Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mass Effect 3 review

(Comic coming soon...ish)

I’m going on record here and saying; I actually liked the ending of Mass Effect 3. Undeniably, it has its problems (all the endings are basically the same video with minor changes and a different color scheme) and left me scratching my head afterwards putting all of the pieces together. Yet that’s what made the ending (for me) absolutely unforgettable. Having now had the time to contemplate said ending, it’s an unexpected, yet absolutely fitting ending that is well worth playing the game to see for yourself.

Perhaps I’ll write you a post one day about why exactly I like said ending. But that’s for another time. Here’s my review of the full game. In some ways, this review is more of an analysis of the entire trilogy rather than just the third installment. Chances are, you’ve heard what I have to say elsewhere. However, the game play, visual and sound sections will all focus on Mass Effect 3 only, whereas the Story and Longevity sections will critique Mass Effect 3 as part of the entire trilogy rather than on it’s own merit. Sit back, there’s a lot of reading to do.

Side note: I’ve played very little of Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, so for the sake of this review, said multiplayer mode and the Galaxy At War system is excluded.

Mass Effect 3 is the concluding game in the story of protagonist Commander Shepherd. After discovering their existence in ME1, then being ignored and discredited by the galactic community in ME2, the Reapers-an ancient race of gigantic machines who reproduce by harvesting all intelligent life in the Galaxy every 50,000 years-have finally made their long awaited and dreaded return, and have begun their invasion of the galaxy. The full weight of this moment is hard to appreciate unless you’ve played the Mass Effect trilogy from the beginning, but the Reaper’s arrival is nonetheless a terrifying moment-within minutes of playing the game for the first time, the Reapers have already conquered Earth, leaving you to make your escape and set out on a mission to unite the various races of the galaxy together to mount a resistance against the invading Reaper forces.

One of the things that makes Mass Effect so unique is how the trilogy utilizes and relies upon your experience in previous installments to shape the story. The decisions made throughout the previous games (including DLC material) are used to determine events and alliances made during Mass Effect 3 and will affect major plot points during the story. The various species and characters throughout the series-whether alien or otherwise-are generally well written (who here can forget Garrus?), and it can truly feel like you’ve gotten to know them as people rather than NPCs or Squad Members that act as a tool to drive the plot forward. Yet undeniably, the overwhelming Reaper invasion brings death and destruction that will rarely end positively for you-count this as a spoiler or not, but this is the end of a trilogy, and characters will die, and only some can be saved by your actions in the game. Yet your experiences with them throughout the first two games adds weight to these moments that most games cannot achieve through simple scripted dialogue and set pieces. Mass Effect is a game that is truly best experienced as a trilogy, and diving into Mass Effect 3 on it’s own won’t be nearly as rewarding as experiencing it from the very beginning.

Just as vital to the series is the integration of your own character into the story. The first Mass Effect allowed you not only to create your own face and gender for Commander Shepherd, but also to import that same character into Mass Effect 2. Sadly, Mass Effect 3’s new facial rendering system means that most character faces cannot be imported to Mass Effect 3, but if you’re willing to ignore this and start your face from scratch, this is a minor hiccup. Mass Effect’s signature radial dialogue menu allows your character to take either a ‘Paragon’ (nice guy) or ‘Renegade’ (dickish) approach to in-game conversations, and some moments actually require that your character has a high reputation in either of these to achieve the best possible outcome to a situation. The ‘rash decision’ quick time events (pulling a trigger to commit a Paragon or Renegade option), introduced into Mass Effect 2, further enhance this (Renegades; get ready to punch a lot of people). The result is that you can literally become yourself as you see fit in the story and interact as you yourself would in such situations.

Game play wise, Mass Effect 3 plays generally the same as Mass Effect 2, but with a handful of new (but less than perfect) improvements. The cover system has been greatly improved (but still runs into problems on occasion), and a broader range of enemy types are available (the result of Reapers being able to indoctrinate and convert various races into soldiers for their own armies), which will force you out of cover on occasion and improvise new strategies to overcome them. A new melee system makes close quarter combat far more viable option than previous games-however, the Heavy Melee option takes a good few seconds to use, and there is no option to cancel if you’ve missed your target.

