First Impressions is a regular feature in which Mary shares her -surprise! – first impressions of a game she’s been playing while she should have been making comics.


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The short version of my first impressions of Mass Effect are as follows:

Ok, ok. Here’s a slightly longer version.

I’m playing this first-person-shooter RPG on the Xbox, because John had already bought it and he’s a console guy. While I would probably prefer the controls on the PC version, I have to say that this game looks fantastic on our big screen HDTV.

After a stirring intro, I created my character – my own personal variation on Commander Shepard. You can import your character from the previous version of the game, but I never played it. I probably should. I chose Engineer for my class (you thought I’d go with Infiltrator, didn’t you?), Spacer for my pre-service history, and War Hero for my psychological profile. The visual character customization isn’t amazing, but it’s nice and about on par with the options available in contemporary games. I always appreciate when developers make a female version available, especially when it means recording another voice for a very talkative game. My only gripe is the eyelashes. This lady wears a LOT of mascara, and there’s no getting rid of it. Oh well, *shrug, move on.

My first time in combat with a fellow squad member was a sad affair. I took forever trying to figure out the stupid power wheel controls on the Xbox, especially when it came to ordering my friendly squad mate, Jacob, to use his special ability on the infinite number of mechs unloading on us. I call the power wheel “stupid,” but I’m getting used to it now. It’s actually kind of an elegant solution, which I admit now that I get it. Still, I’d probably prefer the PC controls. And I’m not alone on that – a friend from our D&D group bought the collector’s edition for the Xbox and hated the controls so much that he gave it away and bought it again – collector’s edition and all, for the PC. And he’s very happy he did. I’m also not too keen on the slowness of turning on the Xbox and suspect that I could do a much quicker mouse turn on the PC.

So once I got the controls down I really enjoyed the gameplay. It’s not insanely hard, but a good challenge, and my squad seems to have good AI and really helps me. The squad and sci-fi aspect definitely got me thinking about comparisons to Star Trek Online. Of course there’s no space battle in this (arguably the best part of STO), but in both games you control a team that has good AI, while you retain the ability to exercise control and skill customization over them. The combat is primarily that of a first person shooter, and the power wheel can be brought up at any time, pausing the action, to select and use a special ability that’s appropriate for the enemy. You can also map abilities to controls if you don’t want to bring up the power wheel all the time.

This game has a lot of story and talking, which normally might turn me off. But here it’s fantastic. The story that unfolds is interesting, the universe is rich and populated with intriguing characters, and the design is sci-fi-beautiful. The voice acting and animation are superb. I’m faced with choices every time I talk to someone, and those choices affect how the story plays out and how good or evil my character becomes. I have missions and “assignments,” which appear to be side quests much like the ones I’ve done countless times in villages in the Zelda universe. Somebody needs help with something, and I go help them. But then, I’m trying to play a good, or “Paragon” character. I suppose I’d be less helpful if I went Renegade. The difference here, besides the complete change of setting and mood, is that for the most part, I can’t repeat encounters I have with the NPCs. The decisions I made when talking to them stick.

I completely geeked out when I got to my ship. My very own starship! It’s beautiful and fully equipped. I just want to hang out in it. It makes me really hope that STO will implement the ability to walk around your bridge and ship interior. There’s nothing that could make the sci-fi dork in me squee louder.

Mass Effect 2 was developed by Bioware and released January 26, 2010 by EA. It can be purchased for the Xbox 360 and PC for around $50.