Should I Buy? – Steam Games Part 2


Now as one or two of you may have seen, I wrote an entry advising on which of Steam’s massive library of games were cheap and worth buying. I enjoyed doing that particular one so much I decided to do a part two, partly because there were games I couldn’t fit into my list the first time around.

To be extra nice, I’m gonna put a list up the individual games here with a unique code so you can find it fast with the CTRL+F search function.

1) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (SKOTOR)

2) Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness (SPAX)

3) Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble (SDGT)

4) Puzzle Agent (SPA)

5) Future Wars (SFW)

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (SKOTOR)

This first game is another Bioware RPG, this time set in the Star Wars universe. It’s set about 4,000 years before the events of the events of the film saga and tells the story of you, a lone soldier rising to become a Jedi Knight and leading a mission to defeat Darth Malak, leader of the Sith Empire.

Unlike Mass Effect by the same studio this game isn’t actionised. Instead, this is one built much more around choosing the best skills, feats and Force Powers. Though playing the game on easy means you don’t really have to worry too much about strategy.

The game lets you play as either a Jedi or a Sith based on your choices, and many of the characters you collect are based on characters from the films. For example, you get a little astromech droid called T3-M4 and a Wookie called Zaalbaar. The game has you jetting about the galaxy to a handful of different planets which each have unique designs and a good amount of sidequests which really helps to stave off any feelings of monotomy.

The characters, especially the ones you recruit, are for the most part likeable and well written/acted. Special credit goes to the young Twi’lek girl Mission for balancing her depressing backstory with chipper determination and HK-47 the Assassination droid for being a hilariously sarcastic & psychopathic with an overriding urge to kill all ‘meatbags’ violently.

I’d recommend this to RPG fans and Star Wars fans alike, but probably not to others. All the game mechanics are perfectly serviceable, but there just isn’t anything here to excite someone who isn’t in one of those two groups.

Price: £6.99

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness (SPAX)

Anybody hear a fan of Penny Arcade? Here’s a quick test: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2011/6/24/

Did you like that? Yeah, it’s kinda like that. Penny Arcade is one of the most successful and long running gaming webcomics there is. They host three conventions a year, have their own charity and are so well respected by nerds that developers try to keep them on their good side.

Penny Arcade Adventures marks their foray into video games with two of what were meant to be four games. Unfortunately, poor sales killed those plans. That’s not because these games aren’t good though, they’re solid if linear RPG fun.

You have three characters, Tycho and Gabe from the comics and your own custom character to investigate and fight the rising threat of cults summoning Elder Gods to wreck the world. One nice touch is that you get to port your character from the original into the sequel. The three of you are the Startling Developments Detective Agency, and you travel through the crazy noir-ish city of New Arcadia that’s rife with magic assisted only by Tycho’s genius scientist niece Anne-Claire.

The gameplay is solid but offers little variation in combat, the reason to buy these games is for the humour. The comic’s much lauded writing style is in full effect here and can easily illicit full out laughter.

The combo bundle is the way to go with this, as it lets you save a bit of money and if you like one you’ll like the other, because the crazy settings and characters are the only really note worthy differences between them.

Price £8.99 (Combo Pack) £5.99 (Individual)

Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble (SDTG)

This is one of the stranger games I’ve played from Steam. It’s set in the roaring 20’s, where you take control of one of a range of rebellious girls to be your ‘Queen’ as you form a gang to investigate stuff, flirt with boys and just generally rebel.

Playing cards are a strong motif here, each character has four stats represented by a different playing card symbol. Whenever you want to get interact with someone chances are you’ll have to play one of four different games. See each stat has one associated and they’re intellectual little challenges and the higher your stat is in the required area the more leeway you have for hints and mistakes.

In a nice touch, each stat is a different aspect of your girl’s personality like their rebelliousness or their glamour. This is certainly a unique game, and although I haven’t exactly been caught up in plot or mechanics it gets points for being different. I’d see at least give it a look, it’s an interesting experience.

