Your new IP is a smashing success. Your company has been bought by the world’s second largest videogame publisher. The sequel to your new IP is hotly anticipated and due for release within the next year. You have another new IP that is due to be released on multiple platforms. What do you do? Spend all available time and resources in polishing the to-be-released sequel and ensuring consistent multiplatform quality of the new IP? In the case of Bioware, you succumb to the will of your new master and develop an offshoot for the iPhone in an effort to drum up publicity for the sequel to 2007’s seminal Xbox 360 RPG, Mass Effect, while quickly raking in the dough that fans will undoubtedly pay for anything with the Mass Effect name.
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Yes, Mass Effect Galaxy has been developed by Bioware. But that is about where the similarities between the game and past Bioware efforts end. Mass Effect Galaxy is a shameless attempt at cashing in on a successful franchise. It would have been accepted and forgiven if the game was worthy of its illustrious Xbox 360 predecessor. Unfortunately, Galaxy is a poor game that doesn’t stand up to some of its peers on the iPhone, let alone Bioware’s impressive library.
You play the game as Jacob Taylor, a former Human Alliance soldier who has been recruited by the Alliance to investigate a terrorist attack by the Batarians, a sworn enemy of the Citadel civilisations, on the eve of the visit of the Batarian ambassador to the Citadel to negotiate peace talks between the Batarians and the Citadel Council. Yes, you do need to have played the first game and have read the two novels to fully grasp the set up of the game. As Jacob, you are assisted by Miranda, an Alliance soldier with sources in the nefarious underbelly of the universe. Together, Jacob and Miranda set out to find out what’s going on.
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Throughout the game, you will control the dialogue and movement of Jacob. The game is a top-down tilt shooter. You use the iPhone/iPod Touch’s accelerometer to control Jacob during the shooting sequences. There are several conversation elements as well and Bioware has implemented its famed conversation wheel mechanic in the game. Essentially, you can choose Jacob’s responses in conversations based on moods such as angry, positive, negative. happy, love, etc., and the game has pre-programmed lines of dialogue for each mood. You can supposedly alter the outcome of a conversation depending on the course of responses you select, but there are perhaps two instances, where your choices will actually affect the outcome and these are primarily limited to whether you fight or not.
It would have been fun to go the fighting route if the gameplay was similar to Terminator: Salvation or Resident Evil on the iPhone. Unfortunately, Bioware chose to go with a top down approach and to add insult to injury, they opted to rob the player of control on weapon fire. Yes, Jacob fires automatically on targeted enemies when they are in sight. Your control over the fight is limited to tilt-moving Jacob around the room, choosing whether to hit the enemy with one of three special attacks: Statis (Biotic Attack), Rocket (Heavy Attack) and Shield Overload (Tech Attack). You can tap on specific enemies to direct Jacob’s fire to them and can tap on crates to destroy them, but that’s about it. You essentially enter a room, clear out the enemies, move to the next room, clear it out, move to the next one, and so forth till you arrive at the next conversation sequence.
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The graphics are different in that the game is completely devoid of polygons. The onscreen is portrayed via the use of hand drawn cell shaded characters for the cut scenes and conversations and 2D sprites for the action sequences. Here too, there is plenty of evidence of the lackadaisical approach taken by Bioware, as the cutscene and conversation animation is only partial, like in a motion comic book. You can count the number of cutscenes on a single hand and while these are fully voiced, the conversation pieces are only partially voiced, as in, only the first line is voiced with the rest of the conversation taking place via text boxes.
There is absolutely no RPG element to the game. You get messages saying that your Biotic, Heavy and Tech attacks have been upgraded as you progress through the levels and that’s about it. There is no tangible difference brought about by the upgrades because it doesn’t unlock any additional abilities or power levels. Very disappointing.
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There are a few nods to fans. There is a Galaxy Map that you will need to access to travel to different star systems over the course of the game and the travelling animation includes the mass relay “gunshot”, although its 2D animated as well. The music throughout the game is very true to Mass Effect and is one of the saving graces along with the sound effects. Weapon fire, special attacks, dying enemies, all have unique sounds, which is nice. They have even included an absolutely kickass trailer for Mass Effect 2 in the extras menu, which goes some way toward reducing the pain of the purchase cost.
At the time of this review, Mass Effect Galaxy costs US$4.99 on the App Store, which is a ridiculously high price for the poor game that is presented. The real disappointment is the fact that the iPhone is capable of delivering console quality experiences as demonstrated by games like Terminator Salvation, Resident Evil Degeneration, Real Racing and more. Bioware could have easily created a mini version of Mass Effect on the iPhone, but have sold themselves out and their fans by serving up this sorry excuse for a Mass Effect experience.
(+) Music is true to the original
(+) Cartoon version of Miranda is hot
(+) Mass Effect 2 trailer
(+) You get to kick Batarian hiney
(-) Not an RPG. Simplistic shooter, nothing like Mass Effect
(-) Top down angle, 2D sprites are bare bones
(-) Poor animation
(-) No character development and no real reward for conversational choices
Title: Mass Effect Galaxy
Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch (US$ 4.99) (now discounted to US$ 2.99)