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PlayStation 3 Review: Mass Effect 3

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It has been said that we should all take a cue from the seasons, winds, sun, and rain — and not fear the Reaper. Well, that may be true when it comes to a single Reaper, but when you’re dealing with an entire species of Reapers (plural), and said race is hell-bent on destroying all organic life in the universe via a variety of ugly-ass creatures that can kill you in the blink of an eye, then I think a little trepidation is more than justifiable. And that’s just what happens in Mass Effect 3, the latest, eagerly-awaited installment of the popular video game franchise which follows in the footsteps of the game’s previous entries.

For eons, the Reapers, an über-advanced species of machines, have periodically emerged from what Sid Paul might refer to as the “vast vastness of vast space” in order to wage a relentless, unforgiving war on certain organic life-forms for reasons unknown — and the outcome has always been in their favor. In the past, the Mass Effect universe’s main protagonist, Commander Shepard, has attempted to alert the various leaders of the galaxy that the Reaper threat is imminent. Naturally, nobody listened until it was too late — and the game kicks off with the invasion of the Earth.

From there, Shepard has the unenviable task of trying to amass a galactic army to combat the unyielding invading menace, as well as trying to collect all the pieces needed to construct what becomes known as “The Crucible” — a massive weapon that the long-extinct Prothean race had constructed in their own battle with the Reapers, but which they were ultimately unable to finish before the end drew nigh. And so, Shepard and crew travel from one solar system to another in the hopes of finding the resources needed to save the galaxy.

As you would expect, he runs into one obstacle after another: some leaders will only volunteer a favor in exchange for another (or more). Worse still, the mysterious Illusive Man is always lurking in the background, ready to steal Shepard’s achievements and use them for his own demented purposes.

Longtime fans of the series will no doubt be aware of the places, characters and past events of the game. For newbies, however, Mass Effect 3 can come across as a pretentious science fiction spectacle; one that unabashedly “borrows” many elements from dozens of popular culture sci-fi franchises. From video games to movies, novels to TV shows, too, there are many facets woven in here that seem utterly familiar. At first, they might seem a bit off-putting (especially when first-timers well-read in X-Files lore are introduced to the Illusive Man — a feller who is obviously patterned after William B. Smith’s iconic Cigarette Smoking Man character.

Over time, however, one gets used to what Mass Effect 3 is dishing out (the occasionally ridiculous bit of dialogue and all — which I just assumed were references to the Star Wars prequels!) and the addiction starts. Designed for multiple gaming sessions, the title carries on the trait of previous Mass Effect entries, and allows gamers to play Shepard as a man or a woman — whose appearance you can customize to your liking (the reversible cover art depicts male Shepard on one side and female Shepard on the other).

More player-specific tailoring is available with gameplay itself. If you’re a fan of the traditional RPG-style of gaming found in previous Mass Effect titles, you can play through the game that way. Should you be the more shoot-em-up enthusiast, you may opt to play Mass Effect 3 as a straightforward action game. A third option — “Story Mode” — enables players with less-than-stellar hand-eye coordination to experience and control the interactive story without a lot of difficult combat situations. Fortunately, one can change those setting mid-game via the Options menu should they so desire.

Like all good RPG games, you get to make the call on many plays. Should you prefer to just jump in the waters of war and embark on a mission as soon as it pops up, you can. If you’d rather jaunt about the stars and scan planets for goodies, you’re more than welcomed to. It’s your game, after all, isn’t it? While said RPG moments might not be as “customary” to the Japanese-created games many of us grew up with (such as The Legend of Zelda and/or Final Fantasy), it nevertheless suffices admirably. The action elements, on the other hand, are momentous — and can cause you to break a sweat even on the default middle setting.

Oh, and did I mention that you can choose who Shepard will sleep with in the game?  Man or woman — whether you’re playing as a man or a woman?  Nice to see the future is open-minded to one’s sexuality like that.  Always a plus in my book.

Those of you with saved games from Mass Effect 2 on your system will be delighted to know that this game can import your files over to this one — which are said to give you over a thousand variables on the final mission. If you don’t have any saved files (or have never played any Mass Effect title before), it’s no biggie: you can shape your own surroundings by choosing Shepard’s background and military status (i.e. an orphan who became a hard-nosed commander, an army brat with a soft spot, etc.) and dialogue choices/decisions reflecting your choices will appear during the game’s 82-minutes of cut scenes (don’t let that number dissuade you: it’s worth it).

Of course, it’s not without its faults. Silly dialogue and story bits aside, the game’s “the ‘X’ key does just about everything” programming can find you ducking directly in front of an enemy when you’re only trying to flee. I realize that there are only a certain amount of buttons on the PlayStation 3 controller, but they surely could have done something a little different there. My only real qualm with the game, however, is that it locked up completely on me twice in two days. Another unpleasant moment occurred when I backed down too far during one of the final combat missions and was unable to get back into the action again (to wit I had to restart the level): Shepard just wouldn’t jump back up there, the knob!

Minor issues aside, however, Mass Effect 3 is easily one of the better games I have played recently. It’s exciting and fun enough to warrant a second go from those of us who usually just play a game once. The game also boasts an impressive soundtrack (which ranges from trance to something sounding like it was culled from an ‘80s synth score), as well as a slew of professional voice actors, including Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale as Shepard, Tricia Helfer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Seth Green, Martin Sheen, Lance Henriksen, Keith David, Ali Hillis, and Brandon Keener. They even got Buzz Aldrin to lend his voice to a character.

In short: Mass Effect 3 is one of those games that is destined for greatness. It’s one of those rare titles that sucks you right in and compels you to dive in deeper and deeper. Not only that, but it also has that exceptional distinction of drawing the player in emotionally — something few video games can do, in my opinion. The only real drawback here is that the game is so much fun, you won’t want to eat, sleep, or focus on any of your day-to-day routines. I put in about 36 hours the first time through, and I’m oh-so-tempted to start ‘er all over and see what I can do differently next time (as well as dive into the online and multi-player features!). I like that in a game — and you should, too.

Highly recommended.

Mass Effect 3 is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence. This game can also be found on: PC and Xbox 360.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.