Mass Effect

ME1-01_TitleSome background: Wikipedia | MobyGames

Carpe Ludum Codex Quickie (...details at the end of the post...)
3Y+ 2H+ -25H | Presentation Story Immersion Social FOAK Metacritic Longevity
X X (X) | O X X O O O X

Game Review

Mass Effect, created by BioWare, throws you into a very detailed new science fiction universe, on par with classic universes such as Star Wars, Star Trek or Babylon 5. Having mentioned those three, I believe Babylon 5 may have had the strongest influence on the game designers. However, BioWare’s universe still brings enough unique ideas to the table so as not to appear as a complete rip-off. The strongest point of Mass Effect is that BioWare has put massive attention on all the details which are required to make such a universe believable and immersive. The game introduces you to the future of humankind a few decades after interstellar travel has become possible. Humankind is still early in the process of finding its place in the galaxy, which – who would’ve though it? – is populated by many other sentient and space-faring species. These other species – Turians, Salarians and Asari as the most powerful among them – have already gone through their share of squabbles in the past, and subsequently came together on a Galactic Council on a giant space station named “The Citadel”, to solve their issues politically and diplomatically. In this context, humankind is the “new kid on the block”, not yet accepted by the old species, still trying to find their place in the universe. This setting should probably sound fairly familiar to all Babylon 5 afficionados… So, let’s come to the unique elements Mass Effect adds to the mix: Both the old species as well as humankind all owe this space-faring and space-stationary happiness completely to an ancient, now-extinct race named the Protheans, who left both The Citadel space station, as well as a network of inter-stellar travel relays connecting various civilised worlds throughout the galaxy. The rest of it is technical mumbo-jumbo, but in essence it means that all civilization is dependent on this ancient Prothean technology.

Mass Effect's Galaxy

Mass Effect’s Galaxy

In this setting, you assume the role of Commander Shepard, who can be either a male or female lead character. The storyline and dialogue is very cleverly created to serve both options. You are part of the military organization of humankind, which is named the Systems Alliance, and as part of this organisation you go on various missions to help increase the standing of humankind towards the Citadel’s council. An integral part of this is that humankind finally gets a place in the rank of the so-called “Spectres”, an elite unit serving the Citadel Council. Because of Commander Shepard’s heroic history, you get the chance to join these ranks and prove humandkind’s worthiness to join the Council. Throughout your journey as a prospective Spectre, you begin to discover the mysteries of the Protheans and their extinction, and are drawn into an enthralling story of betrayal centering around a Turian Spectre, and a much darker threat to the galaxy than anyone could have imagined.

Exploring the Citadel

Exploring the Citadel

Luckily, unlike the previous screenshot you embark on this journey neither alone, nor helpless. You travel the galaxy with your own spaceship, the Normandy, and you make acquaintances with both humans and aliens who will join your crew. From a gameplay point of view, your story progress is structured by “missions” and “assignments” you can embark on; assignments are completely optional and simply allow you to increase your character’s abilities or earn more experience and money to afford better armory and weaponry. Assignments lead you into parts of the galaxy you would not have visited with only the main missions.

Mass Effect Journal - main and side missions

Mass Effect Journal – missions and assignments

On each of the missions and assignments, you can choose two crew members to accompany your squad, from a total of many more characters who join your ship crew. The two accompanying squad members are non-playable characters, but help you in combat. Some limited commands can be given to control them (such as stay behind or move to the front), but essentially they do what they want (and sometimes, due to technical glitches, even get stuck).

Not so lonely anymore

Not so lonely anymore

A central element of Mass Effect is that you can not only shape the physical appearance of your character, but through a decision on its background story – for example, war hero or sole survivor – and through moral decisions throughout the game’s dialogues, also the moral shape of your character. You can either decide to play for paragon by making “good/moral” choices, or to play for rogue, with “tough/bad/evil”-type choices. Depending on how you develop your character, certain story elements can unfold in different directions, as the following example shows in a dialogue with a Hanar preacher (who are jellyfish-like aliens).

The Hanar Preacher

The Hanar Preacher “problem” – well solved with Paragon

Apart from this morality aspect, Mass Effect is is a classic action role-playing game with a hint of open-world exploration added through the assignments. The characters follow a class scheme, i.e. some of them have combat skills, electronics skills, “biotic” (harnessing the Mass Effect power to do “magic”) skills, stealth skills, …

For Commander Shepard, the class can be chosen at the very beginning and cannot be changed afterwards; however, due to the fact that always two other squad members join the missions/assignments, it is ensured that always a right mix of skills is available to complete them, regardless of the initial choice.

