Friday, 23 March 2012

Mass Effect 3 [PS3]

Final instalment of the Commander Shepard trilogy - the sci-fi epic of the generation.

Oh, and have you heard that Mass Effect 3 has a multiplayer mode?

Well, I think 

The story is great and this really is the grand finale that the trilogy has been building to... but I just can't stop playing the 
absolutely awesometastic multiplayer!

That big evil-looking thing is a Reaper - and they've invaded Earth.

So What's The Story Here?
In Mass Effect 3, you play as Commander Shepard - human hero and captain of the Normandy, one of the most awesome space ships ever built.  The game is an epic sci-fi role-playing adventure, with tech gadgets, special powers and weaponry. Now, those things sound fairly nerdy and off-putting for some people when put together, but the whole experience of playing as an elite and customisable space ship captain is just too fun for words. 

I always play as kick-ass bitch Shepard.

You get to choose:

  • a male or female Shepard
  • what they look like using a fairly decent character creator, including face, colour and style of skin/eyes/hair/lips etc.
  • whether you are justly heroic or pragmatically renegade (basically save as many lives as possible for the good of the team, or sacrifice as many as needed for the safety of the Galaxy)
  • what missions you take - to some extent - in that you can choose to take or leave certain missions if you feel you can do without the benefits of completion, but there are still "key" story missions that you have to play through in order to complete the game
  • what character class you are - 6 to choose from - which are as follows: Soldier (pure firepower), Adept (pure powers), Vanguard (guns and powers), Sentinel (powers and armour), Engineer (drones and hacking), and  Infiltrator (stealth and sabotage)
  • what loadout of weapons and armour you take into battle
  • which powers and special abilities your experience points unlock
  • which squad members to take on missions - and which to sacrifice at key points along the way.

You choose who to save - and who to let go.

When you're not fighting various enemies, there is a lot of time spent talking to the different species of the Galaxy - gaining their trust in order to combat the greatest threat ever known - the Reapers.

The Reapers are the most fearsome beings the Galaxy has ever seen - coming back every few thousand years and wiping out all life to "restore the order". Shepard has been fighting Reapers in small numbers for the whole trilogy - but now the Reapers have come out of hiding and have invaded the Earth!

Oh come on, that's pretty scary. The War of the Worlds-esque laser is equally pants-staining.

So what are the really good bits to Mass Effect 3?

+++ You Can't Take The Sky From Me +++
As I mentioned earlier, this is just the kind of major sci-fi epicness that's right up my street. Being able to pilot your own spaceship, choose your crew, carve your own path through space - this has all the things that make me drool over the TV show Firefly. Man, I want my own spaceship.

Anyway, the tense and spectacular climax to the trilogy is pulled-off pretty well. Right from the word go you know that things have been cranked up a notch - the Earth is being invaded, millions of people are dying right across the Galaxy and you are the last hope. 

It sounds very similar to previous games but throughout the previous games there never had the same sense of urgency or drama to them. You are constantly reminded of the impending threat and meet up with the relevant parties to discuss the situation regularly throughout the story.

It all adds to the grand and gripping experience that the main story is - it has been slowly building to this point for 3 games and it's time for the big showdown.

And you get to kit out your crew with sexy blue aliens - like Liara here.

+++ It's The Final Countdown +++
And this really does go all out on the "end of the world finale" thing. I played through as a renegade bitch - always taking the "bad" or "reckless" options - and bloody hell did it mean it changed my experience. I told myself "whenever the option comes up to choose a really badass action - I'll go for it". 

I ended up sentencing several of my oldest friends to death. 
Oh yessiree. 

I actually saw 3 of my oldest friends die due to my actions during my first playthrough - 2 were killed by my hand and the third killed herself when she saw what I had done to her people. 

This is do-or-die time. They aren't holding anyone back for a sequel here - pretty much any of your crew can and may be killed off during your campaign, which just adds to the tense feeling of responsibility and power you get when playing. You can choose to save people - which will only work to some extent. You can choose to kick ass - if you're prepared to put a bullet in the back of your friend's head.

Oh Mordin, I'm sorry .... but you left me no choice...

+++ System Refinements +++
In terms of the improvements in terms of gameplay between previous ME titles and this one, they are all quite subtle. There are a few extra powers available to you - and these are good fun to play around with and see what new destruction you can cause with them - but they aren't too spectacular.

The big positive changes are in the way that you allocate experience points and equipment. When you are spending experience points to improve your skills and powers, at higher levels you get the option to choose bonuses as you unlock. These can be things like "damage an additional nearby target" or "reduce recharge time by 50%", so if you know how you like to use your powers then you can now spend your experience points more efficiently and effectively.

With your equipment, you now have a lot more options - you can buy upgrades for all of your weapons, new parts for guns or just whole new weapons, new armour with unique bonuses - each of these gives you more options to tailor your play style. There is also a new melee attack system, so you can take out baddies up close and personally if you so choose.

Whether you like guns, powers or tech skills - there's a play style for you.

