With a 4th installment due out this March, now seemed as good a time as any to look back and review the first three games. Developer Bioware’s epic science-fiction action RPG was originally published on November 2oth, 2007, as an exclusive for the Xbox 360 before coming out on the other systems 6 months later, becoming a critical and commercial smash. The game underwent 3 and a half years in development, and was a total game-changer in terms of storytelling and technology. There’s a rich backstory to the world of Mass Effect that you should know in order to understand everything. Long story short, in the year 2148, a manned mission to Mars discovered a piece of ancient alien technology that opened up the possibility of faster-than-light travel. This was known as Mass Effect. The discovery led to a First Contact War that nearly wiped out humanity, until peace accords were made. Now the intergalactic government called The Council has integrated us into their conglomerate. In the present day, 2183, you play as Commander Shepherd, a male/female human soldier who becomes a Spectre, Council-sanctioned agents who operate independently from the systems. One of the Spectres, a turian named Saren Arterius has gone rogue, and you and your crew are tasked with taking him down before he can go through with his plan. And then you embark on one of the most epic journeys in video game history. Companies were becoming more ambitious with their games, but few games before or since have a scope or scale this big. As far as gameplay goes, it’s a pretty standard third-person shooter with cover mechanics. It’s actually quite fun, but occasionally I would get bogged down in the weird upgrade system for each of the guns. I could be good at a few, but not great at just one. This customization does lend itself well to the RPG aspects of the game, adding cool replay value. However, as fun as it is to fight evil aliens and humans alike, you’ll be spending some good time fighting the inventory; it’s cumbersome and terrible. Items I didn’t need or want kept getting equipped at the wrong moments, making firefights very problematic. But the worst part of the gameplay was the Mako. Every time you wanted to explore a planet, players would have to go on foot in a Land Rover called the Mako. The controls were so wonky, I often flipped over the vehicle and couldn’t continue. I hope it’s much better in the new game. However, the game makes up for this with the power menu. There’s a piece of tech known as the Omni-Tool that pretty serves every purpose possible in the game. It allows you to order your teammates to perform a move that is unique to them on the battlefield. Be it disrupting all electronic devices or swinging enemies around with special forces called biotics, you’ll be tempted to swap teammates around each mission. But where the gameplay fails, the story completely makes up for. Bioware are the masters at making the game revolve around your decisions. Sometimes, you’re forced to make tough calls with your buddies, and there’s not always a right answer. To be clear, the climax of the plot will remain the same regardless of your choices, but that type of narrative freedom was unprecedented in 2007. And if we’re going to talk about the villain in the game, Saren Arterius is actually quite badass. You’re immediately interested by what he’s up to and his reasons for suddenly leaving. But there are big things going on I want to tell you, but it’s better to find out for yourself. I will say he is one tough guy to defeat. Normally, a game will have one supporting character that you wish you could meet in person. Mass Effect had at least 4 teammates I can think of that are in that league. First, Tali Zorah, a quarian engineer who’s really good at figuring out the kinks of your ship, the SSV Normandy. Her face remains covered for the next two games, so it intrigues you. Next, the asari Liara T’Soni is the love interest you should go for. You’re given a few options on your crew to potentially romance, and she was my favorite. Her powerful biotics make her a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. Then, the krogan warrior Urdnot Wrex can charge enemies head-on and shoot everything in his way. He would be an awesome character even if he didn’t have any relevance. But he does, and his story gives insight into deep-rooted conflicts with his people. The most memorable character of the game is the turian marksman Garrus Vakarian. He says everything that’s perfect for the moment and made me laugh quite a bit when I needed to. He’s an excellent choice for picking off enemies from a distance, but on the Normandy, he constantly is repairing the ship guns. This continues as a running gag in the next two installments. The themes the game touches on are very relevant today. Prejudice, artificial intelligence, loyalty, history as a cycle, and war are not uncommon topics explored in the science-fiction genre. But the way the story presents itself makes it feel very fresh and very real. There are just some conflicts between civilizations that will simply never get resolved. In the end, Mass Effect‘s gameplay may be frustrating at times, but the interactive storytelling places this game in the realm of modern classics. It excellently sets the foundation for the rest of the series to come with fascinating characters, an engrossing narrative, and top-notch voice acting. You can buy this for less than $20 on Steam, along with Mass Effect 2, a review for another day.