The Milky Way galaxy came into being following the Big Bang billions of years ago. Mass Effect Galaxy came yesterday with a whimper.
Despite the star power of its name, this uninspired spin off fails to capture the spirit of series with gameplay devoid of fun.
While functional, Mass Effect Galaxy extends the series in such a way that shuns much of what has defined this award-winning franchise. Rather than latching onto the rich role-playing elements established by its console cousins, the game veers off into uncharted territory with tilt-based action that feels woefully out of place.
Playing as former Alliance soldier Jacob Taylor, you work to dismantle a Batarian terrorist plot to attack the Citadel. The only way to prevent the attack on the galactic hub is to travel to the remotest planets in a desperate effort to take out the operatives preparing to execute the plan.
The plot thickens through multiple-choice conversations with characters, both friend and foe. Branching dialogues give you freedom to pick strident responses or caring statements that influence the flow of the conversation. Clever negotiations can result in peaceful conflict resolution, whereas a few harsh words can prompt a gun fight. Options are tagged clearly with a thumbs up or thumbs down, which indicates the likely reaction.
These sequences succeed in tying Mass Effect Galaxy to the series. Dynamic chats give a greater sense of being in Jacob's shoes while evolving the story in an interactive manner. At the same time, they are the only compelling component in an otherwise lacklustre game.
In many ways, it would have been preferable to limit the game to a string of cinematic cutscenes and interactive conversations rather than cramming in top-down action.
Combat stages have you tilting your handset to move Jacob through top-down levels. Jacob fires automatically on enemies within sight; additionally, you can launch special attacks by tapping icons that line the right side of the screen. Enemies are automatically targeted, though you can tap on objects or other enemies to change the focus. Your only goal is to clear each stage of enemies and move through the highlighted door to continue.
The problem lies not so much in the competence of the game's design (although there are issues with the tap targeting system and general technical performance) but in the complete lack of fun.
Mass Effect Galaxy is light years from enjoyable, its derivative accelerometer action simultaneously abandoning the spirit of the series and faltering in its grab for accessibility. To say that tilt controls are the only way to cater to casual gamers is an improper reading of the iPhone market, not to mention the success enjoyed by dozens of casual titles with virtual controls.
On-screen controls would be preferable, but even this wouldn't address the fundamental issue. The action is bland and without reward.
Mass Effect Galaxy intentionally passes up the opportunity to pair its action with light role-playing elements. New weapons, a simple experience system, or other basic elements could add value to the game and drive it forward for the player. Claiming that role-playing is too tricky on iPhone is an affront to the savvy gamers that have downloaded Zenonia in droves.
Combat stages aren't enjoyable in the least and interrupt the only mildly entertaining aspect of the game, the interactive conversations. In the desire to reach a wider audience, Mass Effect Galaxy ends up a diluted affair that can't please either end of the spectrum.