Price: £8.99

Puzzle Agent (SPA)

I mentioned this one back in my Layton review, but I wanted to talk a bit more about it. You play as Nelson Tethers, the sole member of the FBI’s Puzzle Research Division. There’s been an action at the Scoggin’s Eraser Factory, and the President’s erasers come from that very factory. All the FBI’s  contact attempts have been met with strange puzzles, so that’s where you come in.

There’s only about a third of the puzzles here as were in Layton but this is about a third of the price. Also there’s several repeats and several really frustating ones. Still, when they’re good they’re really good. Mostly because these are ones that don’t rely on trick wording and are just tests of your ability to think things through.

If you like puzzle games like Professor Layton, or would like to try it without paying so much then buy this.

Price: £3.99

Future Wars (SFW)

This is another turn based strategy game, something typically relegated to handhelds. To say it was ‘based on’ Intelligent System’s Advance Wars series would be generous, because it’s a total ripoff. It’s setting and visual style are unique, but this plays just like Advance Wars.

Basically, you’re a military student and you have to build an army to key locations like factories and cities and to destroy your enemies. Different units have different strengths. Only infantry-types can capture locations, only artillery can attack from a distance, tanks have good armour at expense of movement etc.

In battle, the design style doesn’t make it clear what you’re looking at in a glance, the animations for the units move significantly slower than AA’s which really drags out even the simplest of missions and none of the characters or story beats that are meant to connect the boring missions ever rose above the level of amateur writing for me. And I mean like, real amateur. Like a 14 year old’s fanfiction amateur.

Price: £3.49

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Should I Buy? – Echo Bazaar


Technically, you can’t. Cause it’s free. Mostly. Y’see, Echo Bazaar is an award winning browser-based game by an independent studio called FailBetterGames. Apparently this game (still in beta, and new content being added constantly) is an experiment to develop new game mechanics and story telling techniques in online games.

The premise of Echo Bazaar is simple. In the late 1800’s London has been stolen by a mysterious race of beings called ‘the Masters’ and plonked just down-river of Hell. London’s adapted to life here quite well, in this strange land where devils and dead people roam the streets to bargain, seduce and relax with the living.

You start the game having just woken up in the Neath, specifically as a prisoner in New Newgate Prison. Your task is to escape, and can be done by using one of four stats, your Dangerous, Persuasive, Shadowy and Watchful. Choosing options and playing opportunity cards works a little like Mafia Wars and similar games, though this is infinitely superior.

When you escape, it’s up to you to find fame and fortune in the Neath. In terms of plot and backstory, the game’s got plenty of that, but you have to piece it together yourself. Some missions offer clues as to what different characters and factions are up to like the Topsy King or the Affectionate Devil, or the past of another person etc. This is a fantastically realised world, and personally I liked their method of storytelling, as they never expected me to read half a damn history book to understand what was going on.

So you spend your time on this game clicking options and cards, earning money and items and raising your stats so you can do more impressive things. Being Shadowy starts off with running messenger errands and eventually makes you an agent of the ‘Great Game’ of spies and counterspies in London. This is all very fun but slow moving. They intend you to be playing this game for months. I’ve been playing it since last year and I’m not even half way through the game’s content.

To encourage this, you only get 40 actions a day. You can buy an additional 40 with cold, hard cash if you really want by becoming an Exceptional Friend, which also gives you access to a secret club-house owned by Mr Chimes. Also available for purchase is Fate, which you can expend to open up unique options and stories.

The different story threads are a nice touch. They’re unique and only playable once, and the hope of another one being just around the corner often kept me playing when just having to raise my stats was boring as Hell. Some of them just seem to disappear halfway through though, and others seem damn near impossible to start.

There’s so much content in this game that I could easily spend hours writing some epic, multi-page ZOMGUMUSTPLAYTEHGAMEZ type thing. Instead I’ll just give this a hearty recommendation. It’s just the sort of thing you can run in the background while you browse the web. Or do ‘work’. You know the kind of work, the kind where you start playing Farmtown with a blank Word document silently running untouched on the taskbar.

