Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: Mass Effect 3

OK, I’ll start by addressing the elephant in the room – yes, the ending sucks. Yes, it’s a massive error on Bioware’s part – and yes, they’ve promised to do something about it. With that out of the way, I want to assuage all of you skeptics that Mass Effect 3 is 100% worth buying and playing, as it’s not always the destination that makes a game, it’s the journey.

Picking up shortly after the events of Mass Effect 2, ME3 sees Shepherd under investigation for working with (and possibly aiding) the organization known as Cerberus. However, before long an ancient race of sentient, battleship-sized robots known as ‘Reapers’ show up and invade the Earth - as Shepherd’s been warning for six years...

After narrowly escaping the Reapers on his ship, Shepherd has to travel the galaxy, begging, borrowing and cajoling the many races into providing their military strength and technology to the fight to reclaim Earth and end the war against the Reapers once and for all.

And, with the Reapers’ mandate being to destroy the galaxy’s races, there’s no time to lose.
Much like its predecessors, ME3 is a third-person action/adventure title which combines ground-pounding combat with an excellent overarching story and a deep, detailed universe to explore.

Tasking Shepherd with uniting the many races of the galaxy sees the intrepid explorer once again jetting around, but this time – with the Reapers on the loose – getting from A to B is a tricky proposition.

Generally speaking, the game feels very similar to Mass Effect 2’s gameplay, just with a few tweaks to improve the gamer’s enjoyment.

This time around Shepherd is a far more nimble soldier, able to vault obstacles with the push of a button, sprint all over the place and punch or stab enemies away with a cool melee attack. The cover system is also a lot more accurate, with Gears of War’s influence being fairly obvious – although it can at times be a little oversensitive, making you stick to everything when you want to outrun a horde of human ‘husks’.

Old faces, including rebel Turian Garrus and sultry Asari Liara rejoin Shepherd’s squad this time around, and are deadlier than ever in combat. Their AI has had a much-needed tweak – although they do have a habit of walking into your line of fire now and then.

Rather than forcing you to level up your character from square one once again, ME3’s difficulty is graded depending on how powerful your imported character is and comes with a ready suite of powers – which is damn helpful, as the enemies are far tougher and more canny this time around.

Outside of the combat, the game’s paragon/renegade system is back in full force, as is the conversation wheel. Once again you can interrupt talk with a well placed bullet or hug – and yes, you can punch that journalist in the face, again.

Instead of gathering ore this time, however, the game is far more focused on gathering military strength, in order to retake Earth and end the Reaper threat. To do this, the Normandy has to scour the galaxy, scanning planets and systems, completing a multitude of side-quests and avoiding the Reapers, which chase the frigate around, blaring war sirens like something from War of the Worlds.

All of this is presented in the game’s fantastic graphics engine, which shows off the brilliant lighting effects and drags you into the combat. This is backed up with a brilliant musical score, winding the Mass Effect theme through the entire adventure and bringing the universe to life. The cast are also excellent, both old voices and new, and make the whole experience more believable.

In a first for the series, ME3 also has a co-operative multiplayer section, which is an enjoyable blast with three friends along.

Playing like a cross between Gears of War’s Horde mode and a co-operative mission, the multiplayer offers a selection of warriors, technicians, engineers and biotic (psychic) soldiers and tasks them with fighting off waves of various enemy types, while completing a series of simple objectives.

While the link between the multiplayer and the singleplayer campaign is tenuous – playing the multiplayer has an effect on the campaign’s ‘galactic readiness’ level – on the whole it’s an enjoyable experience, although initially a certain level of grinding is required to level up your respective soldier.

Overall, Mass Effect 3 is a cut above its predecessors, offering better combat, better gameplay and less of the scanning and mining drudgery that dragged ME2 down. Sure, it’s let down by its ending (in a big way), but the journey more than makes up for it, minor bugs and all. Mass Effect 3 is well worth putting on your N7 armour for.

Reviewed on Xbox 360

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