Review by iAmTheTot

"Earth Won't Stand Alone"

They're here. Everything that has happened up to now has just been in preparation for this. All you have to do is look at the back of the case to know that in Bioware's newest title we find ourselves on the absolute precipice of all conflicts as the Reapers, a sentient race of synthetics, wage war on Earth and the rest of the galaxy in a mission that they've been waiting fifty thousand years to complete. Why are they doing this? How can we stop them? Only one thing seems clear: Earth can't stand alone against this monstrous enemy.

This review does not cover Kinect functionality, nor does it delve into the multiplayer aspect of the game. I have access to neither, and you'll have to read another review for that. This review will, however, try to cover all the bases for both returning players of the series and new gamers interested in the title. While I do not recommend playing Mass Effect 3 without having played the previous two, I will try my best to help you make an informed decision.

The review is broken up into segments with concise summaries immediately following each.

Graphics
At first glance, the graphics for this title are outstanding. At second glance, the graphics for this title are outstanding when you consider how massive the scope of this game is, and how many other elements also had to have incredible detail paid to them. They aren't much of an improvement from Mass Effect 2, but they still certainly get the job done. For a game as long as this, where a great deal of it is spent watching the plot unfold partly through extensive dialogue, it's important to have something pleasant to look at that isn't going to get to be too much. These graphics get that job done. That said, they're not perfect.

There were a few occasions – mind you, few and far between – where characters would not be on their mark during cut-scenes. On one occasion, the main character was conversing while another character while a third character was easily visible, but clearly not supposed to be in that particular part of the scene – the character was frozen solid in place, but when it became time for that character to talk, resumed normal animations. Another few occasions involved a character speaking while the camera pointed at nothing at all, indicative that the camera or character was either not where it was meant to be. Not a graphics issue per se, but I felt these issues had enough to do with the visual presentation of the game they they belonged in this section.

In a game with so much dialogue, the faces are vital. Luckily, the faces are mostly fantastic. The lip-syncing is more than sufficient, and whereas you may not be seeing LA Noire-level of accuracy, the detail put into the movement of their lips is still impressive and clearly goes to the words. Regarding the mouth, facial expressions aren't as great, particularly concerning the main character. They're just overall poor; whether it be a smile or frown, the expressions can almost be downright creepy. The best way I can describe it is that the characters can look like they're being comical.

Unfortunately a common problem with games, or even computer generated graphics in general, is “empty eyes.” A lot is communicated through a person's eyes, and this game doesn't do the best job at capturing the characters' emotions through the eyes. Body language is important too, and sometimes that's off as well. There are times when your character will simply pace when it really feels unnecessary. Luckily, however, characters' body language in terms of arm movement is usually pretty good.

Like I said, at first glance the graphics are above par. There are a few textures and models that really could have used more work though, honestly. Armour and weapons can appear blocky in some cut-scenes which place the camera very close to a character. The most upsetting of these, for me, was a recurring female model that appears in populated areas of the game and is wearing an outfit in which her upper half and lower half are connected by suspender-like straps, and the straps are just horrendous. From a mile away one can see that they are blocky and are colouring her tan skin black. In this day and age, seeing something like that on a game for the Xbox 360 seems unacceptable. Luckily, that is by far the worse example of the otherwise fantastic textures.

All of these things may seem trivial to point out, and please understand that even as I write I feel harsh for docking Bioware one point for these combined, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of players that will be looking at this game for a possible first-time purchase, and practically every returning player, are here for the story and the narrative. These issues, at their worst, can remind you that it's just a game, and with a narrative as strong as this, you don't want that. But they only lose one point.
Summary: 9/10
Pros:
-Par and above for the Xbox 360
-Lip syncing is good
-Eyes/body language sometimes spot on

Cons:
-Occasional blocky textures
-Occasional character/camera being off its mark
-Eyes/body language sometimes very bad, to the point it can seem “comical”

Sound
Honestly? I'm trying really hard to think about something to criticize.

The music is pretty close to perfect. It's loud, noticeable, and strong when it really should be. It's quiet and subdued when it isn't important. It never stands out as annoying, even during the game's sometimes tedious running around. The music choice for some of the game's biggest, most important moments is even deeply symbolic. The music is honestly always complimenting the mood and definitely is a driving force for the emotion that is being portrayed.

Sound effects are also pretty spot on. When firing a projectile-based gun, you could easily mistake it for a real gun. When firing an energy-based gun, you can find yourself thinking you're really in the science fiction. And the sound that the Reapers make? My goodness, it makes my hair stands on end – it's hard to describe how just a sound could possibly imbue a sense of unimaginable power, but it does.