Another great addition is the trade-off between power recharge time and weapon weight. The more weapon weight you are carrying, the slower your powers will recharge. This means that if you are carrying 1 of each of the 5 types of weapons then your powers will take 10 to 20 seconds to recharge after use. If you go in with just a pistol and a light assault rifle, then you can knock out special powers every 5 seconds. 

Again, this is just adding in more flexibility in the game to create a more unique and tailored experience - and in terms of the combat then Bioware has succeeded. It is just as tactical and tight, and with the new customisation options and powers then you really can see your choices in action. Explosive warfare action!

And now you can melee people to smithereens using the omni-blade.

+++ THE Multiplayer +++
And now the bit I've been looking forward to getting round to - the online stuff. This took me by surprise - I knew there would be a multiplayer mode but I always thought it would just pan out the playtime of the single player. As it turns out, I've probably spent as much time on the campaign (30 hours) as I have in the multiplayer. But... why exactly? 

The multiplayer lets you start a whole new character - or any number of characters - from the 6 available classes. You then are put into a match, based on the settings you choose, with 4 other online players. The match is 10 waves, starting off easy and progressing to the tough enemies - during which time there will be a few objectives to complete. 

Later levels in multiplayer feature big buggers like this. Lots of them.

The main tasks in each wave is to kill all the enemies. Killing enemies gives you experience, as does helping to kill enemies - you are always given a fair "portion" of the available experience based on the damage you caused. When you kill a certain number of enemies you get a bonus, by completing extra objectives you earn credits that can be spent on better armour and items.

There's extra characters you can unlock with special powers, rare armour sets that offer you bonuses - basically the more you play, the more cool stuff you unlock.

And you can just keep mixing it up as you play. Try 1 match as a different class for a change. Try some new powers. Spend some money on rare unlocks and see how much that improves your game. Again, this works like the single player - you can choose to play however you want to.

When you are ready, there are harder difficulty levels that offer greater rewards but with greater risks. There's a lot of play time on offer here - you can spend hours at a time honing your skills and showing off in front of your mates. Really, I don't know what Mass Effect was like before multiplayer now. This is how it always should have been.

Working together to take out foes is one of the multiplayer's greatest joys.

The only real problem with the multiplayer is that there's no mute setting for other players. Thanks to one git with a french accent, the ending was nearly ruined for me. Thanks "Noel242LePoo", I had to jump off my sofa and run over to turn my speakers off to stop you from spoiling the whole finale. What a douschebag. I got my own back though - if you think I'm going to revive that asshat when I see him bleeding out on the floor, you can think again!

So now I'll spend some time talking about the areas that they didn't get quite right.

--- Space Soap Opera ---
Both the dialogue and the story in this game are hammy. Really hammy. Like daytime soap opera hammy. It's things like this: after successfully fighting off 400000-bazillion monsters with your soldier buddy, it seems there are a couple left to deal with. Then delicate piano music comes in as he says:

You go on without me .... Time to die...

Hmmmm.... I wonder what's going to happen here then? 
And then he is slaughtered 5 seconds later

Here's Admiral Londoner now.

Then during the finale, your commanding officer questions whether they have what it takes to tackle the Reapers. The conversation between Shepard and the Admiral goes:

Don't worry Sir, they'll do whatever it takes to beat them. 
Good. Because that's what it's going to take.

Wow. That is award-winning pap. In fact, that didn't even make sense.

Another sad example is when you are required to escape from a robot AI mothership. The main robot tells you that there are no escape pods on the mothership, because they are like robots and shit. So it recommends using a robot fighter ship to fly off on. When Shepard and your 2 crewmates get in the fighter ship, the robot AI says:

"Is there enough room there, in the storage bay, Commander Shepard?" 

Aw... I would have assumed it was a storage bay if you hadn't said it. But the fact that you went out of your way to slip in an explanation for why 3 extra humanoids can fit into a single pilot robot fighter just makes me suspicious. 

Are you trying to hard to avoid bitching from nerds, Bioware? 

There's a lot of times in Mass Effect 3 where it really feels like the writers are trying far too hard to cram in story (or fill in plot holes) during the dialogue. It leaves a lot of conversations feeling desperately unnatural.

If you've ever fancied a job as an outer-space diplomat then it's your lucky day!

--- To Boldly Gay.... ---
Another key change is that you can now form gay relationships - yay! Now this is quite a progressive move for a videogame - and certainly a welcome one in my opinion - if only I weren't so annoyed with the way it was offered in ME3.

Really, I wanted to get in bed with Liara. She's the really gorgeous blue one in the screenshots above. I didn't manage to. Maybe I didn't give her enough time, or chat her up right... I don't know.

Then my secretary starts trying to jump me at every opportunity! Hey! Alright, you're kinda cute... but I'm still holding out for Liara!

And so while the Universe was being destroyed, she kept inviting me upstairs to play "Chess" (one of the lamest and least-romantic euphamisms I have ever heard).

