Review of Mass Effect 3 (PS3)

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March 2012 saw the release of Mass Effect 3, one of the most eagerly awaited video games in recent history. The high levels of anticipation should come as no surprise when you consider the hundreds of hours the average Mass Effect fan has invested into the series. Its unique save feature, which allows players to transfer their progress from one instalment to the next, encouraged multiple playthroughs to discover what impact the decisions you make have on the story at large. Hype for the game was through the roof, which was both a good and bad thing. Excellent sales figures were a certainty, but when expectations are so high is it feasible to live up to them? It’s a tough task which few companies can pull off. For every Metal Gear Solid 4, which did a commendable job of ending the epic saga, you get a Duke Nukem Forever which ultimately proved not to be worth the fifteen year wait.

STORY

The game kicks off with the Reapers, who commander Sheppard has been warning the military about in the previous games, commencing their invasion of Earth and the surrounding alien worlds. As the giant mechanical squid like invaders commence the eradication of all intelligent organic life (Loose Women viewers should therefore be safe), Sheppard is forced off world tasked with assembling a combat force to repel the giant cephalopod automatons. Hmmm that does sound awfully familiar BioWare. Didn’t you already use the “recruit an army to save the day” plot in Dragon Age: Origins? Heck it’s not even that dissimilar to Mass Effect 2 were you travelled the cosmos completing missions to assemble an elite team. Ah well, I guess if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

On the back of the game box there’s a quote from Yahoo Games which states “If you’re not a fan now’s the time to start.” That’s not a sentiment I entirely agree with. Yes, with the information you are provided, new players can follow what is going on but they won’t get the full Mass Effect experience. What makes the series so enjoyable is the attachment you have for the characters and seeing how your actions affect the relationships you form. Without that emotional bond with your party the above mentioned story, not matter how well presented, can feel a little hollow. I can imagine new players will constantly question why Sheppard is wasting time on optional side quests when time is of the essence. Why is he dithering on what crew member to get into the sack with when the clock is ticking. Shouldn’t assembling a super weapon to destroy the Reapers have priority over scoring some nookie?

It’s impossible to review Mass Effect 3 without mentioning the ending. Don’t worry I won’t divulge spoilers, but I do have to express how unhappy I was by how it all pans out. In the end it boils down to choosing between three options which have no bearing on what you have done before. It reminds me of the complaints I had with Fallout 3 in that the game is lauded for the freedom it gives the player, only to then restrict you to a few choices totally against the spirit of everything which preceded it. To make matters worse there’s little differentiating the three outcomes which are only a couple of minutes long. After the dust is settled I was left with a feeling of “is that it?” Considering that some of the things you do leading up to the ending have massive ramifications, on the galaxy at large, it would have been nice to have seen an epilogue detailing how your completed quests affected the various alien races making up the Mass Effect universe.

GAMEPLAY

Mass Effect 3 doesn’t play drastically different to its predecessor with BioWare instead choosing to refine the engine so we get a game that feels more like a proper third person shooter, as opposed to a shooting/RPG hybrid. Although the end result is no Gears of War, the action feels less clunky thanks to melee combat being beefed up and tweaks to the cover system. The changes reduce the annoying “cowering behind boxes you bump into” issue which plagued the last game. Sheppard’s interaction with the environment is bolstered by the ability to roll between concealed positions, climbing/descending ladders and being able to leap over gaps. It’s a shame that the design of some levels didn’t utilise these new abilities to their fullest. Some sections abandoned exploration entirely and merely asked you to travel a short distance into an open area were you would fend off waves of enemies.

Facing legions of enemies wouldn’t be so bad if there was a decent selection of adversaries, but unfortunately the variation of foes is rather limited. By the end of the story you’ll be sick of being pitted against Cerberus soldiers/mechs and Reaver forces such as the zombie like husks. The game is even lacking in the boss department with the last level missing a final guardian. You fight your way through an action packed battle and then the dire ending sequence begins. At least before you get to that point you get to go “mano a mano” with a Reaper and square off against a cloaked ninja assassin, who looks a little out of place in a Mass Effect game. Perhaps he was meaning to audition for Metal Gear Solid, took a wrong turn and ended up in the BioWare studios instead.

Although Mass Effect 3’s focus has shifted to action there is still some RPG customisation to be found. As in the last game you earn points upon levelling up which are traded away to learn new abilities. Equipment can be found during missions, researched or bought at stores including various guns each with their own strengths and weaknesses (some have rapid fire, some are more effective against energy fields and so on.) By applying mods to your blasters/rifles its possible to alter your arsenal to improve accuracy or ammo capacity, tailoring things to match your play style. Defensively speaking you have the option of donning different types of armour which grant you various bonuses. You can mix and match different items in each armour slot or just opt for a dedicated suit such as the cool looking Knight gear you get free if you have a Dragon Age save on your hard drive.

