Thursday, March 8, 2012

Game Review: Mass Effect 3

March 2012
PC, XBox360, PS3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Bioware
Time to Complete: 35-40 hours

Mass Effect 3 is, thus far, one of the most eagerly-awaited games of 2012 by far. The first two Mass Effects are among the most beloved sci-fi action-RPGs of all time, and expectations for the third installment were running high for months in advance of release. Luckily for the players, the finale to this epic trilogy manages to meet most of the expectations set forth by the playerbase. It has a bit of a slow start, but once it gets going it is as epic as its predecessors.

As in previous Mass Effect games, you create a character and customize his or her appearance, class, and backstory. If you have a save from the previous game you can import it and continue playing as the same character, which is the ideal way to play. From there, you choose from three settings that affect how the game plays: Action, Role Playing, and Story. These basically change the menu settings to three different setups that affect the game in different ways. Action makes cutscenes non-interactive so the focus of the game is on combat; Role Playing is basically the same as previous games in the series; Story plummets the difficulty of the battles in the game so that players can focus on the story. For the first time through, Role Playing is highly recommended. One thing to note is that – with the exception of Action – the game starts you on the lowest difficulty level. Even for a beginner, this difficulty level is astronomically low and sucks a lot of fun out of the game - playing it on Normal is also advised.

The game begins with an impactful intro area; running through a futuristic Vancouver that is under attack by massive extraterrestrial mechs is an unsettling sight. In a way, the game seems to have more in common with Resistance: Fall of Man than Mass Effect at times like this; but that isn't such a bad thing. This is the final battle of the Mass Effect story, and things are bleaker for the human race than ever. After this intro area, things settle down as you make your way out into the cosmos, gathering allies to strike back against the nearly-omnipotent bad guys. The first few hours of the game can get a bit slow, but once things pick up they really start to pick up. The awesome Galaxy Map makes a return, and as usual there are no shortage of things to explore and missions to undertake.

Special mention needs to be made of the new online multiplayer mode. In this fun addition, you team up with other players to stave off waves of foes. It plays as well as the single-player game and it adds a new dimension to the game. Almost a game within the game, multiplayer is a welcome addition; the only problem is that playing it only marginally affects the game world of the single-player game. Still, it is a fun diversion.

Visuals – The visuals in this game are among the best that the current gen of games can muster. Mass Effect 2 was a benchmark title when it came to graphics, and this game neither gains nor loses ground in that regard. Sci-fi geeks will love the visuals in this game; as you travel from planet to planet, it isn't uncommon at all to look up and see awe-inspiring views of nearby planets, moons, and rings looming in the sky. It really shows how far games have come in the graphics department. The only downside is that at times the framerate gets pretty sluggish during major firefights. Another thing to note: the women of Mass Effect got much hotter for this installment. The character models in general show great improvement, especially with their faces.

Audio – The audio is also very strong. The sound effects pop; the noises made by the Reaper machines as they rampage about the landscape are forceful and unsettling. The music is always well-suited to the situation, whether it be the serene music of the title screen or the epic crescendo of some of the battles. The voice acting is superb; nothing else needs to be said there. Some of the characters in the game are memorable on their voices alone. The dialogue can be a bit on the cheesy side, however. Something interesting to note: the sound effects that Reapers make in this game are identical (or close to it) to the sounds made by Harvesters in the 2009 movie Terminator Salvation.

Controls – The controls are similar to Mass Effect 2's in most respects. They're a little stiff, but they suffice. There are subtle downgrades from the previous game, such as the controls being a little unresponsive at times when trying to get into/out of cover. At the same time there are also subtle improvements like being able to alter your direction while sprinting, making it faster to get around. All in all, the controls are perfectly fine here.
There are also some cool new additions, like the ability to charge a melee attack and dish out a slower but stronger burly death-punch.

The big question going into the release of this game was whether or not it would meet the expectations of series fans. There are downsides in the sense that the RPG elements are more scaled-down than ever – this game is a shooter through and through. It's a shooter with a story to tell, however, one where your actions make a real difference as to the outcome. So it still has some of that character-driven role-playing that made the rest of the series so good. The sidequests also aren't as inspired as those of Mass Effect 2. However, once this game gets rolling, it is hardly a disappointment.

Mass Effect fans, give this a whirl. New to the series? Start with the previous games first. This is one series that is well worth experiencing in full.

I give Mass Effect 3 a 9.0 out of 10.

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