Should I Buy? Steam Games


Seeing as Steam recently made a whole bunch of games Free to Play (that is, free to download and play, but with plenty of built in premium content you can only get by paying for) I thought I’d give some recommendations on what’s worth getting from the Steam catalogue. I’ll choose five games or game bundles, all under £20 and give a brief description with a yay or nay.

Also, there’s now a followup to this review with five more games! You can find it at
https://buythatgame.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/should-i-buy-steam-games-part-2/

For those of you who don’t know, Steam is a service offered by Valve that allows you to purchase games online and download them direct to your computer. Also, you can access your Steam account from any computer with Steam installed to play the game on your home PC, your laptop, as many computers as you want. THough you do have to install it at every location.

By the way, a lot of the new F2P games are MMO’s, so if that’s your thing go take a look. And Team Fortress 2 is now free. Like online shooters? Get it. Now. Not sure if you do? Try it anyway, it’s free. I could probably do an entire post on TF2, but I haven’t played it enough.

So, let’s get down to business.

1) Sid Meier’s Pirates!

This is an easy recommendation. Sid Meier’s is the guy who made the Civilisation series, but this isn’t some dry game of economy management and meaningless stats. Instead, you’re the captain of a pirate vessel and it’s up to you to make your fortune any way you please. The regular way is to attack any ship that looks rich enough, but you could pretend to be a Privateer, only attacking the ships of your enemies or a merchant or smuggler, with lots of peaceful trading.

You can sail around the Caribbean doing pretty much whatever you want, making friends with and gaining lands and titles from any of the four nations present. Each element of the game, whether it’s an epic sword duel with Blackbeard, storming the walls of a Spanish port or romancing the beautiful daughter of a town’s Governor has its own little minigame associated. This makes the whole game feel like a series of minigames strung together with a lot of people flying the Jolly Roger at times, but they’re all fun and work well with each other.

Despite not being a game with an epic story or complex mechanics this can be a massive time sink. ‘I just wanna find this buried treasure!’ or ‘I’ll just listen to the gossip at the tavern, what!? A treasure Galleon? I must set out at once!” are all the sorts of things that’ll have you delay the closing of this game for hours.

So this is a fun, simple and charming game that costs just £6 from Steam. The game does lack tutorials of any kind though, but it is at least kind enough to make you play your first game on the easiest settings.

2) Broken Sword Triple Pack

This pack contains the first three games of the Broken Sword series, the first two of which are highly respected point & click adventure games. The third, not so much. For those of you not familiar with point & click games, you go through talking to people and picking up and using objects in the game world to solve problems, gain information and get to the heart of the plot’s mysteries. These games feature George Stobbart, an average American who gets caught up in globe-spanning attempts by bad guys to do stuff that’s really evil and mystical.

These games are strictly non-combative, so this isn’t one for action lovers. However, the first two games are well written with eccentric and colourful characters, and the main character George serves as a good ‘straight man’ to the many comedic people he encounters. As with all games that base themselves around puzzles, not being able to find an answer is frustrating. There’s no built in hint system, so it’s either gonna take logic, perseverance, luck or gamefaqs to get you through the tough times.

If you do like adventure games, or just wanna try something different I say yes to the Broken Sword Triple Pack. And getting all three games for £10 is a great deal.

3) Freedom Force Double Pack

Holy under-appreciated games, Batman! I love Freedom Force! Well duh I do, they put you in charge of a bunch of costumed superheroes based on all that fantastic 60’s cheesiness. Gameplay wise you control a team of four heroes through a squad based system, utilising each one’s powers to defeat your enemies. This can get a pit hectic and thankfully you can pause at any time to issue orders to your squad.

If the sometimes unwieldy interface pisses you off, the bright visual style (complete with BIFF! and WHACK! signs when you attack) and general humour of the game should help you through the game. Though the game’s   dialogue is meant to sound ridiculous, and the cutscenes are a joy, hearing the same lines over and over in battle gets fast quick.