NEW FEATURES

Before wrapping things up I’d like to comment on two new features introduced to this third game. Firstly is the new scanning system which replaces the dull resource mining players had to endure in Mass Effect 2. Instead of combing the surface of planets, using a combination of probes and sonar, you now uncover hidden space debris by emitting a pulse whilst flying about on the Normandy. Although not particularly exciting the pulse is much quicker to use making the whole searching for goodies less tedious. Watch out though as using the pulse has the chance of summoning a Reaper to the quadrant of the galaxy you are navigating. If that happens it’s time to get out of Dodge, because touching the incoming threat spells an instant game over. Thankfully Reapers vanish after a while so you can return to the sector later on to continue your exploration.

The most notable addition to the game is the introduction of co-op multiplayer which allows players to take on hordes of AI enemies. It’s a cool feature which adds to the game’s shelf life. I am however disappointed that the developers didn’t go down the route of allowing friends to go through the story instead. Having the option of one player controlling Shepard and his buddies controlling his squad mates, akin to Resident Evil 5, seemed like a no brainer to me. The only negative I can see with the multiplayer is that it will annoy those only interested in a solo experience. The ending you get is determined by a combat readiness score, which increases when completing quests. The problem is that getting a high enough score, for the best ending, is a paon without the supplemental points awarded for partaking in multiplayer missions. Not good news for Mass Effect hermits who don’t like to mingle with others.

SUMMARY

Overall Mass Effect 3 only just falls shy of getting a perfect score. Combat wise this isn’t the most exciting third person shooter on the market, but it’s still heaps of fun to play and its faults are easy to overlook thanks to some well written dialogue which absorb you into the game world. The graphics are slightly better than the last game with the character models looking a tad more realistic. Visually the only fault I could find were the facial expressions which were a little off. I couldn’t help but feel a little creeped out whenever the camera zooms in on Sheppard as s/he tries to convey emotion. The musical score is brilliant and the voice acting is first rate for the most part. The only character who offended my ears was a reporter voiced by a real life IGN journalist. It showed that she isn’t a professional actress and I cannot help but wonder if she only got the part so the game would get a favourable review from a leading games website.

The reason I am knocking off a star is because I enjoyed Mass Effect 2 slightly more as I missed the large selection of squad mates you had in the previous game. The extensive roster was sadly trimmed down to four or five characters with many fan favourites being reduced to cameo appearances. I also feel that Mass Effect 3’s score needs to be penalised to reflect a few glitches which got past bug testing. A number of players have reported issues with their saved games not importing properly which is unforgivable given the importance of continuity between the games is. The most common complaint is that Sheppard’s appearance gets altered during the transfer and certain characters not appearing in the story even if they survived the last game. Gremlins also appear to have infiltrated the rendering of graphics as I noted during a cut scene when my team was talking to an invisible Liara. As a lover of smexy blue skinned aliens I was not amused by her vanishing act.

Ultimately though I cannot bring myself to give Mass Effect 3 five stars due to the lacklustre ending. When I completed Mass Effect 2 I had the urge to replay it again, but that wasn’t the case with the follow up. What’s the point? Even if I take a radically different approach to saving the universe I’ll still get presented with the three same options upon reaching the story’s climax. Thankfully BioWare have listened to the negative feedback and expanded the endings via a free patch. As it stands though the game is the epitome of “the journey is more important than the destination.” At the end of the day this is another fine BioWare game, but those quibbles further tarnish the company’s reputation. Following on from the rushed Dragon Age 2 and the subscriber haemorrhaging Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect 3 reminds us that BioWare make good games, but they aren’t the infallible force they once were prior to the merger with Electronic Arts.

5 thoughts on “Review of Mass Effect 3 (PS3)

  1. I agree with this completely. Mass Effect 3 stands high on it’s own ground against others sci-fi rpg games, but even higher still is Mass Effect 2, which is my favorite of the trilogy as well. I miss Thane. 😦

  2. The only bug i’ve ever had in this game was in multiplayer when I went through the floor and died. Other then that it was very smooth. You can get a good ending without playing a single match in multiplayer. I’ve done it plenty of times. Bioware even lowered the amount of galactic readiness you needed to get the best ending. The extended cut made the ending better. I was one of the few that didn’t outrage over the ending. The ending was weak at best but I expected that from the start.

