Why Isn't This A Film? - Mass Effect

What have we got here then?

Mass Effect is a sci-fi RPG from legendary game studio Bioware. It first arrived on Microsoft's Xbox360 console in 2007 and has since been ported to the PC and Playstation 3. A sequel arrived in early 2010 with the final game of the trilogy scheduled to arrive at the end of 2011.

OK fine. What’s it about?

Mass Effect is set several years into the future, at a point in time when humanity has discovered a technology enabling them to travel faster than the speed of light, left over by a long-extinct civilisation. Most of the alien races that have since been discovered live peacefully, ruled over by the multi-species Citadel Council.

Early on in the game the main character, Commander John Shephard, takes part in a mission which sees a member of the Council's special forces unit, Spectre, turn rogue, killing another officer and escaping in an unfamiliar ship with a sentient race called The Geth. Shephard is assigned to track the rogue agent down and untangle his nefarious plans.

Interesting. Is there something more?

A lot of the plot of the game centres on the relationship between humanity and the other alliance species, many of whom are bitter that humans have come to have such influence over daily affairs, having only joined the Citadel group fairly recently. There's also numerous side missions which offer variety from the main plot and are most obviously influenced by Star Trek; you select a landing party from your squad of friendly none-playable characters, explore an unfamiliar planet and either defeat the bad guys, help the good guys or indulge in a little bit of both!

Save me the trouble then – is it any good?

Mass Effect is one of the most engaging RPGs I have ever played. The world it creates is pleasantly reminiscent of the aforementioned Star Trek universe but equally has pieces of individuality which mark it out from other mere imitators. Shephard is an engaging character, convincingly voiced by Mark Meer and the games' plot is both creative and satisfying. Your squad (which eventually totals six members plus Shephard) is made up of varied characters who all add something to the experience and developing your relationships with them for better or worse is one of the games' great joys.

Shephard, on-board your ship, The Normandy.


Mass Effect is a great game but unfortunately not a perfect one. Most planetary landings involve a vehicle called a Mako which is similar to an all-terrain tank and which you are forced to use to explore unfamiliar or hostile worlds. The only problem is that the Mako is much too cumbersome to drive. It's slow uphill - occasionally coming to a complete stop - difficult to aim accurately and poorly controlled with the two analog sticks, as opposed to using the left and right paddles like most driving games. For an RPG, Mass Effect is also perhaps a tad short. The whole game, complete with side missions, will probably take you under forty-hours but skip a few of these out and the core plot could probably be conquered in around twenty. Still, there's no way most people would want to do that and even using the Mako can be forgiven when the rest of the game is this good.

What are its chances of being made as a film?

The rights to make a Mass Effect film were sold to Legendary Pictures in May 2010 and the project is currently listed on IMDb as having a 2012 release date. This might still be attainable assuming a script is practically finished and pre-production work has already started but with little to no news since May, it's anyone's guess where the project currently sits in terms of Legendary's priorities.

But who'd star in it?

Game Rant started speculating on the perfect Commander Shephard before the project was even officially confirmed and include in their list my own personal first choice for Shephard, Karl Urban. The rest of the list, including the 'honourable mentions' at the bottom of page two, basically span through most actors who are about the right age to play Shephard although a couple of the choices (Dominic Purcell and Bruce Willis) seem completely out of leftfield or, by turns, unlikely to be given a franchise to front at this stage in their careers. Everyone's favourite skinhead Wentworth Miller (who's now featured in several Why Isn't This A Film?s) is missed off, as are Jason Statham and Mark Wahlberg, two men who might not be afraid of joining a videogame franchise, although Wahlberg already has Uncharted to contend with.

Of the rest of the cast, evil dude Saren and squad members Wrex and Garrus would almost certainly be CGI or Motion-Captured. Rachel Nichols does a nice line in green-skinned aliens in Star Trek and so would surely be perfect for blue-skinned alien Liara. Tali is an alien living under a mask and so could pretty much be played by anyone. Love interest Ashley Williams would suit Michelle Monaghan or Zoe Saldana or perhaps, if they were going for a younger star, a Gemma Arterton or Kate Mara. Admiral Anderson is voiced by Keith David who would also be perfect for the role in real life whilst further antagonist, Matriarch Benezia, would suit Helen Mirren or Julianne Moore down to the ground although her voice in the videogames (Star Trek: The Next Generation's Deanna Troi aka Marina Sirtis) would also no doubt do a fine job.

Will it be any good?

It's got all the right ingredients although you can't help but think that the inevitable comparisons to the Star Trek reboot will hurt its chances of being respected and even liked. Having said that, the game has sold a huge number of copies and if the fanbase get behind the decisions that are made early on in production it could have every chance. Certain elements of the franchise (Shephard's 'N7' uniform, The Normandy) have the potential to become as iconic in movie folklore as they already are in the gaming world and the fact that the trailer for the third game looks incredibly cinematic can only help the movie franchise to grow.

Anything else I should know about it?

Mass Effect has different conclusions to its main narrative and different ways to get to the end, based on whether you play the game being generally good and passive (paragon) or generally bad and aggressive (renegade). The way you play through the game subsequently effects how certain events in Mass Effect 2 play out, with the second game reading details from your save files.

Why Isn't This A Film? is a regular Film Intel feature which takes a book (you know... one of those things with pages in, doesn't project on to a screen, makes small rustling noises), comic, video game or graphic novel and assesses its adaptation prospects. One day this feature will get something right and we will win something major and valuable. Possibly.


  1. It is a fantastic game but it's a game I would prefer not to see made into a film. I just find that videogames are derivative of existing properties/myths that have been done to death (Uncharted/Tomb Raider - Indiana Jones) and Mass Effect reminds me of Star Trek as well as Babylon 5. That and the customization is a huge part of the experience, something a linear medium couldn't get to grasps with adequately.

    ps. I love the Mako!

  2. Agree with several of those points although I think that if a game of a film is ever going to escape the problems previously associated with the genre then it has to forget all about the mechanics of the game (i.e; customisation, character moves (Tomb Raider), gameplay traits (Prince Of Persia) , etc) and just focus on moving the characters, look, feel, atmosphere, etc, into a believable, filmic, plot. I think MASS EFFECT is a great opportunity to do that but you're right; I'm sure something of the game will be lost in the process but hey - as long as it's the Mako, I'll be fine with that ;-)

  3. Love your thinking. Mass Effect is one of my favourite ever games so, I guess it would be cool to see it onscreen.

  4. Or, it'll ruin the franchise completely and given it's a trilogy of games we'll get a trilogy of awful adaptations. Eeek.