Games Gift Guide

Part shooter, part RPG, all Star Wars

Games Gift Guide

Mass Effect

Microsoft Game Studios
$59.99

Mass Effect feels like an ideal Star Wars game without having anything directly to do with Star Wars.

You play a specter, one of the elite agents of the galaxy who answers only to the highest-placed councilors in the alliance of races. You're armed with the best guns, technology, and psychokinetic "biotics." You're Jack Bauer recast as a Jedi wielding a pistol built around a black hole. Awesome? Awesome.

Mass Effect packs a solid shooter into an epic role-playing game. You can take cover, order your alien buddies to snipe, or run and gun, but you also gradually increase your powers. That gives you new options, like mentally knocking an android away before hitting it with a shotgun blast of radioactive pellets.

It's not all action. You'll make choices that potentially condemn teammates or even entire species. And, in a feat of storytelling, those choices often feel significant. They don't significantly affect the arc of the game, though. So while the choices are compelling, they aren't meaningful. Some other gameplay and interface quirks mar the experience, but Mass Effect is still one of the holidays' highlights. ***.5

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