Newcomers need not apply! Let me start by saying that I have not played the original console version, so I understand that I’m not exactly the best person to review this game. However, having said that I like to think that I at least know what makes a good game, regardless of knowing the universe of Mass Effect well, or not.
Mass effect galaxy is a prequel to the upcoming Mass Effect 2 on Xbox 360. Developed by Bioware and published by EA it sees you playing as Jacob Taylor, a former soldier of the Human Systems Alliance. It’s set in a future where humans have broken away from our planetary home, and now share space with many other space-faring species in a place called the Citadel. A warring species known as the Batarians are up to no good and are planning a terrorist attack during peace talks at the Citadel, and it’s up to you (Jacob) to find out what’s going on.
Now, the original game played on the expertise of Bioware to deliver 3rd person shooting action with deep RPG elements, that include sub-stories and paths that change depending on your actions… this game features those story scenes with alternative dialogue which you can choose from. But, action-wise it is far from the original, playing out instead as a top down, Smash-TV-like shooter. These action scenes are interspersed with the story and have you clearing room after room of enemies before getting to the next story scene and repeating. Until finally, the plot is revealed and you save the day!
Whoever designed the character art for this game deserves a pat on the back. It really is great work and makes the RPG elements for the game really stand out. The cut scenes don’t look quite as good, featuring animatic style animation, which is a little static for my tastes, but it is very stylised and shows that at least effort has been put into the game somewhere!
The dialogue in the story is well written and, in-between the boring action elements (see ‘bad’ below), at least push you to the end of the game to see how it all unfolds. It’s all text driven with the odd first sentence presented as a voice over too, which is a nice touch, but shows the game didn’t quite have the budget for full VO work. Music is good too, featuring a cinematic feel to it, and fits with the space opera style well.
Another element in the dialogue sections is the menu, allowing you to navigate your various responses when chatting away with aliens and the like. It’s very easy to control with the flick of a thumb and looks great.
My biggest gripe is the action element of the game, it seems completely tacked-on to the story sections, almost like an entirely different game. It’s as if the engine for it was an idea left on the cutting-room floor and the developers tripped over it and thought “ooh, look what I found… hey why don’t we use this!”. These sections are repetitive and boring, and only break up the story instead of tying it together. Unfortunately these are also where most of the other problems in the game lie.
Graphically they are far weaker than the beautifully illustrated character art, instead featuring generic 2D sprites that could be any species! Areas all look the same consisting of cyber-punk-style walls and crates acting as shields between you and the enemy. Apart from the odd cool particle effect for the weapons and splashings of blood when you make a kill, the overall style is very bland and not exactly pushing the iPhone to it’s limits. So why oh why is the framerate so bad? Whatever fun can be had from those action elements is sucked away by some terrible lag and that’s only with a handful of enemies on screen at once. Not only that but between each room there are snore inducing load screens, which I just can’t understand. I was playing this on a 3GS too, so framerate and load times are probably even worse on a 3G… not to mention a 1st gen iPhone. Sheesh!
Controls for these sections are not terrible, but they do seem a little clunky. You control Jacob by tilting the device, it re-calibrates when paused or when loading a room, so you are not confined to playing it horizontally which is good. But the problem for me is that the shooting is taken out of your hands and controlled automatically, which is no fun at all.
While I do think Bioware did a good job with the story and dialogue elements, I can’t help but feel that my actions had no effect on the story as a whole, and apart from the odd bad response to my questions from a character, the story seemed to continue unhindered. I have replayed some sections to see if it makes any difference to the outcome, but I couldn’t find any. Reports from other sources seem to share that opinion, so don’t expect an RPG on the same level as the Xbox game.
The bottom Line
It’s a strange choice to make a game so heavy on story and light on action. This is one for the fans only, and even then it should have been developed as a interactive graphic novel, and left out the action scenes on the cutting-room floor where they found them! Right now the game seems to be purely a marketing tool for the upcoming Xbox game, which is not the direction I want to see iPhone gaming heading.
Presentation and graphics
While I love the illustration work in this game, I have to look at it overall, and the action scenes are bland and uninspired and ultimately let it down.
Great music and nice use of VO if a little sparse.
The game is short, completing it in under two hours. Which, for an RPG, is unthinkable.