Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mass Effect: Bring Down the Sky (Xbox 360) Gameplay Module Review

When I got my new refurbished Xbox 360 console from Xbox Support some weeks ago, I had an issue where Golden Axe would not recognize as the full version whether I was connected to Xbox LIVE or not. I ultimately had to go through three tiers of Support to get this resolved, and after the second tier tech was unsuccessful, he was kind enough to re-imburse me the 400 Microsoft Points I had used to purchase the game.

Ultimately the problem was resolved, and I was so impressed with the level of customer service that Xbox Support had bestowed to me that I decided to use those 400 Microsoft Points to purchase something published by Microsoft Game Studios, sort of giving back as was given to me, in a sense. So, I purchased the first Mass Effect gameplay module, Bring Down the Sky.

Mass Effect: Bring Down the Sky extremist group from crashing a mobile asteroid, X57, into the largest human colony, Terra Nova. What's unique about this sees the crew of the Normandy attempting to stop a Batariangameplay module is that it introduces the Batarians to the game itself, a species that played an important role in the prequel novel Mass Effect: Revelation.

When all was said and done, I enjoyed Bring Down the Sky, though it's not without its hitches. Bring Down the Sky is, for the most part, another Uncharted World. You're treated to a beautiful backdrop, and it's a fair size and more involving than most Uncharted Worlds offered in the retail game, but it is another Uncharted World non-the-less. This means you're dropped in the God-awful Mako, driving around a barren, mountainous area and entering the same cookie-cutter structures that every Uncharted World has. In brief, that's really the bad about it.

The good, however, is that there's a lot of new dialogue recorded for this gameplay module, and while there's no new Squad Member dialogue, there is new dialogue for Commander Shepard, as well as a host of new supporting characters and the Batarians themselves. The story for Bring Down the Sky is well written with an exceptional moral choice towards the end that had me cursing for a good, interesting reason that I can't spoil here. While the module does feature the cookie cutter structures we're used to seeing, at least the interior had a good bit of extra cover and platforms to use adding a little variety, and the module's final area was very unique and well designed, featuring one of the most intense fire fights I've had with the game as a whole.

Speaking of fire fights, I played through it with my current John Shepard, a Sentinal, on the Hardcore Difficulty, and the Batarians were supposed to feature some new, challenging, advanced AI. In truth though, I didn't notice much difference save that they seemed to be a bit more aggressive and made slightly better use of cover. Otherwise, they were the standard humanoid enemy with a different skin.

The game's Codex also now features an actual render of a Batarian for their entry instead of a piece of concept art, and I also noticed that the icon for Mass Effect on my HDD changed from the standard picture of Saren's menacing visage to a Batarian. Sadly though, no new weapons or armour where featured, which would have been a nice, unique bonus. There is a new Achievement to earn, however it also only grants Gamer Score points, and no other in-game reward.

Now, as I mentioned, I got Mass Effect: Bring Down the Sky for free, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but would it have been worth my own 400 Microsoft Points ($6.20)? Based on how fun I found it, I'm going to have to say yes, simply because I've purchased full Xbox LIVE Arcade games for that cost that were much shorter with a lot less depth and story.

Though its not essential to the Mass Effect experience, Bring Down the Sky is a very nice addition and a solid start for more gameplay modules to come. What I would like to see, however, is the Batarian story continue with a full fledged world to explore like one of the game's primary worlds. That would be awesome, and well worth a larger fee in Microsoft Points.

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