Bioware has also put a lot of effort into the combat system, and to a certain degree it works brilliantly. Rather than defaulting to a turn based combat system like traditional RPGs, or opting for a real time fights like the Zelda games, Mass Effect sits somewhere between the two. Weapon combat is real time and plays more or less like a third person shooter. You choose your weapon, and aim using the right analogue stick, while firing with the right trigger – the left trigger will zoom into an aiming mode.
However, you can also use your party’s psychic abilities and combat skills, which doesn’t happen in real time. Hitting the right shoulder button brings up a list of all the powers and skills possessed by your party members. Here you can select what you want to use, and assign each power/skill to a target. You can, for instance, choose to throw some of your foes to the ground in true Jedi style, or you can remotely sabotage a gun turret. Of course the game is paused while this selection process takes place, which kind of ruins the urgency of the real time combat, but is undoubtedly necessary.
The use of cover is also vitally important during combat, giving the game a Gears of War feel, but you never feel totally at one with the proceedings, as you do with Gears. Although the combat in Mass Effect can be very engaging, I can’t help feeling that it somehow falls between two stools – there isn’t as comprehensive a list of attacks as you’d get with a turn based system, while the real time aspect isn’t quite slick enough to satisfy a third person shooter fan. I’m not saying that the combat is badly implemented, because it’s not, just that it’s not quite as immersive as other aspects of the game.
As I said at the beginning of this review, Mass Effect is a hugely ambitious project and Bioware should be congratulated for realising that ambition on so many levels, but inevitably there are areas where the game doesn’t hit the mark. One of my biggest gripes is the vehicular combat. At certain stages in the game you’ll find yourself inside a tank, with a rotating turret, which all too often finds itself in combat situations. Unfortunately the control method for the tank is, quite simply, appalling. You’d imagine that the left stick would control movement and the right stick would control the turret, and that’s exactly how it does work, in theory. The problem is, that although the left stick controls movement of the vehicle, when you move the turret the view changes and the direction you’re travelling changes accordingly. This makes it incredibly hard to drive in one direction, while shooting in another – exactly what you’d want to do in a vehicle with a rotating turret!
Another annoyance with vehicular combat is that in order to repair your vehicle, it has to come to a complete stop and act like a sitting duck to all your enemies. OK, so that would kind of make sense in the real world, but in a game where you have three characters in a tank, you’d think that one of them could carry out repairs while another drives and another shoots. As if that wasn’t enough, my first combat scenario with the tank involved fighting a huge Dune like sand worm, which had a nasty habit of surfacing right below my tank and killing everyone outright, whether I kept moving or not – very frustrating!