These games are ones that you’ll have more fun with if you’re the type of person who can look past gameplay flaws for a great experience. I hope so, because these games are great. You go from fighting gangsters in the local park to battling the superpowered Nazi forces of Blitzkrieg and even to the ends of the universe to do battle with all-powerful sorcerers. You can get these two great games together for just £5, and then you too, can defend Patriot City.

4) Poker Night at the Inventory

You like Texas Hold ‘Em? Well if not, keep walking. That’s all this is, a Texas Hold ‘Em game. So how is it different from the hordes of poker games online, or just playing poker with some friends? Well because our good friends over at Telltale games made one with a lot of funny dialogue.

To elaborate they took Max from Sam & Max, Strongbad from Homestar Runner, Tycho from Penny Arcade and the Heavy from Team Fortress 2 and you get to play Poker while listening to them talk. They’re all well written and acted in a way that remains true to their portrayal in their respective franchises. Don’t worry about not having heard of them before though, they are fairly obscure to non-geeks. Even I wasn’t familiar with Max or Strongbad.

As for the game itself, it’s poker, you know if you like poker. And if you want to play it more but can never get the people together, it’s currently £3.25 in the Steam store. And if you don’t like the dialogue, you can turn it off.

5)  Greed Corp

This is a strange little game that mixes turn based strategy with timed turns. All the world’s resources are being used up and now four factions are vying for control of what’s left. The difference in the factions is purely cosmetic though, they all have the same limited amount of units.

These limitations means that instead of having loads of unit types to keep track of, the few units get to be used for more complex strategies. For example, your resource collectors remove one ‘health’ from the board tiles in their radius each turn to give you money, and when a tile has zero health, it gets destroyed along with anything that was on it. So you can use this to cut of enemy troops, destroy their cannons, isolate their factories etc.

This game requires quick and devious thinking. The campaign’s short and swiftly imposes strict time limits, but the multiplayer mode can be done on and offline with any ruleset you desire. At £8, I’ve played better games but this is certainly and interesting one and if you want a tactical challenge, give it some consideration.

Should I Buy? Professor Layton


Alright, the third one of these and I promise to make it shorter. Now I imagine most of you will have heard of this series, it was quite a fad a while back. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I tried it myself with the first entry, Professor Layton and the Curious Village for the Nintendo DS.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, other than a bunch of puzzles. The game has a plot, but it’s really not the focus. Basically, a lord has died and his Will states that only a person capable of finding the Golden Apple can inherit his ridiculously large fortune. Nobody in town’s been able to do it, so they contact respected Archaeologist Professor Hershel Layton to find it.

That’s the set up, and it never really moves on from there. Still, that’s not really a negative and whenever there’s a pre-rendered cutscene it has some really charming animation and solid voicework. Really, the whole visual aesthetic of the game is simple, yet consistent and has a style that really suits the game. And though the music tracks are few in number, they’re gentle and relaxing that can really cool your temper when you can’t answer that damn puzzle.

If you do get easily frustrated by brainteasers though, this isn’t something for you. If you don’t mind challenging your brain once in a while however, you’ll find a range of puzzles that’ll test your arithmetic, language skills, spatial awareness and lateral thinking. Some of the puzzles get repeated a few times, but each time the puzzle is made harder with a new twist or level of complexity.

It can get a bit tiresome to have to solve a problem every time you talk to someone or are trying to get some information, but if you let them take you, you’ll get plenty of mileage out of them.

This is a solid game for play on the go as you attempt a tricky puzzle or two, or for an extended play session when you want to go through a bunch of them. And once you’ve unlocked a puzzle or cutscene, you can replay them at your leisure from the main menu.

So yeah, if you want something intellectual to sink some time into, you could do a lot worse than Professor Layton. It doesn’t matter too much which game you play from the series, each is a self contained story but as ever you’ll miss some backstory or character beats by doing so. That’s not a big deal though, these games are all about the puzzles. The fact that the characters, art and sound design are great too are just a bonus.