The voice acting is really superb. I can't stress enough how important I feel it is for the same voices to be behind a character that has already been established, and Bioware managed to do this over the course of three games (with the exception of one character). I feel like that alone is part of a testament to their commitment to this title. Even if they are the same voice actors over the course of three games, they could be terrible. But they're not. A lot of the voice talent in this game are very prolific, from a majour voice to several minor ones, a great deal of the actors in this game have been involved in lots of voice work. The rest of the cast aren't regular voice actors, like Seth Green, Keith David, Martin Sheen, Carrie-Anne Moss, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Lance Henriksen. But don't think that they do any less of a fantastic job, their voice is the character, and they do a great job delivering.
Summary: 10/10
Pros:
-Honestly, can't think of a single thing to criticize.

Plot
Mass Effect 3 is the final game of the Mass Effect trilogy, and a direct sequel to Mass Effect 2. Without having played the first two, you may miss out on some of the plot value because the two previous titles consist of several choices made by the character that literally shapes portions of Mass Effect 3. While the core plot remains entirely unchanged, the player's choices in previous titles affect dialogue and subtly-to-substantially alters scenarios presented in this title. That being said, the core plot can be reviewed with the extensive database of game lore and past game events provided, some of which is narrated and some of which is not.

Mass Effect 3 picks up just a little while after the events of Mass Effect 2, and the war with the Reapers is still being neglected by most of the galaxy's races. They can't ignore it anymore, though, because in the opening events of the game we see that the Reapers are finally here, and no one is prepared. The main character, Shepard, must rally the galaxy together if anyone is going to survive this brutal war with such an insidious enemy. Along the way, however, Shepard must make some of the most difficult decisions of his/her life, all of which have only one thing in common: there is always a consequence.

Almost every decision you've made in past titles – if you've played them – are going to have an effect on your play of Mass Effect 3. Some of the choices only result in small changes, like a character returning for a cameo appearance, whereas some of the choices will have majour ramifications. Regardless, nearly every single one of them is taken into consideration.

For players that are not familiar with the series, I feel it's important, especially for players looking for an extensive plot, to point out that Bioware has not spared any effort in providing a fully unique science fiction setting. The games take place over one hundred fifty years from present day, and a lot has changed, but they explain in detail what happened in those one hundred fifty years and how. You can find extensive documentation about each race, faction, and piece of technology right in the game. While this is truly the final installment of a trilogy, the team at Bioware have created a fictional universe in which the possibilities are endless.
Summary: 10/10
Pros:
-Expansive, unique science fiction role playing experience
-Choices made over past two titles receiving closure
-In-game database makes it possible for first-timers to catch up on events

Gameplay
Herein lies the bulk of the review. Mass Effect 3 is a third-person tactical shooter, but has many options and settings to help the game appeal to the widest possible audience. New narrative options allow you to make this game anything from a shooter with role playing elements, to a role playing game with shooter elements, and anything in between. This includes the added options to remove any and all dialogue options, meaning all the dialogue is picked for you, so that you can focus more on the combat aspects of the game. Conversely, you can dial the difficulty all the way down to a new option that makes the combat as easy as pie, so that you can focus on the story and role playing elements.

Non-combat elements of the game involve you interacting with the crew of your ship, the Normandy SR-2, and various key characters from different locations around the galaxy. During conversations, you have the opportunity to choose your responses, typically in a positive or negative manner, or investigate to receive extra information like game lore. In previous titles you were also able to respond in a neutral manner, but this has largely been removed. Most replies will either be positive and encouraging, or negative and stern. These will usually influence your “Paragon” or “Renegade” rating, which is how you are perceived by other characters in the game. To remain neutral in this title, you must pick an equal mix of paragon and renegade responses.

A lot of Mass Effect 2's features remain in the game, mostly expanded into deeper features, but some have also been removed, such as hacking and bypassing which is entirely removed. In Mass Effect 2, when you mastered a skill it presented you with a final choice between two passive upgrades. This concept has been expanded in Mass Effect 3, as the last three levels of each skill allow you to do this.

Exploring the galaxy has always been an important part of the Mass Effect series, and continues to be in this title. Where players felt Mass Effect 1 didn't offer enough planet interaction, players of Mass Effect 2 felt like the planet interaction was too time consuming. Mass Effect 3 tries to strike a balance with the return of the planet scanning mechanic but to a far lesser extent. As you fly through star systems, you can freely scan the space surrounding you looking for anomalies. This results in much faster star system exploration, but still has an interactive feel to it.

In addition to several new weapons, a brand new weapon modding mechanic adds another level of customized feeling to each and every time you will play through this game. As mentioned, there are several new weapons in addition to some returning ones from Mass Effect 2. Each weapon has different characteristics and will appeal to different players, including some interesting new ones that are hybrids of two archetypes in one weapon. Each weapon can then be further modified by the player by upgrading them to raise the overall characteristics of that weapon, or by adding up to two modifications such as scopes or barrels that actually change the appearance of the gun, but also provide stat boosts. This was a welcome mechanic.

