Eyes-On: Mass Effect

We go behind closed doors to take a jaw-dropping look at BioWare's stunning Xbox 360 RPG

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After spending three days trundling through Unreal Engine shooters and generic action games, it's a real pleasure to finally sit down and be genuinely blown away by a game presentation.

Strolling into BioWare's modest E3 area we knew that their latest baby, Mass Effect was destined for big things. But we couldn't possibly prepare ourselves for the sensory explosion we were about to experience, in BioWare's first ever gameplay demonstration of the massive RPG.

The story behind the game is simple; BioWare first stunned with Star Wars Jedi-em-up Knights of the Old Republic, before following it up with spiritual successor Jade Empire. Mass Effect promises to one-up both RPG's with next-gen AI and gameplay options sandwiched inside some of the most gorgeous graphics we've ever seen in a game.

BioWare's latest RPG is a futuristic epic in which you play Shepard, the only Human Spector - which is a kind of intergalactic police officer. In another of BioWare's stellar storylines Shepard quickly discovers there's trouble afoot in space; a terrible secret which could lead to the massacre of all organic life in the galaxy. Much in the style of KoTOR and Jade Empire, you must investigate this terrible mystery picking up a few friends along the way.

When describing Mass Effect we'd hate to sound like complete graphics whores, but unfortunately in this case we are. The pair of BioWare developers presenting Mass Effect first booted up a futuristic Bar Scene, full of Star Wars Cantina-style alien drunks and thumping dance music echoing off the walls.

It's a cliché, and our eyes are slightly blurred from the chaos of the week, but some parts of the sequence were pretty damn close to photo-realistic. Mass Effect's shadow and lighting system was running at full effect; the lights in the club danced off of the ridiculously detailed character models creating a scene not a world away from a Pixar feature film.

But the icing on the futuristic cake really was the stunning character animation. BioWare was quick to point out the active facial expressions of the characters, which easily put anything we've ever seen before to utter shame. Skin realistically moves over the characters faces, and even aliens can be easily read by the movement of their faces.

This feeds into the gameplay when it comes to reacting to characters, reading their emotions and choosing the appropriate response via the familiar 'multiple choice' conversation menu. Because of this new-fangled animation goodness, BioWare have completely revamped the camera system, swooping in and out for some intimate close-ups during conversations.

While we could easily spend the remainder of the afternoon gushing over Mass Effect's luscious visuals, it's getting late and we're about to be chucked out of the E3 convention centre. But first, in our demonstration we were treated to a first glimpse of Mass Effect's combat, which unsurprisingly builds upon the tried and tested formula from Jade Empire.

All of Mass Effect's action is totally real-time. In the demonstration our BioWare hosts whipped out a number of futuristic rifles, moving around a cursor Ghost Recon-style and shooting up any robot henchman that were unlucky enough to stroll by. In addition to a number of body-enhanced dark energy attacks were also shown Mass Effect's own brand of grenade, which comes in the form of a gliding disc which homes in on enemies. At this point we already wanted to lock ourselves up with Mass Effect and only leave for a family-pack of Doritos.

When Mass Effect finally hits in 2007 BioWare promise an even more polished game engine, with 25 to 30 hours of role-playing goodness. Before we walked into the BioWare booth this morning we were only moderately intrigued by Mass Effect, but now we've got it tipped as the best Xbox 360 - if not all format - game of the show.