The time has finally come. The Reapers have begun their invasion and all galactic life is on the brink of destruction. The journey that first started back on Eden Prime has come to a climactic head, and no one is prepared. Fortunately, the galaxy has you, Commander Shepard, the only one capable of mounting a defense that stands a chance of conquering an army of super-advanced synthetic starships hell-bent on total annihilation. Is history bound to repeat itself? Will humanity face a bitter end like the Protheans thousands of years before? That’s up for you to decide, as BioWare’s trilogy capper brings the Mass Effect story arc to an incredibly satisfying and emotionally draining end.
For those of you that have been invested in the universe since the series first launched back in 2007, there isn’t much that I can say in this review to either compel or dissuade you from playing Mass Effect 3 – and, in the end, that really is a testament to the quality of this franchise. We’ve all grown to love the rich universe that BioWare has crafted, and more importantly, the Commander Shepard that we’ve shaped and molded over the course of the two games prior. While PlayStation owners may not have been able to play the original game, the Dark Horse Comic included in Mass Effect 2 did an excellent job in familiarizing newcomers. Finding out how the choices you’ve made will impact the game’s dramatic conclusion is reason enough to plop down $60 on Mass Effect 3 and while, yes, the game does offer the finality fans are looking for, it also offers so much more, serving as a compelling standalone title that newbies to the Mass Effect series can also thoroughly enjoy.
Let’s first address the few qualms I had with the game, so I can get right into why ME3 merits your attention. First up, is the voice-over work, but before you jump down my throat, let me clarify. If you’ve played through the demo that debuted the very beginning of the single-player campaign, you’ll know what I am talking about. The voice acting itself is great, but unfortunately, the facial animations don’t always line up exactly with what the characters are saying. It’s not grossly obvious, but I found it particularly noticeable during the beginning of the game. Additionally, I did run into a few minor technical issues, but nothing particularly game breaking. It is worth noting, however, that the game did freeze on me once, forcing me to reboot my system. Fortunately, the game’s generous autosave had me back in the action in no time. Much like the prior two entries, you’ll find yourself waiting at quite a few loading screens throughout the course of the game, but considering its epic scale, it’s understandable.
Then there’s the multiplayer. It is unfortunate that Electronic Arts is basically forcing developers to include multiplayer in all of their games. Don’t get me wrong though, Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer is not bad at all, offering plenty of content to keep you coming back for more, including the added incentive to boost the galaxy’s “readiness”, which spills over into the single-player game. BioWare clearly thought long and hard on how best to incorporate multiplayer into such a solo-driven experience; however, the wave-based mode ends up feeling tacked on despite the their efforts to incorporate it into the main game. This addition is benign, as the single-player experience has in no way been compromised.
I’ll be honest, I was initially pretty skeptical toward Mass Effect 3. The level of anticipation and hype for this game is virtually unmatched. How could BioWare possibly deliver a satisfying conclusion that truly takes into account all of the possible permutations that stem from player choice, while at the same time, create an entirely self-contained experience that also appeals to newcomers of the franchise? I’m happy to report that BioWare has rendered my fears unwarranted. Mass Effect 3 is hands down the best installment in the franchise, taking what fans loved in the two prior games and refining it into a single unified whole that is simply a blast to play.
Controlling your character in Mass Effect has never felt better, as the gameplay in this third installment is the true realization of what BioWare set out to create when the franchise was first conceived. The third-person action is fast and fluid, going toe-to-toe with franchises like Gears of War and Uncharted. There’s a plethora of different guns, abilities and squad commands that keep the game experience from ever growing stale. Weapon customization is also back, providing a wide array of different mods that allow you to alter your arsenal however you see fit. Controlling Shepard feels tight and responsive, with added mechanics like roll dodging and context-sensitive jumping, which aids in making this a much more visceral experience. Many role-playing purists might complain about the move to a more action-heavy experience – believe me, I was one of them – but once you experience how much fun it is for yourself, you won’t have it any other way. Man, that omni-blade is freaking awesome!
