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  ‘Mass Effect’ Pre-Play Impressions  
Posted 2007-11-21 by Tony Walsh
Last night I attended the Toronto launch event for Mass Effect, the latest Bioware-developed blockbuster game for the Xbox 360. A dozen or so journalists were plied with appetizers and drinks at Atom Egoyan's "Camera Bar," where Mass Effect project director Casey Hudson walked us through a game demo in the bar's swanky screening room. I haven't yet received a review copy of the game, but here are some quick observations based on what I saw during the demonstration...

The Good:
  • Epic space opera adventure in the style of classic science fiction literature.
  • Above-average in-game cinematics feature a variety of camera angles and depth-of-field effects.
  • Vangelis-style synthetic soundtrack inspired by sci-fi movies of the late 70s and early 80s (odd choice, if you ask me).
  • High production values in alien species design, architecture, and interface design.
  • Extreme detail in character models.
  • Appears to feature the same sort of character progression and item accumulation as previous Bioware titles--fans of the developer or detailed RPGs aren't likely to be disappointed. Not so sure the game is going to excite casual gamers, though.

The Bad:
  • Game appears to push Xbox system specs to the breaking point.
  • Assloads of dialog, some of which would appeal only to a 14 year-old.
  • Choices in dialog don't seem to impact the storyline significantly (take into consideration that I only saw a few scenes of dialog play out).
  • All the humans characters suffer from stiff, uncanny-valley-style animation and facial expressions. Their eyes move, but their faces are like death-masks.
  • Vangelis-style synthetic soundtrack inspired by sci-fi movies of the late 70s and early 80s (it gets cheesy after a while).
  • The good-guys are called "SPECTRE."

The Ugly:
    These are unsightly, unnecessary scars on an otherwise unblemished face.
  • Visible texture loading.
  • Flickering shadows visible during character-close-ups.
  • Z-fighting on certain textures.
  • Obvious framerate loss during moderate (and sometimes minimal) amounts of on-screen action.
  • Playback stuttering during disc access.
  • Characters "pop" into cinematic scenes at the beginning (repeatable issue).
  • Stilted tweening in gestural animations.
  • Screen tearing.
  • "Citadel" misspelled in a menu choice. Sorry, I know it's a nitpick, but hellooo, QA?
According to Bioware's Casey Hudson, the sorts of glitches I've mentioned are an acceptable trade-off considering the scope and flexibility of the game. I totally disagree. The glitches are symptoms of a console pushed too far. How can we be expected to celebrate the arrival of so-called HD gaming and so-called "next generation" graphics when we are faced with obvious visual defects?

Hopefully I'll get a review copy of the game, it seems imminently play-worthy, particularly if you've got hours of uninterrupted time at your disposal (which I definitely do not) and a penchant for classic sci-fi (which I'm rather iffy on).
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Comment posted by gammafodder
December 1, 2007 @ 9:53 pm
You forgot to mention mediocre first person shooter, overwhelming story size and painfully slow elevators.

After many hours of playing, though, I'm very much enjoying it - recognizing that it is more of an interactive science fiction story than a game.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
December 2, 2007 @ 12:21 am
I still haven't gotten a review copy, so sadly I've missed out on the elevator situation and other notable flaws.

Glad you're enjoying it, the guys from Bioware called it an interactive movie, so you're dead-on there :)
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