Unfortunately, getting one of these games will be about £15 at the easiest, and they’ll easily reach £25. If you want something similar, there’s the much shorter but still fun Puzzle Agent available on Steam for £5. I’d recommend that too.

Should I Buy? – The LEGO Games


OK the last review was a long on. I had to explain what I was doing, then give context to the game and then talk about the writing and both sides of gameplay. I imagine it was so long some of you didn’t bother to read all of it. So today, I’m picking something both more ‘casual friendly’ and easier to get a shorter review on.

Everybody hear loves LEGO right? That wonderful Danish invention, it was certainly the best toy I had growing up. Well it seems Telltale Games loves LEGO too. They’ve spent years making LEGO games based on various famous film licenses Warner Bros. owns.

Because I’m writing about four different game, you can zoom to one using Ctrl + F then typing in the key LSW, LIJ, LB or LHP to find the one you want.

Now the reason I can review LEGO Star Wars I & II, Indiana Jones, Batman and Harry Potter Years 1 -4 is because they’re all very similar in play style and, conveniently, I own them all. Also, these are all available on 360, PS3, PC, Wii and most are available on the handhelds. These are great for more casual gamers as you can’t actually lose, just die and respawn a few seconds later a little poorer.

As a note, the handheld version may lack some features or characters and have new ones to compensate. I’ve also heard about some of them having dire performance bugs, and they lack local co-op play. I’d advise getting these on consoles.

OK, so here’s how a LEGO game work. They’re based around three or four films and let you replay scenes from those films as fully interactive levels that are full of puzzles, combat and things to blow up. The cutscenes lack any dialogue, meaning that what little story they give is done through mime, and all the scenes work in a few good jokes too. Once you beat the levels in Story Mode (which you can easily do with a friend, the game has full co-op compatibility) you unlock them in Free Play where you can go back through them as any character you want to unlock all their hidden goodies.

See, each character has special abilities. For example, in LEGO Star Wars only Stormtroopers can use special Stormtrooper doors, only characters with blasters can grapple, only Force users can interact with certain objects and in some cases you need Dark Force powers. This, combined with the ability to unlock a whole range of characters from the games’ source material and even a character creator system gives the games great re-playability.

They do have their cons as well as pros, and before I talk about each game in turn briefly I want to talk about the flaws the series as a whole has. The camera moves along a set path throughout the game, which can be dodgy but is generally OK. In co-op though, some games won’t let the two of you move too far apart because you share the same screen. In other, you can because if you get too far apart the game becomes splitscreen which can be really confusing when it happens.

If you’re playing solo, then you’re stuck with a crappy AI partner. They’re incapable of killing enemies (not for lack of trying) and about the only thing they can do is help you with puzzles. You do one part, they do their part. The stupid AI can also get stuck on a jumping section because it keeps respawning to and jumping from a point that it can’t reach the other side from. You’ll occasionally have to take a break from doing your LEGO  thang to unstick the AI, and that’s never fun.

LSW
OK, let’s get started with LEGO Star Wars. Now if you’re going to buy these avoid the latest release and instead plonk for The Complete Saga. This is both LSW I & II combined, and covers the six films. The first game has you play mostly as Jedi, and here the puzzles are quite simplistic, use Character A on Object B type stuff. And if there’s no solution around, just hit stuff til so it explodes, you’ll find something to use. The second has a few levels as Jedi Luke, but most of the characters use blasters so shooty combat got upgraded. Now shooter heroes (excpet Chewie, for some reason) automatically dodge attacks if you press the attack button. The levels here are longer and focus more on puzzles. Overall, these two are a great buy buy still a bit on the pricey side. Steam will give it to you for £15 if you want it on PC, but I maintain these are best on console where you’ll be charged roughly £20 to get it preowned. Steep. Then again, it’ll be a bit cheaper if you get the PS2 version, but not much.

