: Reviews : Dan M. :
The Mass Effect series has a special place in modern gamers' hearts. It's expertly written saga spanning story, tight combat mechanics and stellar presentation across it's first two entries have garnered massive praise and numerous industry awards. Despite this pristine reputation, my relationship with the serious has been been quite tumultuous over the past four years. When the first entry hit store shelves in the fall of 2007 I was on an extremely tight budget and was already tapped out having just purchased my XBOX 360. Halo 3's siren call was enough to lure me away from me grabbing a limited edition copy of Mass Effect at launch(which I'm still kicking myself over it's current ridiculous high price tag)and wait for the inevitable price drops in the off-season. When I finally did make the plunge in the spring of 2008, I was hooked.
Bioware had finally made a true science fiction game in every aspect, creating a lore-rich alien world while still retaining the precision pacing of an action game. Only a moon rock's throw from the end, I was forcibly ejected back into reality with the birth of my first daughter and a last minute apartment switch-over. The following years left little time between dirty diapers and a full-time job to invest in a 50 hour galaxy saving adventure; the magic was gone. Numerous false restarts did little to bring it back and I again dropped the ball with Mass Effect 2, figuring that the time would come eventually. With the impending March 6th release of the third entry in the series, I finally decided that time has come. I made my Shepard, blasted off to Eden Prime and grit my teeth: IT'S GO TIME BABY!!! This long, strange journey has led me to the Mass Effect 3 Demo, available for download now on the XBOX 360, PS3 and PC. The demo is split into two parts, single player and multiplayer, which I'll dive into now.
The single player demo is made up of two different missions. The first mission picks up right after Mass Effect 2's Arrival DLC mission. Without giving too much away, basically Shepard(your character)has been kicked out of the military and is slumming around on Earth when the Reapers, big bad aliens hellbent on destroying the universe, start to attack across the galaxy. A few dozen explosions later, Shepard is back on his ship, the Normandy, and is blasting off to save the galaxy again. It gives a nice slice of the game's premise without spoiling anything, but this aversion to spoilers mucks up the diversity of dialog choices you are given to choose. The few options you are given just boil down to YEAH BRO or TOTAL DICK with no investigative options whatsoever. The movement/battle sections of this mission serve as a tutorial for the control scheme, which is largely unchanged from ME2 and continues the Gears of Space-ification of the series since the first installment. My only major gripe with the mission is the ending cinematic, where*SPOILERS*Shepard observes a small child boarding a spacecraft; this ship is immediately shot down by the Reapers to the obligatory soft piano music, gritted teeth and tears that this plot device demands. While I understand Bioware's reasoning for including the scene, it just ends up feeling unnecessary, pandering and derivative to have any impact.*END SPOILERS* The mission gives a good taste of what ME3's campaign will contain, but it does make me wonder if the more action-oriented take on the series is a result of the new multiplayer offering... hopefully it will retain all of the exploration and lore that made the first two games so extraordinary.
The second mission picks up later in the game on a side quest that is pure action from start to finish. It mainly serves to teach you how to control Shepard's two squad mates and little else. Since the opening mission has plenty of action, this level just fells like a waste, especially since the multiplayer mode is essentially the same thing.
ME3's multiplayer mode is brand new to the series and just like the control scheme it shamelessly apes Gears of War, specifically GoW's popular Horde Mode. Luckily Bioware has included enough exclusive bells and whistles to make this mode stand out in a sea of me-too enemy wave simulators. Before you jump into battle you must create a "character", which is Bioware's fancy-shmancy RPG way of saying "loadout". You must select a race(only Human is available initially), two main weapons and a class, which determines which battle powers and upgrade tree you can use. Cosmetic options are limited to armor coloring; hopefully the main game will spice it up with emblems or something. You can then either jump in to a random match or pick a match via specific criteria. Beware of jumping into Quick Matches though... the difficulty slider resets to Random, which could pit your Level 1 Soldier against a sea of cybernetic terror meant for a more experienced player. I got burned on this many times before I turned the challenge down to Bronze. Once you're in a match the basic premise plays almost exactly like Gears of War Horde Mode: dispatching waves of enemies whilst trying to keep your three teammates alive and safe. ME3 spices the action up with unique wave objectives, ranging from dispatching certain targets to disarming bombs to protecting a certain area for extraction. These modes are common in other multiplayer game types but are brand new to Horde-based games, giving ME3 a unique and enjoyable edge. In the demo you play through 11 waves, with the 11th wave being a "boss wave" before your characters are evacuated and you are booted to the main menu. Each objective or match you complete earns you credits, which can be used to purchased new customization options for your character. In another unique addition to the genre, you can also spend credits on one-time use items that carry across matches; items like health packs and instant ammo refills are mighty helpful on the later waves and can turn a losing match around very quickly. There's not much more content available in the demo, but it paints a rosy picture of what the main game's multiplayer slaying will provide. Be sure to get your licks in by March 5th; that's when the multiplayer portion of the demo willl go dark for the release of the full game.
There are a few ways to unlock bonus content for the main retail release; completing teh Kingdoms of Amular Reckoning demo will net you a set of armor and two weapons. There are several planned DLC tie-ins for Mass Effect merchandise, including action figures and the official art book. Finally, Bioware has teased bonus DLC for people sinking time into the demo but haven't specified what these possible rewards are as of this writing.
All in all, I'm excited about finally finishing Commander Shepard's story. The single player campaign is as dazzling as it ever was and the new multiplayer mode holds it's own in the glut of modern online gaming. Hopefully March 6th will finally put me back on track I laid four years ago.
What do you think? Are you at the edge of your seat for Shepard's final go-round, or will you be saving other galaxies come March 6th? Let us know below!