Mass Effect Galaxy was released a couple of months back for the iPhone and iPod Touch. This $2.99 top-down shooter tells a story that takes place between Mass Effect and the upcoming sequel. The main characters will appear in ME2 and the story touches on threads that will be picked up therein, too. So is it worth checking out for fans of the series?
Players take on the role of biotic soldier Jacob Taylor, formerly an Alliance marine. Initially called into action to resolve a terrorist attack, Taylor is sent on a mission to stop an impending attack on the Citadel by the batarians. Along the way he picks up companions like Miranda, an informant, and gains new leads on where to go next. Like in the first game, players choose which location to travel to next in their ship by means of a galaxy map, in any order they choose.
The game is divided into three kinds of scenes - combat, cutscene and dialogue. Equal time is given to each, moving the story forward at a brisk pace. The cutscenes play out in the manner of an animated graphic novel, in a cartoony style quite different from the main game’s more realistic and cinematic aesthetics. The scenes are fully voiced and accompanied by the recognisable original soundtrack of the series, unlike the dialogue sections, which are usually just voiced in the first line and then silent for the rest of the conversation. For most of the conversations players have a choice of responses, in the usual array of Renegade, Paragon and neutral tones. However there is no character progression, as such. Moreover, while the series has been known to offer players different paths and outcomes branching from the dialogue trees, here the variation is much less. At most it will mean the possibility of avoiding a fight.
Which brings us to the combat. The main game on the PC and XBox 360 provides a blend of third-person, tactical shooting action with a backend of RPG numbers, and the iPhone version resembles none of it. The view is from above looking down, and players control Taylor around the arena by tilting the device. The soldier shoots on his own accord, given an enemy to shoot at; a targeting reticule automatically attaches itself to enemies but can be overridden with a touch. In addition to the basic assault rifle attack players can make use of three special abilities: the biotic talent Overload which disables enemy shields, a rocket launcher, and another biotic talent called Stasis, which freezes enemies. These abilities take time to recharge and so must be used wisely in battle.
Fighting enemies is hence distilled to a gimmicky minigame mechanic with little extra to provide any tactical depth. Combat boils down to just the cumbersome occupation of moving the avatar around dodging bullets, with only the occasional correction of the targeting. Galaxy suffers from quite a bit of slowdown during more heated battles, which a patch was meant to improve1 but doesn’t quite.
The disappointment that is the combat pulls the rest of the game down into mediocrity. For fans hoping that at least the story is engaging so that the title can justify a purchase, the story underwhelms too. It is a self-contained adventure that has pacing and a climax, but doesn’t offer anything particularly new to the franchise. The plot feels inconsequential to the bigger picture - though how exactly it ties into ME2’s story is not known - and the characters don’t have lasting power that would have us especially wanting to see more of them. The voice acting is above par, and the slickness of the cutscenes illustrates the high production values, but that’s all that will attract fans of the series.
So the end result is a game that does not impress, and doesn’t give much relief to the agony of the wait for the big sequel. Die hard fans may find something in the expanding canon, and perhaps in the promised ME2 reward that Galaxy unlocks, but others will just find a wiki summary to suffice.
- http://www.joystiq.com/2009/06/29/mass-effect-galaxy-patch-promises-performance-boost/ [↩]