The game time is split around 50:50 with exploratory, character and story development activity on the one hand, and with planetary combat on the other hand. Some missions and assignments are not on foot – some of them require the use of the Normandy’s Mako, which is a planetary armored and armed vehicle you then take control of. To survive the on-foot combat scenes, it is essential to keep your armor and weaponry up-to-date; for this, throughout the galaxy many shops will gladly take your credits – or you can explore the various locations and plunder them using your special skills, for example electronics skills to unlock storage crates.

Summary

Actually, Mass Effect shouldn’t be featured on Carpe Ludum. Why? Because it took me around 26 hours to complete, and I even did not even finish all the side quests which are available. So, my own criterion of “less then 25 hours of gameplay” has been missed…

However, because it was only slightly missed, and because I seem to be a very slow player (most other game reviews attest a playing duration of 15-20 hours), I could not help but feature it. Mass Effect really spans a vast universe in front of you, which I disappeared into probably longer than I should have. I have read and listened to almost every database entry, and I wandered around on the Citadel and the other nice planetary locations much longer than I probably should have, just to enjoy the views and the music.

I can whole-heartedly recommend playing Mass Effect to any science fiction fan, particularily if they liked Babylon 5. However, I must warn you: Though the story-line of Mass Effect is concluded at the end of the game, be aware that there are two other games waiting to expand the story arc revolving around the Protheans and the Reapers – Mass Effect 2 (2010) and Mass Effect 3 (2012), concluding the Prothean/Reaper story arc. As of November 2014, reports indicate that the Mass Effect universe will return with new games.

So, if you play the first game, chances are not nil that you will be drawn into this universe completely and spend much more than 25 hours in it.

Unraveling the Prothean mysteries is fun - even though the character faces don't really show that here...

Unraveling the Prothean mysteries is fun – even though the character faces don’t really show that here…


Carpe Ludum Codex Details
3Y+ X – 2007, 'nuff, said
2H+ X – The game state can be saved frequently, so it is easy to play it in small portions.
-25H (X) – Depends… Mass Effect almost missed this criterion… See review for details!
Presentation O – Most locations are beautifully designed so it is a joy to wander around. Music and sound effects are very good as well. You will not forget the elevator music… On the other hand, the character animations, especially facial animations, are very dull. Furthermore, technical glitches are abundant, for example it is possible to get stuck with the Mako completely, having no other choice then but to return to the last save
Story X – You do play Mass Effect for the epic science-fiction story, co-experiencing mankind's first steps in galactical politics, and explore the mysteries of the Prothean past which enables all of this. Though the story of Mass Effect is concluded at the end, it is made clear that it is part of a bigger story arc, continued to be told in Mass Effect's successive games Mass Effect 2 and 3 – so if you played the first one, be prepared to play the second and third one as well.
Immersion X – The game draws you into its fictional universe using many techniques – main story, side story, and the galactic database which gives background to all major and also minor events, alien species and technologies. The game is so well made and puts so much emphasis on the details (such as the galactic database), that the science fiction universe which is created is completely believable. Character development, both of your main character as well as those of the side characters, are believable and relatable
Social O – Being a one-player game, there is nothing much social about it.
FOAK O – Being an action-RPG in the mid-late Twenty-zeros, there is nothing first of a kind to report here. Two-faceted character development had been piloted by Fable already in 2004
Metacritic O – MobyRank scores of 90 (CVG Computer and Videogames), and 70 (Edge) are reported, so Mass Effect misses the target set for this criterion.
Longevity X – The Mass Effect brand is still alive, with new games released after 2007, notably Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, concluding the first trilogy. Spin-offs for mobile devices and handheld consoles have been developed as well, and as of November 2014, reports of new games set in the Mass Effect universe promise continued health to the brand.

Alter Ego

Alter Ego Title Screen

Alter Ego Title Screen

Some background: Wikipedia | MobyGames

Carpe Ludum Codex Quickie (...details at the end of the post...)
3Y+ 2H+ -25H | Presentation Story Immersion Social FOAK Metacritic Longevity
X X X | O O X O X X X

Game Review

Alter Ego is a very unique game – it is a “life simulation role-playing game” which lets you have as many different life experiences – from before-birth to death – as you like. It is a psychological game, and the center of the game is your own psyche.

Alter Ego is not really a “game” in the classic sense. It is more like an episodic, interactive “storybook of life”, allowing you to experience hundreds of life situations, make decisions, and see what consequences they have. It is also one of the few games where your game character’s goal is to die of old age. Saying this, you see the contradiction of perceiving Alter Ego as a “game”. Of course, dying is not the goal. As in real life, in the “game” of Alter Ego, the journey itself is the goal.

