Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire were enough to make me take notice of BioWare, so when I learned about some upcoming game called Mass Effect my interest was piqued immediately. I have not been able to confirm this, but I have always thought of Mass Effect as something that originally started as a third game in the KOTOR series but the developers decided to change it to an original IP because they were tired of paying for the Star Wars license. Regardless of whether or not my theory is true, the end result of its development was a new space opera trilogy that is fondly remembered by many.
Mass Effect did play like it could have been made into KOTOR if they changed a few lines in the dialog and added some lightsabers. The branching dialog options, visiting various planets, strange alien races that coexist together, and renegade and paragon options taking the place of dark side and light side. Truth be told, it is my opinion that it was better that Mass Effect was its own thing and not another venture into the Star Wars universe. The influence is undeniable, with some people even making the argument that the Asari are essentially Jedi.
For one there is no shortage of Star Wars material available for fans outside of the films, and while KOTOR was a great addition to the Star Wars universe, it still felt like high quality fan fic. Taking a chance on creating a new universe from scratch paid off, since the Mass Effect trilogy ended up being extremely high quality both in terms of story and game play. When I first started playing Mass Effect years ago, I had no expectations other than another Bioware game. How I ended up feeling about Mass Effect was that this was the result of taking what made KOTOR and Jade Empire good and ended up being something that would ultimately surpass them.
Mass Effect began the saga of Commander Shepard. The player was free to give the commander a first name, assign gender, race, hairstyle, and overall appearance. The background and military experience was also at the player’s discretion, along with choosing a class for Shepard, and while the individual Shepard could end up being unique to the player the end result is Shepard becomes a Spectre and ultimately becomes responsible for saving the fate of many worlds. I happened to be listening to Opeth a lot when I started playing Mass Effect, so ended up creating a Fem Shep named Melinda.
Shepard was naturally the central figure in this game, but the crew she ended up assembling was filled with very well developed and unique characters, though getting attached to any of them could be a mistake since not all of them are guaranteed to survive. In fact, in one of the earlier missions at Virmire one of the party members will die. The player can influence who they wish to keep in their party, but there is no way for them to keep both. Later on a crew member starts to get out line, and depending on how the player wants Shepard to lead the choices are kill him herself, command him to stand down, or have a crew member do her dirty work for her. While the temptation was strong to take crew member out to send a message about what happens to those who don’t respect my authority, I thought this particular character would be useful in the fight against Saren so I was able to convince him to stand down. Besides, having another crew member shoot him for me would just show weakness on my part, so that third choice was not an option to even consider. One cannot rule with an iron fist if they possess a limp wrist.
Romancing a crew member was an option was somewhat publicized about Mass Effect, and while in the immortal words of Waylon Smithers stating women and seamen don’t mix, I decided that I was going to try to make Melinda Shepard a space slut. I mean, we’re all crammed on the Normandy traveling about the galaxy, so what else are we going to do. Sadly, copulating in the M35 Mako was not an option, which can be added to reasons I wasn’t a fan of that vehicle. If the Mako’s a rockin’ don’t come a knockin’ would have been a great bumper sticker, but alas it was not to be. I had Melinda take the flirtatious or suggestion option whenever it was presented, but the two I ended up working the most were Kaiden Alenko and Liara T’Soni. I thought I had a decent love triangle developing until the two of them confronted me together and made me pick someone. Channeling my inner Captain Kirk, I went with Liara, because hooking up with a blue woman seemed the closest I could get to a green one. That and if I were to watch a sex scene between my characters, the interracial lesbian one seemed way more enticing. Watching Kaiden trip over his tongue when he found out Melinda was “like that” was quite amusing as well.
Which brings us to the controversy of the included sex scene in Mass Effect. How the sex scene works is it doesn’t unlock until right before the very end of the game, and it is a few seconds in length after romancing and building a relationship with one (and only one, as my attempts at intergalactic promiscuity had failed. Shepard was simply more virtuous than her puppet master.) character. The scene in question ends up being as pornographic and explicit as something one could see in a PG-13 teen flick. Neoconservation Kevin McCullough went on a crusade to condemn the game, making claims that “virtual orgasmic rape is just the push of a button away.” Journalists followed this story, for a while, until the facts surfaced and McCullough admitted to not playing the game and ultimately making a fool of himself, since his claims of the pornographic nature of the game were extremely exaggerated and ultimately untrue. Hardcore rap music and video game fan Jack Thompson even considered McCullough’s attempt at making this controversy ridiculous, which is really saying something. I know I have made this point before in other articles, but we are for one talking about an M rated game, and secondly how is a sex scene lasting less than a minute worse than all the killing that happens throughout the game. Here is a link to the scene in question, and while it is tame is still probably NSFW or if your mom is in the room for you younger readers.
Mass Effect was the first game in what eventually became one of the greatest video game trilogies. It began as a Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360 exclusive, but eventually found its way to the PlayStation 3 when the trilogy was released as a set. Combat mechanics were not the strongest part of this game, but they ended up becoming refined in the sequels, making battles feel more action oriented. Because the choices Shepard makes carries over into the sequels, it is difficult to not view Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 as a single entity. This also gives reason to play through the trilogy multiple times (for those of us fortunate enough to have that kind of free time) just to experience the different outcomes that can occur. Like many of you, I am currently chugging through Mass Effect Andromeda, but would greatly enjoy freeing up some time to go through Shepard’s story again.