Review by JMR1904
"The Mass Effect Wonder Slightly Marred But Mostly Intact"
In this generation the Mass Effect games have been in many ways the gold standard of what it is possible to achieve on the 360 in terms of a proper fusion of game-play and story telling. In the first iteration the story telling was perhaps somewhat stronger than actual mechanics of the game itself nevertheless Mass Effect introduced us to a compelling world and cast of characters and told a truly memorable story. These positives more than made up for the awkward fighting, irritating Mako and cumbersome inventory. The second rendition was in almost every way an improvement on the first. Great new characters, vastly improve game-play and the Mass Effect universe remained as compelling and absorbing as before. The only real complaints one could make about Mass Effect 2 were that it stripped some of the RPG aspects down to the bare bones and that it's plot was a trifle episodic, being based more around the needs of the team which you were assembling rather than on the over arching plot. Still it was a magnificent game, one which could be played and replayed at great length.
Which brings us to Mass Effect 3 and the end of the current series. In a way it's a trifle difficult to know what to say about this iteration of the franchise. Is it Mass Effect? Absolutely, without a doubt. Is it big and memorable, filled with terrific characters, wonderful set pieces, great battles, love, betrayal, honour and death? Oh yes. Does it bring back some of the missing RPG aspects? Somewhat. Does it bring the story of the Reaper invasion to a satisfying conclusion? Well this is where your mileage may vary. There are two story telling problems that the game encounters through out the final arc. The first is the problem of Cerberus and the other is the desire by the writers to be clever. But we'll tackle those issues a little further down.
Technically Mass Effect 3 is mostly good, but it isn't perfect. There were several instances where it seemed to have been insufficiently play tested. There were conversation animations where Shepard seems to be staring at a blank wall and others where characters are caught in some odd behaviour loop. (I had one of Doctor Chakwas facing the wall and turning her head from side to side which looked three part awkward and one part hilarious). That said for the most part the game looks clean and bright, and wonderfully atmospheric. The characters, the settings, the ships and guns, explosions and use of biotic powers are all really well done. The audio is equally good, the brilliant music which is always apposite to the ongoing situation. The game play itself is almost indistinguishable from that of Mass Effect 2, the only noticeable difference being Shepard's greater mobility and a greater emphasis on clever level design. Otherwise the shooting biotic and tech powers feel pretty much the same as to where they were last time out. For me that's much more of a good than a bad thing, as I really enjoyed the way you were able to combine various skills for slick options come killing time. (who doesn't enjoy the old singularity warp, one two punch?) The dialogue and the acting is almost uniformly superb. The returnees fulfilling their roles expertly. My only real complaint about the new characters was a certain Latino who was so stock as to be painful and not written up to Bioware's normal subtlety. Which brings us back to the overall writing problems and Cerberus.
The Cerberus problem is simple enough, Martin Sheen was so good as the Illusive Man in the second game that at times in the third it feels that he and not the Reapers is the central antagonist. Its a pity because the grandeur of the Reaper invasion, the threat of the extinction of all sapient life and the desperate struggle to prepare the galaxy to fight back against this threat was more than big enough and interesting enough to hold centre stage alone. When Shepard is off feverishly trying to broker peace between the warring factions of the Mass Effect continuum in order to build a fighting force of sufficient strength, against a backdrop of smashed worlds, ruined lives and terrifying desperation, the game is at its very strongest. But then we're shoehorned back into the whole Cerberus mess and you feel that it was all shoved in there because the writers were in awe of the brilliance of Sheen's performance. It distorts the shape of the entire game and for this reviewer deeply damages the ending.
This is where we come to the the second of the narrative problems: the writer's desire to be clever. It's not uncommon in big science fiction epics, after all with a galaxy at war, how do you make the actions of one individual mean enough to centre the entire conflict on their efforts? Well, as any historian can tell you, mostly you cant. However in fiction it is possible and there several ways to do it. For a lot of Mass Effect 3 the writers choose one of the better ways. They make Shepard the one individual whom all parties can trust and under whose leadership they're prepared to follow into impossible odds. That's great, fantastic. It's emotive, filled with drama and gives the player that wonderful feeling of being at the centre of and crucial to great events. And then... and then they just have to go and pull an enormous Deus Ex Machina on the story. And I do mean that in both the sense of the original expression from classical theatre as well as a reference to the excellent RPG of the same name. It quite spoils the ending by forcing on the player choices which are so constrained (this one moral, that one immoral and so on) that you feel a bit cheated. It didn't need this sort of ending, not at all. What was already happening was more than epic enough for them not to have done this. It's sad as it's happened in a quite a few games in recent years, many of which have been otherwise nearly as good as Mass Effect 3.
For all this complaining Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic game one which deserves to played and remembered by gamers now and for years to come. It caps off what has been the most memorable and interesting new gaming ip in recent times and will probably spawn any number of successors. Highly recommended.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 03/13/12
Game Release: Mass Effect 3 (EU, 03/09/12)
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