There is a fine somewhere between cynicism and being an actively suspicious consumer … and when I heard about the release of a game called Mass Effect Galaxy on the iTunes App Store that would somehow tie into the upcoming Mass Effect 2 for the PC & XBOX360, I had a hard time deciding which of the two feelings was foremost in my mind. Because I felt that this was on the surface little different than Burger King having all of those cheap X360 games a few years ago as a big promo. Sure, they were games … but it was very clearly a strong marketing push. But because it was a game with the name Bioware attached to it, my hands had already gone ahead and made the purchase before my mind could sort out any of these feelings. So I tapped on the icon with mixed feelings, thinking I might have just entered an interactive advertising campaign, but hoping it was another great Bioware game.
WHEN THE GALAXY IS IN PERIL ONLY A BIOTIC-POWERED SUPER-SOLDIER CAN SAVE THE DAY
You are Jacob Taylor, a combat power-house in this story-telling adventure, made exclusively for your iPhone and iPod touch! Enjoy the stunning art in this stylish animated graphic novel experience. Control Jacob’s actions with a new combat and narrative wheel interface.
ENGAGE IN A GRIPPING STORYLINE
Only you can foil a star-spanning plot to knock humanity off the galactic stage. Alien terrorists are preparing to unleash a devastating biological assault. You must stop them!
UNLEASH A TORRENT OF FIREPOWER
Armed with the latest weaponry, technical countermeasures and awesome biotic energy, you will defeat heaps of enemies in your quest to maintain the delicate balance of power amongst a host of alien species.
GET COOL INSIDER INFORMATION
Two of the main characters in Mass Effect Galaxy will also appear in the upcoming Mass Effect 2 game for PC and Xbox 360. Discover their backgrounds and get a deeper insight into their motivations in the Mass Effect universe.
The first thing I did was to wait … I stared at a blank screen for a while, then a spinning ‘wait’ icon, then waited through the unskippable Bioware and EA logo movies, and finally I got to the game startup screen. The reason I mention that is you will find yourself waiting for this game quite often. At one point I was going to grab a different UMD to play before realizing that this was not, in fact, a PSP. Yeah, the loading is THAT bad!
MassEffect Galaxy is the tale of two games that don’t work – one that is really bad, and the other that just doesn’t work.
First there is the interactive story told using a graphic novel style. I would file that as a decent attempt that ultimately fell flat. You get to make dialogue choices as you proceed, and can even choose where to go on the galaxy map, but you will quickly realize that if you are trying to guide the game in a direction other than the one suggested, your choices will become harshly limited until you get things back on track. Occasionally you can immediately force combat, but it seems clear in these cases that it would happen anyway, or that it didn’t matter.
There is also very little that makes this feel like a role-playing experience. You can choose dialogue as mentioned, but nothing that really guides the story. Also, the story itself is quite short and there is really no space for anything resembling role-play. It unfolds much more as an interact story, and in that regard it works pretty well. The art style is attractive, the characters nicely drawn, and the various sequences in space or on land provide a feeling of scope and diversity to the galaxy. It serves the purpose of providing filler material between the major releases of Mass Effect 1 & 2, but does little else to make it satisfying.
The worse of the two games is the combat experience. Unlike the squad-based shooter experience of the PC or console versions of Mass Effect, Mass Effect Galaxy is a top-down shooter of a type similar to many games through the years. If you have ever played Robotron in the arcade, Smash TV on home consoles, or the more recent Shadowgrounds or Alien Shooter games, you know what to expect in terms of gameplay. You are looking down on the action from above, and need to move Jacob from start to end of a level through twisting halls and blocked corridors, dealing with enemies all the way through. If that sounds like the way one of the myriad marble games on the iTunes App Store would play, that is because guiding Jacob through levels of combat is pretty much like controllnig a shooting marble.
There are power-ups and biotic additions to gather and special attacks, but ultimately the gameplay is overly simplistic and, quite frankly, not very fun. You will look forward to the next story segment, and will also likely alter your play style in order to talk folks out of combat so you don’t have to endure another level. You can select special attacks and defense moves that make you feel a bit more involved, but ultimately it is more a matter of sliding around and attacking more than you get hit.
Speaking of ‘not very fun’, I don’t like having to reboot my iPod Touch in order to get a satisfying game experience, yet I did so several times with Mass Effect Galaxy. I use a load of different apps on a regular basis, and suggesting that users always reboot before starting their app is just bad design. The game also crashed more than once, and was all-around the worst performing app I have ever put on my iPod Touch … and considering that at last check I have 1.8GB of apps installed …
Ultimately Mass Effect Galaxy is best dismissed as a Trojan Horse for the upcoming Mass Effect 2. Indeed, as you complete the game you get a message that says “Your reward for completing the game is already waiting for you in Mass Effect 2.” This is based on having an EA account registered and logged in from Mass Effect Galaxy, and there are still no details. I have to say that as I got to that point I was reminded of a certain scene from the classic ‘Christmas Story’ movie.
Where to Buy:
What I Like:
– Nice story by the writers of the Mass Effects game
– Price is quickly dropping.
What Needs Improvement:
– Lousy combat system
– No real choices or consequences
– Blatant advertisement push
– ‘Reward’ is not defined, but was obviously used as a ‘pull’
– Avoid this one … even at $3.