  3. It’s been a while since ME3 came out and I came to the party a ‘little’ late.. but I just finished it about a week ago and it’s killing me.. The ending was as bad as people said.. And it feels like a part of me died with that end.. and not in a good way. And though it is late, I needed to just post and vent despite it being unlikely to contribute much to this long dead Prothean topic.

    I’ve been thinking about why people (including me) had such a visceral reaction to the ending and it comes down really to 5 things:

    1. The whole experience leading up to the ending was such an amazing one that we had no doubt this would live on in our minds not only as one of the best games of all time but a life experience almost in and of itself. To see it lose that potential at the last minute is like taking the last bite of an amazing meal out of your mouth just as you’re about to savor what a great meal that was, and then just throw it on the floor and step on it. (Yes I’m hungry but it makes the point).

    2. We loved our character and all the characters we interacted with and the whole world overall. It’s a testament to the overall writing in the game and all the people who poured their love into it as to how much we developed an attachment to all these virtual friends and lovers. That makes the ending more painful because we can’t just brush it off and walk away and say ‘meh, it was a good game until the ending. Oh well… Next!’.

    3. We fell in love. 200+ hours of story across 3 games and a big part of the background story is romancing someone. It’s not the sort of love that you have in real life to a real person so don’t go there. But the emotions we had were real in that we wanted to see them find love together and see them comforted in each others arms as we fade to black. We wanted the OPTION of having that ending. It could have been tainted by some consequence to a selfish choice or even just have them go out together to save the galaxy but tearing them apart at the last minute and then killing Shepard off.. it’s just mean and it evokes anger not sorrow or pain. Life is not fair. Games should not remind us of that. They should be an escape to a better place.

    4. To elaborate on point number 3: Most people want a happy ending although not all will admit it. Even those who applaud the artistic integrity and talent and bravery it took to make it a controversial bitter sweet ending. We play games to get away from life. We invested 200+ hours because it was a grand adventure where you (we thought) get to save the galaxy and get the girl (or the guy) in the process.
    It’s in stark contrast to real life where most of us don’t save anything except maybe a carpet from getting pooped on by the dog. Where married people have real daily issues they need to deal with and aren’t being swooned on by the person of their dreams in that moment. (Sweet sweet Tali, Strong and Sexy Ashley, Intelligent and loving Liara… etc…) If we had the CHOICE to have an ending like that I guarantee that EVERYONE no matter what they say would have left the game on that note even if they had to play it through multiple times to see all endings. It may have ended up almost corny or cheesy or barely believable at it’s worst or it could have been an epic fade into happiness and love and a beautiful life to follow or even more adventures. But it would have left us happy and warm inside even if sad to see the story come to an end.

    5. Nothing made any sense in the end. A million and one people have pointed out the various flaws so I won’t go into that but I even tried hard to believe the IT and played through again to believe it.. but I didn’t. And the Bioware open forum with the fans confirmed albeit indirectly that it wasn’t what they were trying to convey.

    At the end of the day, the point is that it hurt. This game was supposed to leave us sad that it’s over, not hurt that they betrayed us and stomped on our emotions. The problem is that Bioware despite all its claims otherwise, don’t even appear to care. They can’t be so invested in that ending and the path they chose to take the story and so indignant that almost EVERYONE hated the ending that they said ‘to hell with you all.. we liked it!’.
    I can’t imagine no one there played through this and thought.. wow.. that’s not good. They are usually in touch with their fans. Something MUST have happened behind the scenes that they just can’t talk about. I tell myself that and I feel better because I can’t believe they are so out of touch with so many thousands of people. It’s not them.

    So I will play ME4 when it comes out despite all this because I still believe in the core people there. I for one though don’t want to have my soul ripped out twice and stomped on. So I won’t be back after that if anything remotely like this happens again, and I suspect many people will jump ship too.

    We fell in love. And got hurt. In a game. Now there’s no escape from real life’s demands and difficulties anywhere. Why do that to people? It’s just selfish to write it off as ‘artistic vision’ after our long journey. It was always meant to be OUR journey. Now it’s just unfair. Like life.

    Great…

  4. Ironically for someone who cares deeply for story in games I didn’t really have a problem with the ending(s), and the extended cuts were alright. Though I do often like tragedy than the happy go lucky sort of ending, but really depends on how the rest of the story was, I guess! I can see where the issue comes from, though, that all your choices still lead to a final three (four with extended), then some problems with the narrative as compared to the first, etc.

    The game was still fun for what it was worth!

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