-esque; case in point, the voice acting is very impressive. To add to that, when your character is interacting with others, you are given a choice of phrases to say (similar to Oblivion). The choices are mapped out on the face buttons and can be used at anytime during conversation. For example, if you are speaking with one of the crew members, you can interrupt him/her and get your two cents in. The beauty of this is that you actually “interrupt” the other person speaking as you would in real life which makes for natural conversation. It should be noted that each option for conversation leads to different circumstances as you can act like a nice guy or your typical jerk and have different consequences. [Ed. note: the conversations that you can have are hilarious!] The examples shown regarding conversations and emotions were probably one of the most impressive aspects of the demo.

Going back to my mention of Mass Effect being “Hollywood-esque”; the whole environment leads to a movie-like experience. As your character walks around, other characters are going about their normal routines, getting into random conversations in respect to what the current situation may be. These NPCs move around and use body language to communicate that’s very realistic. The AI appears very intelligent and won’t get into the same routine each time as they have “situational awareness”. Graphically the game looks very good, though there were a few frame rate issues as the cut scenes stuttered just a bit, although we were told that it’s still early and the final version will look and play even better.

From the get go, players will be able to choose either a male or female lead character. As this is an action-rpg game, you will be able to customize your character with different abilities, weapons, and armor. As you progress in the game you will learn different abilities and gain other items. Abilities can all be mapped out to the D-Pad so that they will be available on the fly. As you’re exploring, your teammates are smart enough to do things on their own and don’t require you to micromanage them at all times. They are aware of the situation and will react accordingly. Of course you CAN micromanage them if you want and can command them individually as well as manage each of their upgrades.

The story starts off by overlooking a planet that looks similar to Earth. You find yourself aboard the Normandy, your ship, and a mission to Eden Prime (the planet) to recover an artifact which sets off the beginning of a galactic war. When you arrive there the signs of battle are everywhere. Bodies literally everywhere as you and your teammates march forward. Ashes fall from the sky and clouds cover the area. The battle system is very action oriented and feels very similar to Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six and Gears of War. Mass Effect also uses a cover system similar to GoW in which pressing ‘up’ on the controller will cause your character to take cover.

I must say that I came away very impressed and looking forward for more details on the game. There was no announcement regarding a release date but it’s possible that we may see this before the end of the year. Stay tuned for more in-depth coverage as we receive more details in the coming months.

UPDATE: According to IGN, Bioware has informed them that Mass Effect should be out before this year’s E3 event which is held in July.


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Ramon Aranda
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