Some new enemy archetypes are featured in the game and, with the game at its hardest, can truly provide some satisfyingly difficult encounters. Another new feature incorporates shield and barrier generators into some but not all battlefields, and can be used by both the enemies and the player, sometimes facilitating the turn of the battle. When your squad mates go down in battle, you can now also manually revive them if you're close enough, or you can still rely on your Medi-gel via the skill wheel. The use of cover has been made ever-so-slightly easier, but it's a welcome change, as it is now more intuitive to go from cover to cover. Lastly, a new heavy melee can be performed (with a different animation depending on what class you are) to cause serious damage to unprotected enemies. This can be quite useful on lower difficulties, but I find it becomes mostly useless as the difficulty rises.

That said, the core combat of Mass Effect 3 remains unchanged: firefights relying heavily on cover interspersed with exploration, usually culminating in a mission's final showdown with some sort of specialized “heavy” enemy, or just a great deal of enemies. On lower difficulties the combat can be great training for the higher difficulties, at which tactics, skills, cover, and flanking become crucial to your survival.

Controls remain largely unchanged from Mass Effect 2, and are everything they need to be. Commands are quick and easy to issue with the skills wheel, which pauses time as you're looking at it. They're pretty typical controls for a shooter, and the opening sequence interactively teaches you everything you need to know.

I was also pleased that I ran into little to no glitches, and certainly none that were game-breaking, or hindered my progress. Returning players will be disappointed to know that if you've kept the same exact face from Mass Effect 1 and 2, a glitch does keep you from transferring it to Mass Effect 3. Players who made a new face in Mass Effect 2 will not experience this problem. Admittedly, this is a pretty big issue, and definitely wasn't something that should have been so easily overlooked by the Bioware developers. I was fairly enraged when all of my characters' faces failed to transfer into Mass Effect 3, and then searched the internet learning about this glitch. But after the initial hot-headed period, I cooled off and realized it wasn't terribly difficult to recreate my faces.

The only other glitch I can recall is that at times during my play through there were star systems that appeared to be open for exploration, but they were not named nor could I actually travel to them. I am hesitant to call this a glitch, as I think it may be placeholders for future down-loadable content. Regardless, they really shouldn't be showing up if I can't go to them. Though I felt these gameplay related glitches, which were the only I noticed at all, weren't enough to dock Bioware a point, as I felt the pros far outweighed these.
Summary: 10/10
Pros:
-New difficulty/narrative options make the game appeal to a wider audience
-Mini-games, like hacking/bypassing, wholly removed*
-Expanded skill trees
-Tries to strike a balance with planet scanning
-Several new weapons, in addition to weapon upgrades and weapon mods
-Combat remains mostly unchanged, with a few new features to keep it fresh
-Smooth and easy controls

Cons:
-Mini-games, like hacking/bypassing, wholly removed*
-ME1 players will be distraught to learn their faces will not transfer into ME3**

*Depending on if you enjoyed these or not.
**This may no longer be a con as you read this review, because when this review was posted Bioware had already announced they were working on a fix for this glitch. However, it certainly remains a con for anyone playing the game right out of the box with no updates.

Length/Replay Value
One of the core mechanics of the Mass Effect series is that you can choose to play as a “Paragon” or “Renegade,” depending on your actions and dialogue choices. With this in mind, to experience everything that the game truly has to offer you, you're looking at at least two plays, each ranging from twenty to thirty hours in length.

Apart from this game's choices, though, you also have all of the choices made from previous titles that also influence the events of this game. Overall, you're looking at quite a few different plays to experience all the subtle cameos, dialogue changes, and scenarios changes. I was even tempted to replay the game just on the fact that squad members interact with each other depending on who you decided to take on which missions. I'd say the replay value is very high, especially if you're looking for the full experience.
Summary: 10/10
Pros:
-Twenty to thirty hours of gameplay per play
-Several reasons to play through more than once

Cons:
-If you're not looking to put in several hours of play, this isn't the game for you

In conclusion, Mass Effect 3 is a solid game that really tries to cater to the styles of more than just one demographic. There are a lot of different ways to play the game, and different players can definitely enjoy it in their own way with an array of options made to make your gaming experience as comfortable as possible. It delivers mostly solid visuals with a fantastic score, topped off with brilliant voice acting from prolific and big name actors. Whether you're looking for the end of this epic science fiction trilogy, or you're new to the genre and want to try out the series, Mass Effect 3 delivers across the board.
Total Score: 9.8/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/13/12

Game Release: Mass Effect 3 (US, 03/06/12)


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