When it comes to games like Mass Effect Infiltrator, there's no avoiding the fact that you're going to be getting a stripped-down version of a console experience. The key question, then, is whether the necessary whittling-down can preserve enough the essence of the original version to become a worthwhile spin-off.
EA's done it before, with a Dead Space game that translated the spooky scares and frantic combat of the sci-fi horror franchise's console iteration. But, sadly, Mass Effect Infiltrator doesn't do anywhere near as good a job as that iOS game.
You don't play as your customized Commander Shepard in Infiltrator. Instead, players control Randall Ezno, a rough-and-tough soldier in the human separatist Cereberus organization. Ezno's been an asskicker for Cereberus for a while, it seems, until a turn of events puts him at odds with the group. That turn of events—and the poor storytelling overall—is where Infiltrator goes very wrong compared to its more fleshed out Mass Effect brethren.
Mass Effect's appeal comes from spooling out dozens of hours of space opera and shooting action, all connected by plot decisions made by the player to shape the persona of their Commander Shepard. Randall's personality already exists and, disappointingly, it's in the gravel-voiced mode of hundreds of other forgettable hero types. He sounds like Marcus Fenix with less charm.
Infilitrator plays like Gears of War, too. You're getting cookie-cutter cover-based shooter mechanics in a third-person perspective with touchscreen controls. The inputs work but I never felt like I had the precision I wanted. It's one thing to give me mushy controls in a brand-new iOS shooter. It's another to make me suffer through a lesser experience when I can play Mass Effect as intended.
Take the Paragon/Renegade choices, for example. They're nothing so much as decision points as to let random characters live or die. The narrative stakes are non-existent, in terms of the emotional impact, even if they do point you to different places for Infiltrator's ending. There's also a moment where Randall's Cereberus handler gets violently re-assigned to another division. I've known this character for five minutes. Why should I care about her getting abducted and experimented on? In a full-scale Mass Effect game, I'd feel something for Inali. In Infiltrator, I can't.
Iron Monkey Studios successfully recreated Dead Space's dread on iOS because all they had to do was establish atmosphere and action. Here, they needed to recreate story execution—and the voice acting, build-up and consequences that come with it—and they strike out pretty hard on all counts. It doesn't help that EA pushes a game full of microtransactions—buy this helmet, won't you?—but that doesn't feel satisfying on its own.
Throughout the game, you'll pick up intel that improves your Galactic Readiness Rating in the PC or console versions of Mass Effect 3. And finishing Infiltrator gives you an exclusive War Asset that people who didn't play it supposedly won't get. With no copy of Mass Effect 3 on hand to test this functionality, I have to take EA at their word that it'll buff your big-screen ME3 playthrough. But, on its own merits, Mass Effect Infiltrator isn't worth the time or money you'd spend on it. I know Commander Shepard, Randall—hell, I am Commander Shepard—and you're no Commander Shepard.
Mass Effect Infiltrator [iTunes]