Developer: BioWare Montreal / Publisher: Electronic Arts / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $15, 1200 MS / ESRB: Mature [Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence]
BioWare Montreal has been assisting with the Mass Effect franchise since 2009, but always in a support role. With Mass Effect 3, they were tasked with creating the multiplayer component of the game, and the results were so good that they have now been tapped as the new caretakers of the franchise. This new piece of Downloadable Content, Omega, stands as our first look at what this team can do when left to itself. So can the Quebecois crew hold to the standard that the Edmonton team has set over the last five years?
Set during the events of the Reaper War, Omega begins with crime queen Aria T’Loak recruiting Commander Shepard to help her recapture her old stomping grounds, the space station Omega. It was established in the core game that the evil (or just misunderstood) Cerberus organization kicked Aria out of Omega, though we never really knew why. Now, it’s time for payback.
The problem here is, while I can understand why Aria wants to get Omega back, there’s no real reason for Shepard to care. It’s the middle of the Reaper War; Cerberus is commiting dastardly deeds throughout the galaxy, not just Omega; and it’s not clear what advantage Shepard will get from liberating the place, or reinstating Aria. But nevermind! Because Shepard placidly agrees to come along, even leaving his trusting squadmates behind just because Aria said so. It makes no sense for the character (no matter how you choose to play him or her) and feels completely out of place.
Once you’re on Omega, what follows is a fairly uninspired plot that mostly involves shooting at bad guys until you reach the Cerberus General Petrovsky. Along the way you will meet and ally with Nyreen, a female Turian mercenary and rival to Aria. Aria and Nyreen don’t like each other too much, mostly because one is a Renegade and one is a Paragon. Sadly, these character dynamics are literally told to you, as opposed to shown through actions and choices. Lead-footed exposition is actually pretty frequent.
For that matter, the dialogue on the whole is a peg down from the quality of the ME3 core game (which admittedly fluctuates itself). In particular, Paragon and Renegade moments lose all pretense of nuance, and often devolve into “We should trust everyone!” or “Civilians exist to serve our objective.” It’s the kind of on-the-nose morality that series always attempted (if not always successfully) to avoid.
At the least, Cerberus General Petrovsky is himself a likeable character. He sticks to a moral code and isn’t a butcher — although again, this is largely told to us and not shown. Still, you do find yourself thinking that Aria is in many ways worse than Petrovsky, which adds a nice moral ambiguity to the overall story.
Fortunately, BioWare Montreal’s experience with multiplayer comes through shining in the enemy encounters. These are well-paced, varied, and often objective-based. The difficulty curve can be a bit wonky — way too easy here, more challenging than it should be there — but on the whole these are tense, exciting moments that really bring out the best in ME’s brand of third-person duck-and-cover.
Aside from the standard Cerberus baddies, there are two new enemies to tango with here: the melee-oriented Rampart Mechs, and the freakshow-monster Adjutants. The Adjutants are introduced in a really nicely done horror sequence: you only have a flashlight, you’re completely lost (and the game doesn’t tell you where to go), and their hideous screams in the distance are a promise of things to come. They both are nice additions to the combat, and the Adjutants in particular are pretty devastating.
Omega… looks… amazing.
The backgrounds, the colors, and the sets all are incredible. It may sound like a strange thing to say, but Omega features some of the best-looking rooms in the whole franchise. When those rooms are badass underground bunkers, with all the gear and gizmos that come with it, it really brings out the atmosphere and makes the space station feel like its own character.
As you walk through the station, you’ll see shuttles that have crashed through the walls, mobs fighting Cerberus in the distance, and even once, an entire air battle happening inside the space station. From the little pieces to the big reveals, everything looks fantastic.
Sadly, the framerate stutters that have forever plagued the series make an unwelcome return, and there are a few moments when characters will move in bizarre and glitchy ways. They aren’t enough to take you out of the experience, but they do mar an otherwise excellent visual presentation.
All in all, Omega feels like a dumb action movie within the Mass Effect universe — gorgeous and exciting, but empty and implausible at the same time. If you mostly come to the series for the alien environments and gunfights in space, then this is a fun addition to the core game’s setpieces. However, if you’re most interested in great plot, dialogue, and characters, this won’t hold much of interest for you. Either way, the quick three-to-four hour experience doesn’t quite feel worth the steep $15 price tag, but is a quality addition to the overall game in spite of its brevity.
+ Great action moments
+ Awesome environments
– Weak characters and dialogue
8 / 10