BioShock sometimes strikes us as a kind of confused horror game, leaning towards the easy manipulation of one’s nerves like we’d expect from, say, Capcom’s Resident Evil series. Nonetheless, BioShock floats on a balanced atmospheric soundtrack.
What pulls it up further in this category is the superb voiceover work in this game. Every voice that emanates from the game’s audio diaries is very convincing and supports the underwater city’s shattered architecture perfectly.
Mass Effect (Runner-up)
After collaborating with Jack Wall on Jade Empire’s soundtrack, BioWare opted to bring him back on board for Mass Effect. It was a wise decision, as the music created by the veteran composer fits the game’s futuristic deep space setting very well.
Where the game’s audio really shines, though, is in the voiceovers. The actors that voice the game’s various races and squad members couldn’t have better picked, as each one feels “spot on” during the game’s up-close-and-personal dialogue. Our only real complaints about the sound are that the Geth sound nearly identical to KotOR’s Selkath race and that Kaidan Alenko is voiced by the same actor that did Carth Onasi (Raphael Sbarge) in both Knights of the Old Republic games. As most people picking up Mass Effect will no doubt have already played at least one KotOR game, it seems like an odd decision to have used the same actor for such a key companion.
Disappointment of the Year
Despite its many strengths, BioWare's sci-fi epic was the game that most disappointed us this year. After releasing an amazing game like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to virtually unanimous praise, you'd think the development team would have used a nearly identical formula while constructing Mass Effect. Instead, they took Mass Effect in the same direction that Bethesda took Oblivion after Morrowind's success - they developed it for the masses. The game's character development options have been drastically reduced from dozens of unique attributes, feats, skills, and force powers to a handful of talents and unoriginal biotic abilities. KotOR's hundreds of hand-crafted items with long, witty descriptions and various statistics and effects have been cast aside in favor of an uninspired equipment system with three numeric scores and a Roman numeral to define each item's power. On top of that, enemy strength and loot are scaled to the player's level Oblivion-style, the number of companions compared to all other BioWare RPGs has been reduced, inter-party dialogue is strictly limited to the ship, combat is real-time and only allows for limited strategic maneuvering while paused, and landing on uncharted planets is, well, not what it was cracked up to be.
As a result, Mass Effect is essentially an action title with subpar RPG elements, and for that it receives our "Disappointment of the Year" award. While the game is still certainly worth playing for its excellent audio, cinematic dialogue, and storyline, Mass Effect is arguably BioWare's most lackluster role-playing game to date.