Basically, while I welcome the option to have a gay relationship in-game, they went a bit overboard on the lesbian love interest here....because she wasn't very interesting.

Maybe I should've tried my luck with the reporter, Diana Allers. She looked up for it.

--- Minor Bugs ---
There's also a lot of little problems that don't affect gameplay too much but still cause irritation. The sound can be a bit jumpy - especially when loading up or moving into a new area. When the rest of the audio features a tense, bassy, epic soundtrack (and so I'm playing through with massive headphones turned up full blast), when the sound skips it can be quite uncomfortable. It only happens once a level, and doesn't cause any real trouble - it just feels slightly unpolished for such a big-budget title.

Another little issue arises when there is smoke on the battlefield. The smoke is meant to visually cover up enemies, but also stops your targeting system working so that you lock-on to enemies. The problem is that it is too powerful and a bit glitchy, meaning that even after smoke has cleared you can aim at a target and have your shot miss because some non-existent smoke clouded your vision. Again, this is a fairly rare and minor issue so I shan't dwell on it.

You should be able to nail these guys... so long as they aren't obscured by smoke.

--- Violent Mood Swings ---
The AI, particularly in multiplayer, can fluctuate between mind-blowingly stupid and swarmingly genius at the drop of a hat - so keep your wits about you. There are certain enemies in game which you know to be wary of anyway, such as Geth Primes and Reaper Banshees, but now other units can become really tough in an instant.

I think this is again due to the AI changes. Most units are pretty stupid - bang, bang, hide behind cover, pop out, bang, bang, dead. However, it seems that when certain special abilities are used, such as the type that instantly deplete your shields, and they all jump out and fire heavily at the exposed targets. This leaves milliseconds for you to either find cover or take out all nearby enemies. No amount of first aid kits in the world can save you if they all fire on you at once. No use of powers and tactics can prevent this - you just get pwnd. 

The Reapers big red giant killy laser thing is dangerous. Bet you're glad I told you.

So the difficulty level can be a bit unbalanced - with the majority of missions being quite short and relatively easy, some are frustratingly difficult. Special mention goes to the final section, where you take down dozens of high-level units only to be taken out by an instant kill-o-death Reaper laser. It takes a few goes to work out the annoyingly erratic pattern of the laser so you have to fight off the build-up troops quite a few times. Urgh. I hate instant kill lasers.

Cerberus troops are a piece of piss though.

--- Cerberus Bites ---
One thing I am still left to work out is why on Earth so much of the game is spent killing humans. The main human-biased organisation in the galaxy, Cerberus, is causing all sorts of trouble and seems to have lost all sense of moral bearings. 

While the rest of the galaxy is burning, you find that the troops have started massacres in various bases around the place, mutated people, manipulated and used influential figures, tearing civilisation apart even further. 

And the thing is - they're meant to be trying to stop the Reapers too! Not quite sure why Shepard spent so long clearing up after Cerberus, why no-one sees that perhaps they're somehow connected to all this - and why none of the Cerberus foot-soldiers didn't stop and say "Er... with all this impending eradication of all life in the galaxy, don't we have better things to do than to hunt down defenceless civilians?"

All the answers should reveal in the climactic ending - so here it goes....

+++ The Grand Finale +++
So what about this controversial ending that I've been hearing about? That has sparked mass protest in the gaming community? Well apart from it having some obnoxiously difficult combat sections, and being the culmination of several plotlines that made very little sense - the ending wasn't too bad. The last action level is set in London.... so far as there's Big Ben's tower in the background. Several of the characters mention being born in London, so this is really bringing the final fight back home.

The last sections and dialogue choices allow you to get your last defiant grunts in - and they take place in a truly blissfully pretty environment with a massive space battle in the background. 

There then is of course around an hour's worth of cutscenes to sit through, but you are rewarded with a final moral/decisive choice you are left to pick (a bit like Deus Ex: Human Revolution). 

The war can be ended. 
It's up to you to say how that will be achieved. 

There is enough closure to the storylines in the very short final cutscene to round the story off. All in all, it was as good as it could have gone. I felt Shepard had played her own way throughout, and was given the choice to be a suitably kickass hero at the end.

I'm just glad that you don't need a huge great additional section in order to explain the ending (a la Assassin's Creed Revelations). Oh, what's that Bioware? You're releasing some extra DLC to explain the ending? D'oh.

The finale to the series is suitably epic and in many ways a clear improvement over its predecessors. It wraps up the story nicely and gives some big set pieces to end with - I really liked it.

Bear in mind though - although the action and visuals are blockbuster - some of the plotlines and dialogue are distinctly lacklustre.... bordering on ridiculous. 

The stand-out feature for me is the multiplayer, which more than makes up for the flaws in the rest of the game. With the many hours of fun I've had online, I can overlook one or two minor issues and am completely satisfied that I've gotten my money's worth here.

It only remains for me to say a fond farewell to 
Commander Shepard.
Kick ass space ship captain.

You can choose to have female Shepard as your physical game inlay cover. Coooool.

Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
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