Review by horror_spooky

Reviewed: 03/13/12

Return of the Spectres

Mass Effect 3 reminds me of the professional wrestling promotion Ring of Honor. In Ring of Honor, even matches of virtually no importance are often packed with breathtaking, death-defying moments that convey this epic feel. Similarly, virtually everything in Mass Effect 3 feels absolutely epic in scale. Even the side missions, which held little meaning in previous games, are climatic and insane, with conclusions that would be acceptable as the ending for other games. However, in Ring of Honor's case, all this epic madness can be overkill, ruining the other potentially awesome matches to come. So, is there such a thing as being too epic, and does Mass Effect 3 cross that line?

Almost certainly. I felt almost tired by the time the plot reached its conclusion. There's just so much to absorb and in any other medium other than video games, Mass Effect 3 would be impossible. At least, it would be impossible to recreate all the personal relationships developed with all the characters, to teach the audience all lore about the Mass Effect universe, and to replicate the sense of choice, the cause and effect power that is at the heart of Mass Effect 3. This is a testament to the unique experiences that can only be found in our industry, and Mass Effect 3 does need to be experienced, but just expect to be fatigued by the time the credits roll around.

Mass Effect 3 begins on Earth as the Reapers launch their galaxy-wide assault on organic life as predicted and preached by Commander Shepard in previous games. To combat the Reapers, Shepard realizes that he must unite all the species in the galaxy together to stand against the impending threat of the machines. As Commander Shepard, players will embark on missions in order to accomplish just that, witness the fates of beloved series characters, and make decisions that will have an adverse effect on the universe at large. Choices that were made clear back in 2007 when the first game launched are factored into the story, making Mass Effect 3's plot, and the characters that inhabit that plot, unique to everyone that plays. Mass Effect 3 will feel like it's your own, personal adventure. Science dictates that no two snow flakes are alike. I argue that no two Mass Effect 3 playthroughs are alike. In that sense, Mass Effect 3 is the game you make it out to be.

In order to stand a shot against the Reapers, not only must Commander Shepard win the allegiance of all the other organic life in the galaxy (from the Turians to the Krogan to the Asaris to countless others), but war assets must be required. The bulk of Mass Effect 3's main missions and side missions are spent either acquiring war assets. Whether that's winning over more support for a particular species by helping them out in a secret mission or discovering a weapon supplies at a Cerberus base, the amount of war assets players require factor directly into the success rate of their mission, and the ending of the game. Just like in Mass Effect 2, where the readiness of your squad and the durability of the Normandy played a major role in determining the outcome of that game, the war assets and the readiness of all the civilizations in the universe plays a role in what ending of Mass Effect 3 you'll witness. Yet another example of how Mass Effect 3 is uniquely the experience of the person that is playing it.

All these missions can become quite chaotic to manage, unfortunately. The list of missions that is accessed through the pause menu is often a cluttered mess, with the mission descriptions sometimes not even detailing where that particular mission is located, expecting the player to randomly travel to each galaxy until they happen upon the correct system. The order of the missions constantly changes from being in alphabetical order, reverse alphabetical order, or from newest to oldest and vice versa. This isn't a big deal, especially since a simple tap of the Y button will allow you to customize the mission list as seen fit, but it's still a bit disorienting and annoying when the way the missions are organized is switched up for absolutely no reason.

After playing a game like Skyrim, in which quests were carefully organized to yield the greatest user-friendly results, the cluttered menus of Mass Effect 3 are disappointing. What's not disappointing about Mass Effect 3 is the rest of the game. At first, the new pulled-in camera angle and higher aiming sensitivity will feel off, but after a few missions, Mass Effect 3 controls wonderfully. In fact, the controls feel so fluid and the movement of Shepard is so free, that I can't even imagine going back and trying to play the older games now. The combat is always intense and challenging, and it's still engrossing as all hell to just walk around the Citadel, take in the sights, and learn more about all the characters through well-written conversations.

