But it is filled with pleasing space-detail. Some of the encounters with alien races with amusing, others a little sinister. (The giant dudes who speak in an inflective-free monotone are absolutely inspired.) There can never be enough side missions in this kind of game, but there are plenty that captured our interest in the 360 game, and there’s no reason to suspect that they’ve gone mouldy in the cupboard, like forgotten narrative cheese, in the PC version. The paragon/renegade morality system isn’t exactly Lightside/Darkside, but it does have real implications for how characters react as the game progresses, and it’s fun to feel like you’re a completely ruthless bastard. (And in the game.) The story is, as you might expect from a Bioware game, better than the science fiction stories you wrote at primary school. There are even allusions to (gasp!) sex with a blue lady.
That said, it’s rather… empty. Mass Effect doesn’t really seem to have a significant theme or interesting message. It’s a game that could have taken a few more risks - it’s not like science fiction is a genre that’s short (or scared of) mad, savage fictions. Mass Effect is a little too soft and derivative. You sense that a Space Adventure checklist has been filled out behind the scenes. You would have hoped, as Kieron points out, that Bioware would have used the unique frontier of downloadable content and a flexible game universe to allow us to pick and choose some rather more extreme missions and stories. We all loved Battlestar Galactica’s darker themes and weirder moments, so why doesn’t this kind of thing crop up more in the equally populist Mass Effect? Why not get some small teams to great aberrant, risky missions that we could buy as cheap downloads? Why not capitalize on the “pulp-fiction” of it all?