Mass Effect 3 is the first game of 2012 that needs little of an introduction. The third in the series of sci-fi action RPG’s from BioWare and EA, this entry promises to wrap up the story of Commander Shepard and bring to fruition all the foundations laid by the previous two games with a massive all out war for the galaxy. Decisions new and old and big and small will come into play, ensuring that the series as it stands is one of the most integrated and cohesive trilogies out there. The Reapers have landed and only Shepard can save the day – ready to roll?
The Reapers have landed on Earth, launching a full scale invasion on it and the rest of the galaxy in order to wipe out all organic life. As ever Commander Shepard is the one to lead the fight, and must rally the galaxy together in a bid to take down the overwhelmingly powerful machines. Equipped with one of the best stealth ships in the galaxy, the Normandy, Shepard must fight not only the Reapers, but pro human terrorist group Cerberus, who have their own mysterious agenda when it comes to the all consuming war.
Many characters from the previous two games return, in cameo capacity if not as full squadmates. There are a handful of newcomers to the squad and some intriguing fresh faces on the sidelines, but for the most part ME3 holds on to the series’ best characters, and keeps Shepard herself firmly at the centre of the action. The galactic war feels truly epic, and for the first time Shepard seems outgunned, desperate.
There are no moments of relaxation here, no missions that are mere personal favours – every move Shepard makes will have it’s consequences, with paragon and renegade choices suddenly taking on a whole new significance now that the bigger picture must be considered. Paragons may want to save everyone, but rescuing the few now may endanger the many later. What wins out, compassion or numbers? The sharp focus of the main plot is somewhat skewed by the rather fluffy fetch quest side missions, but luckily the bulk of the main content is incredibly compelling, with plenty of dialogue on offer to match every gunfight. There is of course, the option to customise the game to your own preferences, prioritizing action, role playing or both as you see fit. It’s probably not something that fans of the series will bother with, but those who found previous games too story heavy will no doubt appreciate the addition.
On that conversational note Shepard is a politician more than ever, having to mediate between races who have been at each others throats for centuries. Old rivalries glimpsed in previous games come into full force here; whether it be the ongoing dispute between the Quarians and the Geth or the high tension between the Krogan , Turians and Salarians because of the genophage. With the galaxy at stake there’s a lot riding on every decision Shepard makes, and the consequences are bigger than ever. Add in some strong connections with established characters and you can often find yourself in painstakingly difficult situations.
And that’s why Mass Effect needs to be viewed as a trilogy; despite the amount of times EA have touted this as a perfect entry point for newcomers to the series. Playing through the previous two games, or even just the second, builds a strong connection to the characters that populate this giant universe, giving players an essential personal connection in all this large scale chaos. Whilst newbies will by no means be lost they will certainly miss out, as not having that history with the characters and their stories takes a lot of depth from a game that thrives on emotionally involving the player.
With – apparently- sixteen different endings and countless variables from three games to influence the outcome, Mass Effect 3’s story is difficult to put a value on for everybody. If you’ve invested in the series there is certainly a lot on offer throughout the game, with tough decisions, satisfying or regretful outcomes, surprises and shocks. The ending is something to be judged on a person by person basis, but the one I experienced in my main play through was certainly final, if nothing else! In the end it made me want to play through again, and not just from the third game.
Audio & Visual:
Presentation is an integral part of any story, and Mass Effect 3 certainly doesn’t skimp here. Style wise this is the same galaxy as ever, and you can expect the same overall feel as the previous two games when it comes to graphic style, sound and gameplay interfaces. Shepard still has a bit of a dodgy walk, eyes occasionally roll in creepy ways depending on your character model, and if the camera can show off someone’s rear end: it will.
Character models are highly detailed and varied whether you’re chatting to Garrus or just a random Turian on the Citadel, and the world is packed with life. Even the most pointless of NPC’s will stand and have a chat with their neighbour, and there’s no obvious recycling of character models.
Combat is a visual blast, with enemies shattering into shards of ice, splatters of gore or bursting into flames. Shoot a leg off a Husk and it will keep coming at you, trailing a gory stump, and Centurion heads will give an immensely satisfying splat when taken out with a bullet. Big space battles bring Star Wars to mind, and the game is certainly not lacking in epic nor emotional scenes, with great lighting and set ups enhancing many of the game’s biggest moments. The depth and detail on offer in this world is fantastic, and the visuals and sound are ea huge part of that, ensuring that ME3 will take you firmly into its world.
The sound in ME3 is fantastic. The music retains the same sparse sci-fi feel, keeping the old Galaxy Map theme and various other signature pieces that will take fans of the series right back into the action. The Reaper sound effect (originally derived from an old rusty bin) is something to inspire fear and hate, and in one simple effect gives the series main villains a life all of their own. The atmosphere that ME3’s sound design brings, whether it be in a Citadel nightclub or a Reaper infested warzone, is nothing short of spectacular.
Voice acting is for the most part right on the money, although the odd cheesy line or bit of bad delivery does pop up. Jennifer Hale does a stellar job as the female Commander Shepard, bringing a bite more bite and believability than male counterpart Mark Meer. Freddy Prince Jr is surprisingly unirritating as newcomer James, and returning characters stay true to form.
What’s a shame is that the game (in PS3 form at least) can’t keep up with it’s own quality. Textures frequently take a noticeable time to load, sound effects can disappear entirely (hello silent flamethrower) and guns can remain invisible after using infiltrator Shepards cloaking ability. The audio can become overwhelmed and drop out completely for a second or two, and the graphics suffer the same fate with the odd flash of black. The camera can focus on a blank wall in conversation and the lip syncing can be noticeably off. It doesn’t ruin the experience by any means, and it isn’t frequent enough to be truly irritating, but by no means can you ignore the fact that Mass Effect 3 doesn’t run 100% smoothly on the PS3.
