How much are you willing to spend for a 3D version of Duck Hunt? Developer Bioware is hoping that your answer is 400 Microsoft points (that’s $5 in real American greenbacks) with the release of Pinnacle Station, the second DLC pack for their excellent (but 2-year-old) space opera Mass Effect. Eighteen months after the launch of the first expansion, Bring Down the Sky, which added a brief but interesting 90 minutes to the original game, Bioware has given us the equivalent of a trip to the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” holodeck to keep us busy until the early 2010 release of the full-blown sequel.
After Pinnacle is installed, you start up the main game, take the bridge of the Normandy and pilot the ship to Pinnacle Station, a training facility in which you and your squadmates attempt to take first place on the leaderboards of eight simulations, programmed by a smart-aleck alien to whom you must report to begin. You choose one of four combat modes (Time Trial, Capture, Survival or Hunt), then one of two venues. You also get to take two comrades with you into the simulator. No matter which mode you choose, the object is basically the same: kill as many enemies as possible before the simulation ends.
In Time Trial, you have to seek out and eliminate all enemies as fast as possible. Capture is a timed variation on the capture-the-flag theme in which you must find a glowing post somewhere on the map, get in close proximity to it and defend it until it turns blue, then move on to the next one until you’ve captured them all. Survival mode throws waves of aliens at your squad and challenges you to stay alive as long as possible. And in Hunt, you add time to a countdown timer for every enemy you slay; your object is to kill often enough to keep the clock running.
It had been quite awhile since the last time I booted up Mass Effect, so I was afraid that I was going to have to relearn the game’s myriad controls to play the new expansion. Turns out, all I really needed was WASD and the left mouse button, since the combat-centric Pinnacle only requires you to aim and circle-strafe until your objectives are completed. Experienced shooter players will finish this add-on in less than two hours, with a good chunk of that time spent outside of the simulation having the same conversation over and over with the techie running the show. There are also a few bugs that didn’t get squashed, one of which crashes the game to your PC desktop if you have your graphics options set too high.
I’m not sure why Bioware created Pinnacle Station, other than to make a quick $5 from those of us who just can’t wait for Mass Effect 2. Pinnacle adds nothing to the experience of the original game (you might level up your character once during play, but it won’t help you much). If you haven’t bought Pinnacle Station yet, then don’t. Your time would be better spent replaying Mass Effect so that you’ll have a maxed-out character when the sequel is finally released. But if you’ve got a twitch that won’t go away and a fiver burning a hole in your pocket, then have at it. Bioware thanks you — all the way to the bank.