Video Game developer Bioware's space opera, Mass Effect, comes to a close with Mass Effect 3. It's been five years since the series started. In that time Mass Effect 1 and 2 have picked up a large amount of praise and many awards, so there is a fair amount of hype and expectation for Mass Effect 3. Does it live up to all of it? Let's go planet side with Commander Shepard.
Picking up shortly after the events of Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepard has been relieved of duty and is under house arrest for his (or her) actions in that title. Shepard is suddenly summoned to a meeting with the Systems Alliance Defense Committee. The Alliance has lost communications with outposts and colonies and Admiral Anderson speculates it might be the Reapers that Shepard has been warning them about since the first game. He states that he believes that it is the beginning of the Reaper invasion. As the committee starts to debate whether or not it is an invasion, a blast to the building as the Reapers start their attack on Earth cuts short the meeting.
Shepard and Admiral Anderson manage to escape the destruction and fight their way to an area where the starship Normandy can pick them up. Once there Admiral Anderson reinstates Shepard's commission and orders him to go to the Citadel Counsel to gather support from the other alien races to fight the Reapers. In route Admiral Hackett orders Shepard to a side mission on Mars. There he rescues Liara T'Soni from Cerberus troopers. Liara and the other researchers on Mars may have discovered a weapon to defeat the Reapers called The Crucible.
Here is where the story starts to diverge. At this point the actions of the player will determine how the rest of Mass Effect 3's story plays out. My story will be very different than yours, so this a good place to stop without revealing any spoilers.
Controls and Gameplay
Mass Effect 3 is a third person, action, role playing game. Bioware did implement a interesting system at the very beginning by asking players how they would like to "play" Mass Effect 3; Action Mode, Story Mode or RPG Mode. In Action Mode conversations have automatic replies, but combat would be normal. Story Mode has player select conversation branches, while combat was minimal. In RPG Mode both conversation and combat are in full player control.
If you have a previous save game from Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2 you can import it. This will determine your appearance, as well as which characters from the previous games you may meet and interact with, which will shape the overall aspects of Mass Effect 3.
Additionally I have to say the way most side quests Mass Effect 3 worked seemed odd. As you walked around the Citadel you would overhear conversations and suddenly a quest to find an item of significance (religious, military, or scientific) would appear in your journal. Then you could go out find the item come back to the person and say “I heard you were looking for this, here.” It’s as if even though Commander Shepard is a hero/legend in the game the only way he could find things to do was to eavesdrop on people.
The controls were immediately familiar from the previous games. Even so Bioware did try to improve and streamline it by trying to make the cover system more fluid. My review copy was for the PlayStation 3. I found that it still needs more tweaking. Quite often I would find that having "run" and "move into cover" mapped to the same button just doesn't work well. I would try to move into cover and Shepard would just stand there and get killed. Other times I would try to run, only to have him calmly stroll taking fire until dead. This was especially frustrating because it would be so random. Some combat encounters would be just fine others would turn into exercises in restraint from throwing my controller through the TV.
Enemy AI has been reworked so that they will use tactics to get at Shepard and his allies. They will flank and use cover more effectively. Overall the AI did, but I still found some AI enemies would present themselves as easy targets, particularly among the Cerberus troops.
On the Xbox 360 version Bioware also implemented the ability to use the Kinect's microphones for voice recognition commands. With this players can call out commands in combat to their two squad mates or further investigate conversations by just speaking out loud. Talking to two different friends of mine, who are playing Mass Effect 3 on the Xbox 360 I learned of some interesting scenarios. My first friend found that he could call out commands to investigate the conversation while he walked into the kitchen and got himself a nice cold "root beer." My other friend would instead set the controller down, pick up her knitting needles and knit while she investigated conversations. My friends, I think we are living in the future.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics and sound of Mass Effect 3 continue an in realistic presentation. I did have a couple interesting graphic hiccups though. The first, at one point when visiting the hospital on the Citadel Shepard was walking about two feet above the floor. This eventually corrected itself after a couple minutes, but I did play around with it to see if I could walk over people and things (I couldn't). The second was during a mission with a cut scene where Jacob Taylor talked with one of the other characters of the away team, in my case Liara. Every time Liara answered the screen showed a blank wall. I have since found this particular bug is not just limited to my game, or the PlayStation 3. Talking with a friend of mine, who is playing it on the Xbox 360, the same scene played out with two differences. His conversation was between Jacob and Garrus and this time Garrus was represented by a box on the floor.
Headed by Mark Meer and Jenifer Hale as the male and female versions of Commander Shepard respectively, all of the voice talent returns from the previous games. This includes Martin Sheen, Seth Green, Keith David, Ali Hillis, Lance Henriksen, and more too numerous to mention. All turn in great performances.
Wrapping up the overall arc of Mass Effect could not be a simple task for Bioware, especially after a copy of the script for it was leaked to the internet. Still, for game series based squarely on the decisions of the player, Mass Effect has earned all of the praise and hype surrounding it. Mass Effect 3 manages to pull together everything into the final battle well. Every decision, every crew member you saved follows you through to the end. And here we find the final battle.
While I have noted some problems in control and graphics, the story and choice have always been the focus of Bioware for Mass Effect right up to the end. Bioware has managed to weave together a huge story with thousands of possible player decisions and continued that quality through Mass Effect 3.
In the interest of full disclosure, as of the writing of this review, I have not finished Mass Effect 3. Much like any other huge role playing game with many main and side quests, I want to experience as much as possible.
The controversy of the ending is hard, HARD to avoid and then not address. This is one game where the story and gameplay are so much a part of the gaming community; I feel I have to step out of my reviewer role. Fan backlash has been loud and strong. To say many fans are not happy with the ending is an understatement. I will try to be spoiler free here. I have seen all the different endings. On one hand Bioware is fully within their artistic right to end the game anyway they see fit and I do see each ending as fitting for how the series has played out. On the other hand I also see the lack of closure and some large plot holes put forth by the endings. To me this really does not affect my final judgment of the game. If this is the end of Mass Effect then I can accept it, but it does leave some large questions. Whether Bioware chooses to do nothing, or address these issues through downloadable content or continues the series is up to them. As of this writing Bioware has announced they would look seriously at well thought out, constructive criticisms of the game and may even assemble further material to flesh out the ending. My hope is they just wrap up the dangling threads and plot holes bringing a proper closure to the series.
So with that out of the way how do I rate Mass Effect 3? Even for its faults Mass Effect 3 is a damn good game. Bioware has a touch that pulls their games to different level. As such I give Mass Effect 3 a 4.5 out of 5, the good here heavily outweighs the bad.
Mass Effect 3 is rated M for Mature for Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, and Violence by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).
Mass Effect 3 is available now for Windows PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. For more information see the Mass Effect web site.