Classes generally have the same powers and abilities as Mass Effect 2, but they no longer determine what weapons your character uses/excels at. Carrying all five weapons into combat does have its drawbacks (slower recharging of your various class powers), requiring you to either modify your weapons to compensate, or choosing for yourself what weapons to prioritize or remove to best suit your play style. The result of these changes provides greater flexibility and freedom for you to choose how you want to play the game-for example, close quarters oriented players may benefit from choosing a Vanguard class with Shotguns and Assault Rifles, or a player more accustomed to stealth may go with an Infiltrator class with Sniper Rifles/Shotguns and SMGs.

One of the issues that all three Mass Effect games have run into is the task of resource gathering. The vehicle sections were unpopular in the first game, and Planet Scanning became a grueling and repetitive chore in Mass Effect 2. The third game now greatly simplifies the Planet Scanning mini-game by allowing you to scan sections of a star system to track down War Assets and survivors on various planets, then performing a one-time planet scan to track down said asset. However, doing this alerts nearby Reapers to your presence, and they will attack en-masse if you aren’t careful with your scanning. This new method, whist still time consuming, cuts down the sheer amount of hours needed to gather all of the resources with a system, and there were several hair-raising moments when I was being chased by four Reaper ships at a time whilst trying to escape a system. The flaw in this system however makes this too simple; if you’re captured by a Reaper ship, the game reverts to the last auto-save (when you first entered the system), and all the challenge is taken out once you know exactly where to find all of the resources.

The visuals of Mass Effect 3 are at times awe-inspiring and terrifying; seeing a full sized Reaper stride past you (during game play!) and decimate a dreadnought in front of you is absolutely stunning. The lighting for much of the game is much darker than before, creating a new atmosphere of despair and resolve. The music and sound effects for these moments are equally as amazing and fits the tragic and terrifying moments throughout the game (the result of Bioware hiring a new composer for the game). Relying less on electronic/techno music, piano solos are used to create a sense of sadness and foreboding at times, contrasted by heavy electronic sounds to add terror. For these reasons, the opening level is (for me) one of the most unforgettable moments in any game I’ve played, particularly the end cinematic (I could describe it or link it to a video, but this moment is best witnessed by playing the game. Download the free game demo if you’d rather wait to buy the game and see for yourself. Turn the volume up nice and high too). Asides from some minor texture pop-in and dialogue occasionally being cut off, the visuals and sounds of the game go together perfectly for the game.

The Mass Effect series, being an RPG, takes a great deal of time to complete (I spent 50+ hours on the third game alone), but well worth experiencing as a whole. Plus the utilization of the game’s dialogue system and it’s effects on the entire story means that the whole trilogy is worth playing multiple times to get a different story each time.

Say what you want about the ending, but Mass Effect 3 is an unforgettable game that perfectly caps off the series. Few game series can achieve the level of player investment and dedication that this series has. I walked away from the game with a melancholic feeling that I may never return to the universe of Mass Effect and it’s characters (I still owe Garrus a few drinks at the bar), but satisfied with the conclusion, even if there is an uncertain future waiting for them. If you haven’t played the Mass Effect series, it is absolutely worth picking up the first game and seeing for yourself.

The Verdict

Story: 2.0
  • Asides from a troublesome ending, Mass Effect 3 is an emotional ride from beginning to end with memorable characters and moments of triumph and despair. Best experienced by playing the previous games.
Gameplay: 1.5
  • Retains most of the features of ME2, but more flexible cover options and greater enemy variety improves the game. Melee is now useful, even if occasionally problematic to use.
Visuals: 2.0
  • Seeing a full-sized Reaper stride past is unforgettable. Varied and breathtaking environments, with only minor texture pop-in.
Sound: 2.0
  • New composer Clint Mansell introduces more orchestral music than previous Mass Effect games, to great effect.
  • Sound effects (lasers, explosions, etc) all sound amazing. Absolutely worth turning up the sound nice and high.
Longevity: 1.5
  • A single playthrough could take up to 40 or more hours to finish, but there’s always incentive to play again-either a single game or the entire trilogy.

Final score: 9.0/10

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