LIJ

Now, Indiana Jones, I haven’t played the second one, only the first. The first covers the original trilogy of Raiders, Temple and Crusade while the second has these ones with redesigned levels and the fourth film. The levels are as well designed and cutscenes as enjoyable as ever, but this game does have its problems. The heroes don’t really have that much in the way of unique abilities, so you’ll spend a lot of the game picking up weapons and tools to help you through the levels. This works fine most of the time, but some tools really limit your character’s combat ability and if you’ve had to put on a ‘hat’ as a disguise, one hit will knock it right off.

That’s another thing, the combat in this game doesn’t feel properly balanced. The game will throw hordes of bad guys at you, often armed with guns. This means you’ll die a lot and lose a lot of in game currency (studs) in some locations. In one level, there’s an area that almost makes me turn the game off rather than play it every time. Then, on other levels there’ll be nothing but a few barely noticeable spiders, and you’ll have to puzzle your way through the entire thing. This does make thematic sense, there’s no reason for Nazis to be in the tomb they just trapper you in after all. And I actually had more fun with these levels, because the puzzles are more complex and feel rewarding to solve. Ultimately, this game’s more of a mixed bag of tricks than a straight up recommendation. I’d say buy another one first. The Steam price is £13 and CEX asks about £10. This is also available on PS2.

LB

Ah, Batman. It was inevitable I’d buy this someday. So inevitable, I’ve bought it three times. Not because this is the best LEGO game necessarily, but because I’m such a sucker for Batman. The game has two halves, the Hero Missions and their villainous counterparts. This is the only LEGO game to use original plots, such as they are, rather than follow a film chronology. In this, a whole bunch of Batman’s villains break out of Arkham Asylum and split into three groups to do evil stuff. You’re Batman and Robin. You stop them.

Each level has the Dynamic Duo go after one of these baddies in a themed level and then fight them at the end as a boss. To compensate for the limited characters you get to play as in these missions, both the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder get four additional costumes that give them special powers that are scattered throughout the level. They do mean the game gets to be more complex than ‘punch things’, but some of them near useless while others are just annoying. Sure, they’re serviceable, but you’ll probably get fatigued of them before the game’s over. Also, a couple are near useless in the story missions, and almost as much so during free play.

The villain missions let you see the events that led to the levels you played in the other missions. You don’t get to play as every villain, but they’re all unlockable. Also, none of your boss fights here wear a cape. Most just don’t end with one. Most villains have at least two powers that the heroes don’t have access to, so the puzzles in these missions require different things of you, meaning the villain levels are a breath of fresh air.

Despite this being the darkest LEGO game, both thematically and visually (what with it all taking place in Gotham ‘the sun never shines’ City), the cutscenes retain their humour. Special mention goes out to Batman STILL being serious and competent in a LEGO game, while Robin goofs in the background. That said, Batman’ll still get a few laughs out of you. Another thing I love is that while Batman uses big beefy strikes and throws to fight, Robin uses more agile kicks and tumbles. This is a really nice characterful touch.

Damage wise, this is the best deal. roughly £10 both preowned and on Steam.

LHP

Finally, we reach the most different game of them all. Remember all that visceral combat in the Harry Potter films? How many times did that Herbology class seem so kick ass you couldn’t wait to play a game about it? Yeah, no and never right? This has been a problem with making Harry Potter games, but Telltale have cracked it with their mix of puzzling and platforming.

As you move through the films your characters learn more spells and gain a few abilities, and you have to use these in the most puzzle based LEGO game yet. The levels aren’t based on the easiest material to use and while there’s nothing really wrong with them, they do suffer from some quite extreme brevity when put alongside the other games. Still, the levels aren’t the real focus of the game. Instead, you get to use these magical powers to explore Hogwarts. As you go to more classes and gets more spells, you can interact with different parts of the castle to find collectibles and secret areas.

This can get frustrating at times because some parts require you having a character you haven’t found the token that lets you buy them, and you’ll have to scour some likely levels to find it, but for the most part the exploration is really fun in a ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ kinda way. In terms of price, Steam’ll give it to you for £20, and preowned it’s between about £15-£20 depending on the platform.