The game has been envisioned and created by Peter J. Favaro, a psychologist. The game was published in 1986. From the game manual, and from an interview Peter gave in 2007, it is deductable how much fun he must’ve had in creating the game. The “life experiences” are from his experience as psychologist on the one hand, based on hundreds of interviews with real people. On the other hand, many episodes came just from Peter’s mind, as he said in his 2007 interview. Peter’s sense of humour is absolutely fabulous – there are so many funny situations hidden in the game, that the game will almost always lift up your spirits when you play it.

Another noteworthy aspect is that two versions of the game have been published – a male version (the original release) and a female version (released some time after). Many life episodes are the same in both versions, but there are many gender-specific episodes as well. Of course, no man is prevented from playing the female version, or the other way around.

Alter Ego - Male Cover Alter Ego - Female Cover

Alter Ego is made up of seven chapters – phases of life. The game can be started in any life phase (for example, directly in “Adulthood”), and then progresses through life, until death. Death hides in many places throughout the game – violent crimes, accidents and disease can hit you, especially if you have a tendency to behave recklessly.

Alter Ego - Phases of Life

Alter Ego – Phases of Life

During your alter ego’s life, you are presented with choices of life experiences in many different categories – work, interpersonal, love, health, family, and more, arranged in a tree in the middle part of the screen. However, there is no need to follow a particular order – life experiences can be chosen completely freely. As you progress through your alternate life, on the left and right side of the screen, several other life experience categories reveal themselves. Marriage, College, Finance, Work, Relations, Intellect, Family…

Alter Ego - Game Screen

Alter Ego – Game Screen

Each life experience is a small story, usually followed by a set of actions/choices you can take in the situation, like in the following example.

Alter Ego - Experience

Alter Ego – Experience

Alter Ego - Experience Choice

Alter Ego – Experience Choice

Each choice you make does have consequences, reflected in your so-called “Life Sphere”. Depending on how you behave in the various situations (and depending on which life experiences you choose in the first place!), your “life statistics” evolve very differently. Within the game’s universe, this actually does make a difference throughout your alter ego’s life. Depending on your alter ego’s statistics, you may or may not be eligible for certain jobs in the future; you may or may not have chances with certain educational institutions; you may or may not have chances to build a steady relationship or even marry… Just like in real life.

Alter Ego - Life Sphere 1

Alter Ego – Life Sphere 1

Alter Ego - Life Sphere 2

Alter Ego – Life Sphere 2

Alter Ego - Life Sphere 3

Alter Ego – Life Sphere 3

Summary

I usually dig out Alter Ego once in a year on a rainy weekend (like this one) or in periods with tough life decisions looming, requiring me to think more about life than on the usual Saturday-evening movie night. Playing Alter Ego is a nice way to remind myself that life’s about making decisions, not about pondering them for too long. Alter Ego is also some kind of real-life escapism. Instead of escaping into fantasy novels, with Alter Ego you can simply enjoy the fun of experiences and decision-making in different life episodes. The game also has great replay value – it is fun to try some episodes again and make different decisions next time around. Also, let me again mention Peter J. Favaro’s excellent humour. Although decision-making can be tough – at least you can laugh while making them!

Summarised, I can whole-heartedly recommend this “game” to any gamer who is not running away from the sound of the word “psychology”.

Alter Ego - Death 1

Alter Ego – Death 1

Alter Ego - Death 2

Alter Ego – Death 2

Alter Ego - Death 3

Alter Ego – Death 3


Carpe Ludum Codex Details
3Y+ X – 1986, 'nuff, said
2H+ X – The game state can be saved at any point, so it is easy to play it in small portions.
-25H X – Each life phase takes about 2 hours to play, so you can usually complete your alter ego's life in about 12 hours ('to complete' means 'to die'). That is quite astounding, considering that a normal life usually takes around 80 years to complete.
Presentation O – Mostly text, some monochrome icons, no music… The game designers clearly had the inner beauty of humanity in mind when they programmed the game…
Story O – On the one hand, Alter Ego tells the story of a lifetime… But on a closer look, it is not a consistent story, but only unrelated episodes.
Immersion X – Yes, you can drown in the game, reflecting your own self for hours pondering how you would react in an episode
Social O – Being a one-player game, there is nothing much social about it.
FOAK X – Alter Ego was the first game to put your own psyche in the center of a game.
Metacritic X – MobyRank scores of 100 (CVG Computer and Videogames), 98 (Zzap!), 90 (Happy Computer) from three respected game magazines of the time are recorded.
Longevity X – In 2014, the Alter Ego brand is still alive, as a web-based game, and apps for Android and iPhone. Check out at www.playalterego.com."