Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Book Review - Mass Effect: Revelation

After finishing two books last week required for blog tours, I chilled this weekend with a book of my own choosing (well, I also choose the ones I review, but yanno, I mean no deadline here).

One of my hobbies is playing video games. I got an Xbox 360 last year for my birthday, mainly so I could play Mass Effect, the latest role-playing game from powerhouse developer Bioware when it released last November. I got the game the day it came out (I know, sad), and played through it over the holidays. I wasn't disappointed. The gameplay was unique, the story and characters were engrossing, and it was one of the best video game experiences I've had. The game earns its "M" for Mature rating, and a little of the content is disappointing, but overall I really got into the original sci-fi universe that Bioware created.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up Mass Effect: Revelation. The book is written by Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer for the game and also for my favorite all-time game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (lets hear it for KotOR!). He has also written other sci-fi novels, including Star Wars spin-offs, so he has novel writing experience. I mentioned above that the writing for the game Mass Effect was excellent.

I found out that getting a novel based off a video game is...what it is. The book starts 20 years prior to the game. Humanity is a new race to the galactic population. An ancient race called the Protheans have left technology scattered across the galaxy, allowing interstellar transport. Humans find buried ruins on Mars, then realize that the Plutonian moon Charon is actually a dormant mass effect relay, allowing us to join the star-faring races.

This isn't Star Trek however, where Earthlings are the main force. Humanity is a new player, catching up with other established races like the turians and asaris, and sometimes acting like the little kid at the table scrambling to be heard. It makes for an interesting take on a sci-fi setting.

The book covers a mission from Lt. David Anderson, a secondary character in the game. He is charged with finding a missing scientist who suspiciously went missing prior to her whole research unit being wiped out. Anderson must contend with Saren, a turian Spectre (elite agent of the galactic Council) who is hostile toward humanity and concerned with his own agenda, and the krogran mercenary Skaar. When Anderson gets a chance to show humanity's potential by being considered for the Spectres, will he succeed in proving humanity's ability, or will he fall against his alien contenders?

The book will appeal to fans of the game only. The author does a fine job explaining the universe, but I don't know that it could stand on its own. I enjoyed as far as it re-immersed me into the Mass Effect universe, but overall it is only a mediocre read. The characterization is flat throughout, and the writing comes across as fairly stock, cliche sci-fi. The pacing is good, and it is a quick, easy read. If someone really wants to dive more into the ME universe, it is not an expensive purchase. However, I think the big climax was more succinctly explained with more tension in 5 minutes of game conversation rather than in the book. It also seems to set up the story of the game too perfectly - I would've preferred to see less of a blatant set-up for the game.

That's my out of left field review for the week. If you have a 360, don't miss out on Mass Effect. The novel, on the other hand, is optional.

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