An Interstellar ‘Effect’

Courtesy of Electronic Arts

You know that feeling when you walked out of the theater after watching “The Return of the King” and you’re not sure if you’re sad, happy or both? That’s a bit how a fan of the “Mass Effect” series would generally feel after playing through this game. The culmination of Bioware’s highly-acclaimed “Mass Effect” series, “Mass Effect 3” brings to a conclusion an epic interstellar adventure that has undoubtedly gripped the hearts and minds of countless fans.

The premise for the story continues as you take the role of Commander Shepard, the protagonist of the last two games. Having spent the days between the last game and this sequel on Earth suspended from your military duties after your actions in the second game, you find yourself suddenly thrown into the crucible of war on a galactic scale.

The game opens with an invasion of Earth and the entire galaxy by the Reapers, a god-like race of sentient machines bent on harvesting and exterminating all sentient life in the galaxy. With as much force as is expected of a “Mass Effect” game, the story plunges you into an immediate and overwhelming doomsday race, taking you through an at-times glorious, at-times heartbreaking journey to unite the galactic races in a last stand against the Reapers.

Even as the conclusion of the series, “Mass Effect 3” puts the ball in the player’s court, as they are presented with countless moral options. Not only is the game designed to continue based off of your imported save files, thus continuing a unique story arc exclusive only to your specific playthrough of the two preceding games, it also presents even more decisions, each one more morally ambiguous than the last. Couple this with the notion that the fate of characters that have been with you since the first game hang in the balance with almost every choice, and you have players staring at the screen in a complete moral dilemma, not knowing which decision is truly the right one.

“Mass Effect 3” boasts some of the most impressive characters and voice acting that one could expect in a Bioware game. Almost the entire cast of surviving characters from previous games return in some form at some point in time during the playthrough, given, of course, that your decisions in those past games kept them alive. Among the voice acting cast, Hollywood big names return, with Martin Sheen reprising his role as the enigmatic Illusive Man, who leads the human terrorist organization Cerberus and Seth Green delivering one-liners as the wise-cracking handicapped Alliance pilot Joker, along with Keith David and several others.

When it comes to gameplay and graphics, “Mass Effect 3” is a significant improvement over the already beautiful presentation of the last two games. The entire engine is smoother and crisper, the scenes more dense and realistic. From something as small as walking along the Citadel space station and seeing rows and rows of refugees lining the docking bay or walking through a hospital cluttered with the dying, the dead and the sick, to staring at a huge Martian sandstorm surging towards you or watching with horrified awe as Reapers crash land into an Earth city and smash aside skyscrapers like Lego blocks, it makes you wonder if you’re not watching an amazingly high-budget sci-fi movie rather than playing a game.

Nevertheless, some glitches occur here and there, with some occasions of being stuck in the scenery. One other bug resets a player’s level back to one, necessiating players to save often in separate files. Also, some players who, as I would recommend, import their version of Shepard from past games might suddenly find some coding error, thus requiring them to rebuild their character’s facial configuration, a minor but slightly annoying process that can be easily forgiven. Enemy AI is decent, not amazingly smart nor amazingly stupid, but nevertheless offer a good and exciting challenge.

The newest addition to the series, multiplayer remains an interesting if somewhat sideshow addition to the entire experience as a whole. Although it was never intended to be the selling point of the series, the developers nevertheless present what could be considered a multiplayer mini-game experience to be enjoyed at the player’s discretion.

The mode itself takes the form of a zombie survival game, pitting four players against waves of enemies from either the Reaper Husks, Cereberus strike teams or Geth warriors. Each player takes the role of an unnamed Krogan, Turian or Human Alliance soldier or one of the countless ones fighting in the background across the galaxy as Shepard struggles to save the world. For each individual player, the time they spend playing on multiplayer will increase their sector-readiness score. In essence, how often you succeed in multiplayer will reflect how successful the galactic sectors are doing against the Reapers in the progression of your single-player story arc.

All in all, “Mass Effect 3” earns its place in the series and is a fitting conclusion to an epic saga that has undoubtedly touched a great portion of anyone who has enjoyed the series.

Rating: 5 out of 5