OK so this was another long post, but I reviewed four whole games! C’mon people, work with me here! Anyways, I’d recommend any one of them as a fun distraction or to play with a younger sibling or a friend or partner who’s not particularly interested in games. They’re fun, simple and funny. If you don’t enjoy the LEGO games, you have no soul. Not judging, just saying.

Welcome to Should I Buy?


Alright people, this is a blog I started several months ago and had nothing to put on it. But Extra Credits and the Escapist Podcast convinced me to try my hand at game reviewing instead. Now, those of you know who know me know I’m poor, so I can’t review recent games. So here I am, having migrated from blogspot to wordpress for a more professional system and to make it easier for people who want to follow me.

Instead I’ve decided to start the Should I Buy? series. Basically, I’m going to look at games you can pick up preowned or through digital distribution services such as Steam for reasonable prices. So if you’ve been wondering if you should try that game your friend won’t shut up about, or was all the rage a year or two ago or anything else, I hope to offer my opinions to help you make that decision.

OK, so, that’s what I’m trying to do here so let’s get started. Today I’d like to talk about the Mass Effect. It’s a Third Person Shooter/Western RPG hybrids from Bioware. This one’s available on the 360 & PC.  The game has you tracking down a former galactic agent-turned rogue named Saren and attempting to stop evil schemes.

The plot is your standard Bioware affair. For those of you unacquainted with Bioware storytelling, let me explain. Your basic Bioware game follows this basic formula:

1) You play as a man or woman from relatively humble origins with vast potential and natural leadership skills.

2) At first you wander around a starting area, following a simple introductory quest and getting the bare bones of the game world explained to you in terms of both game mechanics and the various peoples, factions and problems of the game world.

3) There’s a large battle of some kind where you gain two companions, one male and one female. You then escape and the core threat of the game is revealed. You get inducted into a special organisation of some sort that gives you the right to wander around the game universe doing pretty much whatever you like. Whether this group is are the Jedi, the Spectres or Grey Wardens, the concept is the same.

4) You’re given a series of smaller tasks which will give you strength and information necessary to defeat the main threat. As you travel to these locations, you’re asked to make a series of decisions that are either Good or Evil and you gain new companions. These companions represent all the possible combat classes in the game.

5) Once you’ve done all these tasks, you proceed to the endgame, defeat the threat and the ending details the results of your in game choices for individual characters and groups.

So that’s how it works. Shepard must stop Saren, you become a Spectre (an agent of the galaxy’s central government unbound by law), you go to different worlds and collect information until the final confrontation.

Bioware are known throughout the gaming community for their writing. It doesn’t reach the depths of an exceptional author or screenwriter but it’s competent and some of the best in gaming. Occasionally they’ll come up with a particularly great character or scenario that elicits real moral complexity or an emotional response, but don’t expect it in every quest.

As for what the writing’s like in Mass Effect, its strength isn’t in the main quests or even in the interactions you have with your fellow crew members, instead it’s in the fantastic sci-fi universe they’ve created. Instead of just giving us ‘Space Elves’. ‘Space Dwarves’ and ‘Space Orcs’ we’re given five primary races, and a handful or minor ones.

Humans are the newcomers to the galactic scene, having made First Contact about 40 years ago. However, their individuality, flexibility and motivation has seen them achieve a level of political clout most races haven’t built up in centuries. This has lead to a lot of the other races being wary of humans, and not readily accepting them as they think they’re growing too powerful. And the humans feel resentful that they’re being held back.

The other primary races are the Asari, a monogendered species that live for millenia and are masters of diplomacy, the Turians, a collectivist race of duty minded people with the galaxy’s strongest military who evolved from an avian species and the Salarians, a short lived race renowned for its intelligence and ability at science and espionage. Together these races comprise the Council, a governing body that oversees disputes between all the other races in Council Space.

Finally, there’s the Geth, a race of sentient machines. The other races make for great background detail though, and get a few spokespeople.

Each of these races more or less live up to their assigned ‘hat’ and tend to act alike. Still, the game is quite happy to take its time in explaining how their biology and psychology works, making them feel less like cardboard cutouts.