Voice acting in the game is superb, which is expected. The regular voice cast returns to great effect, plus there's star power in the form of Freddie Prinze Jr. lending his voice to the role of newcomer James Vega. The soundtrack is amazing, which is also to be expected, featuring tracks as epic as the game itself, which challenges players to feel sad, mad, and happy as they play. BioWare has taken sound design to the next level with Mass Effect 3.

A lot of the graphics are comparable to the previous games, which I guess means that the visuals haven't received quite as big of an upgrade as the audio. However, the game is still gorgeous, and easily one of the best looking games ever made to date. The level of detail in the characters is astonishing, but what really stands out as impressive is the larger environments. Seeing a gigantic Reaper moving towards you, with waves of Reaper minions swarming the streets, and with a distant moon or planet looming in the background, burned from the fires of war is one of the greatest visual experiences in video game history. There are countless moments like these in Mass Effect 3, where the game looks so incredibly good that it's hard to keep your jaw from dropping. Mass Effect 3 may not be a huge step up under the hood graphics-wise for the most part, but it has more visually impressive spectacles, and the cut-scenes are better animated and wind up being the most impressive cut-scenes I've seen in any video game to date.

Unfortunately, "under the hood", Mass Effect 3 falters in other areas. Yes, the graphics are astounding, and the sense of scale in the game is outright phenomenal, but technical issues hold Mass Effect 3 back from reaching its full potential. On the Xbox 360 version, Mass Effect 3 is separated into two discs, often requiring players to switch back and forth between the discs on multiple occasions since certain side missions are on one disc, while story missions are split up amongst the two. I switched discs back-and-forth four times during my session. This tells me that the Xbox 360 is becoming outdated hardware, and the sooner that next-gen gets here, the better. Meanwhile, Mass Effect 3 also suffers from issues that plagued the older games, such as the tendency to crash and game-breaking bugs. Due to how large Mass Effect 3 is, it's understandable that these issues would occur, but they still hamper the overall experience. ME3 tries to alleviate that pain a bit by turning the "back" button on the 360 controller into a quick-save button, which is a feature a lot of games should use, to be perfectly honest.

Obviously I played the 360 version of Mass Effect 3, and as you may know, the 360 version of ME3 has unique features. Mainly, the integration of Kinect voice-controls. The Kinect controls can be used to speak lines of dialogue, to tell Shepard to complete simple tasks such as opening doors, issuing orders to the squad, or switching weapons. While it's a neat novelty to speak the dialogue or tell Shepard to open doors, it's a lot faster just to make these selections with the controller. The voice controls are incredibly handy when it comes to squad commands, though, as they allow players to keep the action intense, fast, and hard-hitting without having to pause the game to deal with the weapon and power wheels. The Kinect understands orders perfectly a lot of the time, but there are still issues that needed ironed out. At any rate, Mass Effect 3 provides a more than passable Kinect experience, and it offers the most compelling argument to purchase the peripheral since it launched over a year ago.

Mass Effect 3 marks the first time in the history of the series that there is multiplayer in Mass Effect. Instead of succumbing to the masses and just making a typical deathmatch-style multiplayer affair, BioWare opted to create a horde mode-like co-op, in which players can create their own characters, choose their class, and level up in a manner similar to how leveling works in the main game. Objectives are tossed in the mix as well, and there's plenty of unlockable features stashed away in the Mass Effect 3 co-op component. However, the enjoyment of this mode is based entirely on the people that you play with, since playing by yourself is a nearly impossible task. The lobby system for matchmaking is weak, and the lack of split-screen is a glaring oversight on the part of EA and BioWare. Despite these issues, Mass Effect 3's co-op mode is better than most, and can be quite entertaining at times.

Fans of the series will love Mass Effect 3, but newcomers should seriously consider playing the other games before jumping into this science-fiction epic. While it is by no means perfect, Mass Effect 3 is a great example of video games as an art form. It manages to entertain through a grand story, provide an amazing soundtrack, features top of the line graphics, and it accomplishes all this without sacrificing engaging gameplay. Is there such a thing as too epic? Yes. But Mass Effect 3, kind of like Ring of Honor, is so great in so many other ways besides the epic-scale of the storytelling that it won't matter. Mass Effect 3 is an early contender for Game of the Year 2012, for sure.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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