Trilogies are funny things, in movie land they can be hopeless cash-in attempts or sweeping epics worthy of awards. In games they are often seen as the means to updating and creating the designers original vision. Mass Effect has ignored that aspect in some respects, sticking to the Lord of the Rings formula. Mass Effect is a series with a beginning, middle and end, quite clearly defined and quite clearly laid out from day one. The technology and tricks employed may have made the world a whole lot more shiny, but the essence of the story delivers on every level. It is without a doubt a Space Opera, an epic tale throwing a talented protagonist into an all or nothing situation, heading towards a confrontation that will define the existence of life in the galaxy. Yet, you feel connected, you feel there is something only you can do, you feel like Commander Shepard and Shepard never gives in.
How can you honestly review a game that has such global interest, the fervor and passion of fans could ignite easily at the wrong words. A such I believe It is fair to talk about my Shepard and no-one else’s, giving opinions and thoughts about my experience with he game. Leaving others to squabble about the open-ended nature and that their squad is the best.
Bioware have delivered an all encompassing experience, again, although there are a few areas that could be given some further consideration the sum of the parts more than makes up for them. The narrative is gripping from the get go, even the first level, a stock re-introduction section is an impressive, well constructed and emotional journey.
Last time I played Mass Effect 2 it was to review for buttonmasher and I unashamedly took two weeks over it, I plan to do that again. That playthrough was something that stuck with me for a long time, the final hour of Mass Effect 2 cost me most of my crew and even though I vowed to turn back the clock and do it right, I never did. There was something stopping me, and that is something I feel lives with the series. This is your story, the branching narrative, the open ended missions, the far reaching consequence of the most simple decisions it all comes around to how you play and how the experience develops around your character.
That puts my Shepard in a very different position to many other Shepards that have had multiple runs at the game seeking the best outcome. My Shepard knows all about loss, while the orchestra swells in the background and the Reapers ravage the world around me I find myself wishing Garrus was there, he’d know what to say and he would always have my back. But the Garrus in my timeline died, he opened a door and took a bullet to the head, I saw it happen or rather my Shepard did. Every time I wander past the memorial plaque aboard the Normandy I stop to check the names, I feel the loss. Every time I assemble my away team, I wish Garrus, Legion and Jack were there vying for my attention.
Games need to do this more often, get into your emotions, ask you to invest over time and get to know characters, breathing life into these individuals creating a plausible suspension of disbelief. Last November when I played out the sequence of Dom’s demise in Gears of War I was numbed, it was late and once the next checkpoint had loaded I turned in. Five years of fighting alongside Marcus was gone. That level of impact has been eclipsed by Mass Effect 3, because I know I could have been better off and had a team of heroes to choose from.
Mass Effect 3 is certainly one of the most cinematic games I have ever played, even the conversations are played out with some subtle camera work, for me being a advocate of the cut scene skip it takes something special to keep me glued. As in the previous games the narrative flows easily from scene to scene and never gets old, again this is due to the immense amount of backstory that has been driven by you, wrapping the presentation up as a movie that you have interest in. If anything I would say that enjoying the scenes being played out comes in above enjoying the combat sections of the game, the missions themselves have seen serious updates. The Institute of Concrete Blocks appears to have lost its foothold on the galaxy, planets and mission environments feel unique and well designed, banishing the memory of Dragon Age II to the dungeons. However in the heat of battle something nags me, the combat isn’t rock solid, the AI does some odd things both for and against me. We still have to sit tight in an area and deal with a selection of waves, which can become a little repetitive, again the inventory system has been generalised favouring plentiful drops of one ammo fits all and chipping away at bigger enemies just seems wrong with weapons that just about deal with foot soldiers. Controls have been tweaked fairly well, rolling and sliding in to cover, vaulting cover to dash forward, but they still feel a little on the clunky side.That’s not to say it is bad, the combat sections can be fun, but they are a poor cousin when compared to games like Gears of War.
I also still take issue with the limited squad size, why take only two crew-mates into battle when they all want to have a go? It was something that annoyed me in previous games and I really didn’t expect it to change at this stage in the series, but it is a question I’d like to understand. On another issue, the biotics and skills are impressively integrated and work well with the Kinect interface, but the selection wheel feels a little old school and seeing the same skills being farmed takes me away from the matter at hand.
The slogan says ‘better with Kinect’ and Mass Effect 3 most certainly is, the voice interaction is incredibly smooth when compare to Kinect Sports 2, where i have often found myself repeating phrases while stubbornly refusing to press the A button. I would go so far as to say the voice recognition on offer here beats out the latest dashboard by a country mile, it is quick to recognize you and quick to take action. I did expect some gesture controls too in the lead up, perhaps a simulation of raising the Biotic Amp, but that was not meant to be. Although there have been odd moments when the Kinect picks up some ambient noise and translates it into an action, they are not frequent enough to hurt anything.
I must mention the online co-op multiplayer which while offering a Horde style game mode, the payback alongside character development helps to raise the level of ‘Galactic Readiness’ for your campaign story. I am sorry to say I have not had the chance to take the mode for a decent spin, but the vibe is good and I’m sure I will give it some extra attention once the campaign is finished.
Bioware do a lot of good things here, one of them is their decision to open up the game style depending on the player’s preference, allowing you to choose between a cinematic driven mode without dialogue options, through the standard mix of controls to an action orientated game type, newcomers will rejoice at these options, giving them some useful choices when launching into the Mass Effect universe. Probably also a good time to give bioware a nod in relation to their ability with curved polygons, I recently bumped into Miranda on the Citadel and she reminded me.
Overall this is a truly captivating experience and I am glad to have seen my Shepard through tough times since the first Mass Effect game. Every time I hit a quiet point and start to think about saving and stopping for the night something amazing happens on screen.
I could have gone in to other areas more specifically, where weapons can be upgraded on the workbenches or waffle on about the Galaxy at War system. I could have discussed my wardrobe and the Armour types, but I am still rocking my Kingdoms of Amalur armour courtesy of some genius marketing and regardless of the lack of unique loot you get used to the Inventory system minutes into the journey.
Mass Effect 3 is a must have, it is pretty much one of the greatest Sci-Fi Adventures you could ever watch, let alone play. The pacing, the branching story and the long forgotten decisions made in the first games, all of these things make for an invested and emotion loaded experience. Even my niggles are not game-changers and should be treated as minor irritations, ignore them re-install the first two games and take 100 hours of excellent entertainment on the chin.
Just get it..