Many gamers were also a bit worried about the three different campaign modes, which include Action, Role-playing and Story. Let me assure you, there is nothing to worry about here, as this is basically a retooled way for gamers to choose their difficulty setting. If you opt for Role-playing, you’ll get the default Mass Effect experience, with the difficulty set at normal and all of the dialog options included. Story mode just sets the difficulty down to very easy, allowing you to breeze through the action segments of the game and get right into the story-based content. Finally, selecting Action will remove all of the dialog options from you, allowing the game to progress in a much more linear fashion so the player can get right into the action and not worry about dictating the path of Commander Shepard. In this mode, all of the choices are pre-made, so the conversations flow like an uninterrupted cinematic. The player can easily modify these settings at any point in the game in the menu, so in the end, these modes are really just a glorified way of presenting you with the varying difficulty options and implementation of character choice.
The music, visual design and overall presentation also add to the experience like never before. With one of the most emotionally somber yet haunting soundtracks, the music alone stirs up an emotional response that truly evokes the dire situation that the galaxy is in. Heck, even booting up the game and listening to the music set against the title screen gets me a little choked up now having completed the entire campaign. Additionally, ME3’s visuals have been updated and polished, yielding a much prettier experience than we saw in ME2. The HUD is much better this time around and the game’s menus are incredibly intuitive and easy to navigate. It is clear that BioWare really put a lot of time into creating a user-friendly experience that stays true to the style seen in the prior titles. The team definitely found the right balance by offering just enough change to evolve the franchise forward, while managing to retain the charm that is essential to the Mass Effect universe.
Now to address what I’m sure is on all of your minds, the story. I’ll just come right out and say it, Mass Effect 3 serves up one of the most elegantly crafted stories I have ever experienced in a video game. The expertly paced plot has just the right number of peaks and valleys to keep you fully engaged from start to finish. In reviewing this game, I played through the campaign in two 12+ hour bouts over the course of a single weekend. I did this not because of time constraints, but rather because I simply couldn’t pull myself away from the experience. Earth was falling victim to an onslaught of Reapers, and the excellent sense of urgency that the game creates had me glued to the screen eager to see what would happen next.
I don’t want to get into any story specifics because that would just ruin the game for you and be totally uncool, so instead I’ll skirt around the surprises as best as I can. EA has been championing the slogan “Take Back Earth” in its marketing push, which undoubtedly resonates with a large portion of consumers. If you were at all concerned that the game would focus too much on Earth and fail to represent the entire galaxy of Mass Effect, don’t worry as there’s a whole lot more to this game than saving humanity’s home planet. That said, I do wish BioWare offered a little more content centered around the events taking place on Earth, though I do recognize the value in leading gamers on an epic adventure that has you zig-zagging all across space, visiting a wide array of unique and interesting locales.
If you’re worried that loose ends will be left hanging, don’t be – I assure you that Mass Effect 3 delivers the finality that you’ve been dying for. From the mysteries behind Cerberus and the Illusive Man to the Krogan’s situation with the Genophage, everything is laid out on the table and resolved. Bearing that in mind, naturally you will be forced to make conclusive choices that – for better or worse – dictate the outcome of the entire galaxy. I have never had such a difficult time deciding what to do in a video game before. There is a weight to your decisions that dwarfs the choices and consequences seen in the first two games. There are a number of twists and turns along the way, so don’t expect a straight forward conclusion. The guys over at BioWare are master storytellers and Mass Effect 3 is their crowning achievement.
Mass Effect 3 is so much more than a game. It blends genres and transcends the video game medium to offer up an experience unparalleled in this industry. This game will easily be a front-runner for Game of the Year and is in my mind a serious contender for being the best game of this generation. It may not have a multiplayer mode that can stand up to the likes of Halo and Call of Duty, but it does offer the best single-player experience that $60 can buy. If you consider yourself a fan of the franchise, I’m sure you’re already too busy playing the game to read my review, but if you are a newcomer who has steered clear of the series for whatever reason in the past, you owe it to yourself to give this game a chance. I dare you to be unimpressed.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Engrossing story that serves up a satisfying ending to the trilogy
+ Fast and fluid gameplay that evolves on the Mass Effect formula
+/- Multiplayer offers a fun but completely unnecessary distraction from the campaign