Mass Effect is not without its flaws - what game isn't? Riding around in the Mako rover, the APC/dune buggy hybrid with a cannon, isn't half as much fun as it ought to be. The driving sections are often drawn out and at worst boring - something I'm sure BioWare will be thinking about as it works on the game's second instalment. As I've said, some of the game's side quests could do with a bit of work. One optional quest which sees you investigate rogue AI on the Moon is a monotonous affair involving repeating the same mass destruction of robots in three identical buildings. Problem is, it's pretty much essential, since completing it allows you to specialise from within your class. Equipment can be extremely annoying. The game would have benefited no end from an optimise option, allowing you to quickly and easily kit your squads out in the best possible gear from the giant dustbin that is your inventory. As it is, whenever you loot something of value you have to manually go through everyone's equippable slots, one for each weapon, for armour, biotics, grenades etc, and work out if it's better than what you're using. It makes for often long breaks in play that disrupt the flow of combat and exploration. Then two seconds later you open a crate, find something that might be even better and have to do it all over again. Optimisation could have been completely optional of course, so stat whores could pour over bonus modifiers in minute detail (this is an RPG remember), but it would have helped avoid the ridiculous situation of having to convert every new item you pick up into omni-gel whenever you reach the 150 item limit. You can't even switch back to your inventory to dump some old equipment when this happens - you have no choice but to get rid of the new stuff, good or bad.
'There are moments of Halo 2 syndrome, where character armour and environment textures take an age to load.'
The game world is perhaps a tad small for your veteran RPG gamer. When you get access to the Galaxy Map for the first time the game can seem gargantuan. You soon realise, however, that you can't land on most of the planets. This isn't to say the game is short - I left out about a third of the game's side quests and it took me just over 20 hours to complete. Some might say that's short for an RPG. For me though, it feels just right for a first play through. But the best thing is I feel compelled to play Mass Effect again, something I rarely get from games these days. I'm going to play as a different class, as a different gender and with a different play style. The fact that there's also the option to start again with the same character at the level you finished the first play through on, and with all your high-end gear and weapons, makes compulsion to replay even greater.
While Mass Effect's graphics really are a sight to behold, and the later levels provide some of the most impressive environments the 360 has ever seen, they also cause a few problems. There are moments of Halo 2 syndrome, where character armour and environment textures take an age to load. The game can jerk a bit too, and suffers from regular tearing. And we're not sure about characters' eyes - especially Commander Anderson's. There was more than one occasion where eyes seemed to be pointing in random directions or looking like they were mimicking WWE Superstar The Undertaker. Perhaps the game suffers from having to be completely accessed from the game DVD - Mass Effect makes a lot of noise in the disc drive.
These are mere niggles, and while you shouldn't ignore them you certainly shouldn't be put off by them. Despite BioWare's efforts to disguise the game's roots it's still an RPG and will mostly appeal to male hardcore gamers (a lack of an in-game tutorial is evidence of that). It's not an attempt to revolutionise gaming as we know it. But that's no bad thing. Mass Effect is a triumph. A triumph for the science fiction video game, a triumph for the action RPG and a triumph for next generation gaming. And it sets up the sequel perfectly. I want to know what happens next. I want BioWare to release new planets as DLC. I want online co-op so other people can take control of my squad members. I have had a sip of this bewitching cocktail and now I want to down the whole lot. Bar a pre-Christmas release of stupendous proportions, Mass Effect is my game of the year.