The gameplay in Mass Effect is all about the gunplay. There are no driving sequences, no hacking, and some of the clunkier aspects of the combat system have been removed. Planet mining has all but disappeared, replaced instead by a system scan that can reveal lost artifacts, gaining you war readiness but risking attracting the Reapers. Shepard can still dance and drink like a pro, and there are romances to be had if you treat your squadmates right. Every last scrap of information is recorded somewhere, with new rooms in the Normandy dedicated to tracking war assets and galactic readiness. The codex is encyclopaedic in detail, with the main chunk of it even fully narrated for optimum ease of use. You can still buy fish and models for Shepards cabin, and thankfully someone somewhere has even come up with an automatic fish feeding upgrade. So that’s all the small stuff, so what about the guns?
Where ME2 felt a limited in its weaponry, 3 thankfully comes equipped with plenty of guns, each with two slots for some of the copious mods you can pick up. Shepard can carry weapons from all five gun types, but doing so will weigh her down, limiting the recharge speed of biotic or weapon powers. This adds a nice little element of character tweaking, allowing a balanced character or a prioritized one; throw this in with the copious amount of powers you can plug points into (and a bonus one you can pick up from your squad mates) and there are plenty of elements here to keep the RPG crowd a bit happier. Choosing a class at the beginning of the game certainly changes the way combat feels, adding yet another element of replayability to the game.
The enemies that you’ll spend your time shooting, punching, incinerating and otherwise removing from the galaxy are a varied bunch of Reapers, Cerberus goons and other spoiler related enemies. The Reapers have begun converting more than just humans, with mutated versions of all the major races popping up in different and dangerous roles. Husks seem a little dialled down from the second game, but this is made up for by some of the new array. Cerberus send out a similarly mixed bunch, with cannon fodder goons, well armored Centurions and giant mechs among the horde. Playing on normal difficulty doesn’t present much of a challenge until the final stages, but slicing your way through small armies is still a heck of a lot of fun thanks to the tweaked gameplay.
Things just feel a lot smoother now, with grenades back in action and a combat roll added to both Shepard and the enemies repertoire. Leaping over cover no longer needs absurd preliminary crouching, and biotic powers flow nicely thanks to hot keys for Shepard and her squadmates. Melee feels like a lot more of a viable option, with a charged attack or close range takeout bolstering Shepard’s physical capabilities. The standard guns are varied and feel different in their use, and biotics are as awesome as ever when used effectively. Although there’s some of the trademark corridor combat here there’s a lot more variation to the fighting, and strategy needs to come into play to take on some of the more complex situations with multiple terrain levels and enemy types.
Overall Mass Effect 3 presents a far more satisfying and fun combat system that is the best the series has ever presented. Although it’s no pure RPG there are more elements of the gameplay aspect of that genre here, with increased weapon variety and overall customisation of the experience. One thing to note, that as with the graphics and sound, occasional glitches can occur. These tend to take the form of quest stopping bugs that demand a mission reload. The game won’t recognise that you’ve completed a segment, or won’t allow a door to open despite the fact that you’ve completed previous objectives. Minor irritations certainly, but ones that add to the presentation slip ups to rob Mass Effect 3 of a perfect score.
The dreaded M word! For the first time ever Mass Effect 3 brings multiplayer to the already busy party, adding a new element to the Galaxy at War system and yet more replay value to an already time consuming game. The most frequently used comparison for ME3’s multiplayer is with the horde mode from Gears of War, as a team of players must take on waves of increasingly more capable enemies.
What brings the fun to the table here is the ability to grow your own personal character, kitted out with the same options for abilities and classes as Commander Shepard. Flexibility is the name of the game, as you can create a character in as many of the classes as you want to change up the pace. Mixing up biotics and weapon powers with four people can be a hell of a lot of fun, although you do have to be careful not to enter the fray with an unbalanced squad.
Certain feats in combat earn you N7 medals, which give a more reliable sense of player skill than character levels. Multiplayer is integrated into the main game by forming a series of missions against Cerberus and the Reapers by a Special Forces Unit, and revisits several locations that should eventually be familiar from the main campaign. Just like the main campaign there are several difficulty levels available, neatly keeping players within their limits. Earning medals in a session grants you more points and credits to spend leveling up and on new equipment. There are plentiful weapons and characters to unlock, ensuring that completionists have plenty to pick up along the way.
Despite the initial doubt over the inclusion of multiplayer, it has turned out to be a strong addition the game. Multiplayer veterans may not find anything new here, but as more of a single player gamer I found it to be a lot of fun, accessible, and pretty damn addictive to boot.
When all is said and done, Mass Effect 3 is an excellent game and a fantastic finish to one of the strongest, most prolific trilogies in gaming. The story is engrossing and well told, and fans of the series will be wrapped up in this world more than ever before. There are some truly emotional moments to be found here, and tough decisions that will have you thinking and feeling like Shepard. The gameplay has been vastly improved and smoothed out, ridding itself of clunky and boring mechanics to make way for a sleeker and more enjoyable combat system. Multiplayer adds yet more content to a single player experience that is already over 30 hours long and hugely replayable, so expect to get a lot of bang for your back from Mass Effect 3. A few technical problems prevent the PS3 version from attaining a perfect score, but Mass Effect 3 and it’s predecessors certainly form one of the best experiences in gaming.
Whether it is a fitting end to Commander Shepard’s tale will be something that varies from player to player, but that’s the beauty of this series – what you get depends on what you give.
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