Mass Effect 3


Written by Chris Price
Photos and illustrations by BioWare
12 Monday 12th March 2012

Perhaps putting too much emphasis in the patchy legacy of cross-pollination across videogames, knitting a brisk RPG into an exciting shooter with a credible back story just seemed like a bridge too far. So Mass Effect starts by letting you choose – do you want to experience an immersive space opera and not worry about getting regularly mashed by alien bosses, do you want to manage your reputation and play the political saviour of the galaxy, or are you keener on a spot of cover-based third person perspective team shooting and some RPG-lite tactical offense? The choice of bracing Mass Effect 3 is up to you.

In Mass Effect 3 Commander Shepard is re-instated as an interstellar diplomat when Earth comes under very definitive attack from a familiar alien foe in the shape of the ‘Reapers’, along with complications provided by the evil Cerberus corp. and the returning Martin Sheen as ‘The Illusive Man’. Your mission is to align key sapient races in the galaxy to defend Earth while an ancient weapon is assembled to destroy the threat.

The game is split into four sections – negotiating intergalactic alliances between different races in the War Room onboard Normandy; plotting key missions and sub-missions on the Galaxy Map; scouting for missions, information, upgrades and team members on various bases; and getting knee deep in the death planet-side in a Gears of War style shooter complete with bosses and escort missions. All elements function well. Battle is the most robust of Mass Effect, with meaty force feedback and a simple RPG element (pausing battle to assign special attacks, healing or different ammunition to yourself and your team) – keeping the action quick, varied and rewarding.

Fan service is copious. Shepard’s conveyance ‘The Normandy’ is unsheathed with lusty enthusiasm, and series mainstay characters are reprised, evolved and wearing the scars of the past series – both the physical and emotional – with Mass Effect 3 palpably drawing out emotion. Negotiation is based on logical responses that appeal to each race’s traits – the oppressed nobility of the Turian, the war-mongering Krogan, the arrogant strategic scientists of the Salarians.

Each race is rich in heritage and personality often allowing your emotions to guide your responses in conversation. But just like LA Noire, there are no wrong answers, just additional character points of to either Paragon (good, diplomatic, kind) or renegade (space bastard).

With the outcome rather redundant, the ability to choose responses often feels clunky due to the varying flow of conversation. Dialogue choices are very little more than the conversational choices in the Monkey Island games of yore. Additionally, the level of jargon thrown at you is initially pretty tough, involving plenty of pausing to read up on the next alien beasty causing trouble.

Ultimately the cut scenes deliver the velocity of emotion most effectively, as do the personal – romantic and sexual - liaisons between Shepard and characters – both male and female. Yes, in Mass Effect 3 a young gay soldier can save the universe. I wouldn’t say the concept of homosexuality is dealt with in a particularly groundbreaking manner, but for defining the idea, Bioware should be commended in pushing the envelope, in a medium rarely known for its tolerance and diversity.

But beyond stiff responses, this fails to tarnish the gratification of the outcome of each epic set piece. Run your political play, form uneasy alliances, earn respect and honour from once hostile races – and all culminating with a big alien dust-up. Accomplishment rarely proves so fulfilling in video games.

And this hits the crux of Mass Effect 3 – it’s very good at convincing you of itself. Each of the four key parts of the game work immerse the player in the emotional requirements of rationality and plausibility, provoking genuine interest in each mission, even for casual player. Side missions are reasoned enough to make them compelling rather than superfluous.

The theatre for all this is a slick, often impressive series of space stations, palaces and planets all scored with suitable aplomb by Golden Globe-nominated composer Clint Mansell. The fantastically detailed character models return – although they might not have the degree of humanity instilled with the likes of LA Noire, each one conveys a luxurious amount of personality and detail, without looking like a waxwork in a hot museum.

It’s quite rare for a big event game to be referenced in as many headlines across the broad media spectrum as the Mass Effect series has been (unless your name is Call of Duty or Halo) – and Mass Effect 3 is the decorative bow around a series of games lauded by both critics and consumers. While slightly overstepping itself to bend to the will of the demanding gamer, it ultimately provides a polished, professional and compelling game – well paced, well-structured and often thought provoking.

With the widest appeal and most cinematic of the series, whether this game escapes the reboot treatment in a year or two’s time remains to be seen – but it provides a fitting crescendo to a series of games that have palpably raised the bar for gaming.


Mass Effect 3 is out now for Xbox 360, PS3 & PC. See more here.

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