In many quests and general interactions, you get to choose one of two moral actions. These are more complex than most games. Neither are black and white moralities. The first is Paragon, the game’s ‘good’ setting. These actions make you look for peaceful solutions, uphold the law, mediate arguments and be generally accepting and tolerating of other peoples and races. The Renegade Shepard is much more ruthless and pragmatic in his dealings. Doing good deeds don’t erase your bad ones and vice versa, so a Renegade Shepard who takes the time to comfort a distraught team mate doesn’t lose his reputation as a cold blooded killer.

And many decisions you make in this game have consequences in the next. For good or ill, we won’t really know the consequences until the final part of the trilogy plays itself out.

Another thing about the game’s writing. The level of scientific fidelity is amazing. Each planet you look at has got a brief description of its gravity, history, biosphere, temperature, year length etc. Plus the Codex explains a lot of how the game’s science works. This is a great attention to detail to those who like this kind of thing, but people not looking for that can skip right past it.

Now finally, to gameplay. This is a mixed area, and it feels that there were conflicting ideals on how it should be handled. For example, the game bills itself primarily as an RPG, but you’ll need to pilot vehicles and engage in hectic, cover based firefights to proceed. On the other hand, each character has a skill tree of techniques that you’ll have to consider carefully at level up time. It’s easy for fans of either genre to feel alienated, but if it clicks for you then you’ll find an enjoyable system that allows you to custom build your squad and then test it out with on the fly tactics.

Though if that’s not your thing, select the Soldier class and blast through everything on Casual difficulty with your assault rifle.

The various classes within the game suit a variety of playstyles, and playing as each different one offers up several different approaches to combat that are all perfectly viable. Experimenting with your squad composition can also be fun, but the game has a limited number of battles available so if you want to try everything you’ll have to trudge through the game several times.

Gameplay does lean more on the side of RPG than shooter though. The combat is competent but not as detailed as a dedicated shooter. Pure shooter fans will likely be frustrated by the intrusions of statistics and special abilities.

With both combat and story you’ll get out of it what you put in. Anything from casual play to the most intense of challenges are catered for.

That said, there are some definite downsides to the way the game plays. The vehicle sections break up the endless processions of corridors and chest high walls and allow for some nice set pieces, but the Mako is weak, the gun is difficult to aim, controlling it is more a matter of keeping it going in the general direction you want than any actual finesse and trying to repair it during a firefight leaves you severely exposed.

Another is the inventory system. Killing enemies or opening containers can give you up to six pieces of equipment, and you can only hold a limited number at once. This wouldn’t be too problematic, but so many of them are redundant. Again, this could have been salvaged but poor design just make it a frustrating mess. When you open a container, you take everything or nothing. You can’t compare what you’re getting against what you’ve got, and often you’ll already have four of whatever you’re picking up.

Even if you know you only want one item out of the bunch, you can’t manually discard or destroy the rest on the spot. Instead, you’ll have to enter your inventory and manually check and then destroy every single item you don’t need. At times, I’d avoid opening containers just to avoid this, even if it meant walking around with underpowered gear.

Aside from a few simple commands in the item management system, why couldn’t Bioware have included a filter that only gave items of a certain strength depending on your level? The items do scale with you, but they’ll keep handing out redundant gear for far too long. Also, a system that limits the equipment drops to what’s usable by your immediate party would have been another solution. Possibly as an optional filter.

These gripes aren’t deal breaking though, so long as you’re engaged enough by either the plot or combat. The game’s also very cheap to buy now. Steam will let you download it direct to your computer for £10 and places like CEX it’s available second hand for less than that.

My recommendation? Bioware are a great studio that make great games, though if you’re a casual player you may be put off by the depth on offer. Shooter fans who don’t mind something more cerebral, give it a try, RPG fans that don’t mind getting their hands dirty, this is a great investment. Story lovers, sci-fi nuts? This is a game you’ll enjoy the sheer detail and great writing of. And casual players, hell it’s cheap. Unless you’re really on a budget, why not give it a try? It could be a great stepping stone into either genre for you.

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