Mass Effect 3 review for Xbox 360, PS3

Platform: Xbox 360
Also On: PS3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Bioware
Medium: DVD-Rom
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes

It?s been 5 years in the making, but we?re sadly at the end of what we?ve come to know as Shepard?s Space Opera, the massive franchise called Mass Effect.  Along the way Bioware has found a way to perfect the formula of this saga, after the first one was a little too unsure of what it wanted to be, whereas part 2 was a little too streamlined, which brings us to the perfect mixture of RPG and Action found in part 3. I feel like it?s finally done enough to appease the masses (no pun intended) and put a nice punctuation at the end of a journey that has been thrilling, awe inspiring, and epic.  What?s more, the fans have been able to choose the direction of the finale over the past 3 titles by the choices they made, the friendships they endured, and the enemies they?ve made, which ultimately results in where your character lies in the midst of an enormous galactic battle.

Thanks to the option to carry over the choices you?ve made from the first to the second, and then the second to the third, it makes the individual experience not only enriching, but unique to the point of creating an office ?water cooler? effect for video games, with everyone discussing not only what choices were made, but what consequences or positive outcomes came from those decisions.  Of course the painfully thought-out pathways, forks, and alternate solutions could easily get lost in continuity in the hands of a lesser developer, but it?s obvious that Bioware not only wanted to ensure the experience was a rewarding one for fans, but loved the product they were making and would not have its final product become an epic failure by any means.

What fans will at long last receive is a complete journey with most of the key decisions being made for better or for worse by the player, with an experience that is second only to other sci-fi and fantasy staples like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. To some extent it actually exceeds both, since you, the player, get to write the pathways and history for this story line allowing Mass Effect to be known as one of the most enriching and satisfying trilogies not only in video game history, but quite possibly in all media.

I?ll keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, so those of you that haven?t had the chance to experience the game can remain clean going in.  But, I do need to set the stage a bit. Mass Effect 3 takes place with Earth under the attack of the Reapers, who are hell bent on destroying not only the human race, but all life in the galaxy.  Under threat of galactic extinction, you?ll once again take control of Commander Shephard, as he assembles another crew to take on the Reapers, and attempt to gain the support of the various species you?ve dealt with in previous entries.

Where the decision making becomes complex is finding out not only who you can trust to help you in this crusade, but in making the necessary sacrifices to choose the strongest in the fight. Your choices might be limited; sometimes requiring you to choose between two races that may be at war with each other to the point you can?t make use of both. It?s up to  you to convince one party to join in your fight, while finding ways to unfortunately eliminate others who just can?t put their differences aside to work together to stand with you.  While the new characters you encounter might not be as interesting or even mirror some you?ve encountered before, you have to remember that your choices are now limited and the best of the best most likely have already met their demise .  Your pickings may be slim or great depending on who you chose to befriend over the last two games, so you may be in an uphill battle from day one, or you could have strong allies to help you from the get go.  All these decisions will ultimately result in a conclusion that gamers may love or hate, but you?ll definitely get some closure.

The visuals are the best the series has seen so far with more textures, polygons, animations, immersive backdrops, and unique environments for each planet.  Each area you visit is alive with detail, and you will come across more than one jaw dropping moment. The game?s cut scenes are astounding and combining them all together could make for a memorable stand-alone experience.  The attention to detail and continuity are amazing, and it?s very cool to revisit a planet or area from one of first games to see how this war has changed them. Even throughout the events of Mass Effect 3 you’ll see that an area you may have visited earlier in the game has radically gone through changes since you last visited.

Mass Effect 3?s audio is as excellent as ever, not only providing wonderful voice acting by all cast members, but also the score provides the perfect amount of emotion. Those emotional swells that punctuate the action, along with the quieter dramatic moments, really help to make the game all that more memorable.

The game play feels familiar, but draws strength from the base of the story line.  In the first Mass Effect you were building a history for Shepard, so the RPG elements were huge, while the second game blended the two but simplified aspects so the character could focus more on creating a storyline than leveling up and worrying about gear. In this final conclusion the heart of the game is very action heavy, which is obvious since you are the leader in a massive battle, so you?ll see Shepard take on more maneuvers and rely on strategy rather than the run and gun approach.  The slight chink in the armor comes from how cover reliant Shepard is, which will result in one or more frustrating deaths due to some cover controls.

You once again have your Cryo, you weapon assortment, and your squad leading elements to juggle, none of which is too cumbersome and helps make combat more engaging.  The enemy A.I. is vastly improved over part two as enemies will flank you when you take cover, call for reinforcements, and do all but become standing target for you.  Your squad members do a good job of taking on the orders you assign them, but like most computer controlled characters they don?t always react well to the events around them. They?re pretty stationary outside of combat, which doesn?t impact much but does look odd at times.

Mass Effect 3 features online co-op to aid in your battle against the Reapers, which has some impact on your preparation level for the single player campaign.  This co-op is limited to very specific missions and not featured in the actual campaign, but that would in turn be trite as the campaign is all about Shepard and his/her decisions made as a leader.  The co-op is pretty standard for third person shooters, featuring something similar to the Horde mode found in Gears of War, with you facing off waves of incoming enemies spread across a number of maps. There is a currency and experience system in place, along with unlocks earned by purchasing packs, which randomize the gear and other items you?ll get.

While these missions do make for more significance in the outcome of the single player side, it was nice that Bioware had the foresight to allow gamers to try these missions solo as well not force a multiplayer mode to ensure a better conclusion.  I?m not sure how much lasting appeal there is to the online mode, but with DLC it could certainly have some legs.

Of course, with Mass Effect 3 being the ?it? game for the series, there?s a lot at stake here, but it thankfully pays off.  The most impressive idea comes from your side quests, which are no longer just taking over stations like Mass Effect 2, but now you?re learning about life forms, their history, making alliances or betraying them, making each little story uncovered one worth living through rather than just pushing for progress.  Also, unlike ME 2, it isn?t just the Priority missions that give you a fulfilling story. Little things, like rescuing a crew member, are not only told well, but have a greater significance in the outcome than if you never participated in the quest.  It?s these little missions that tie into the overall story and make Mass Effect 3 as involving as it is, so much so that you never want it to end.

When the smoke eventually clears only one bad thing can come from this experience, that being that this is it for this franchise, and knowing how hard it will be for anyone to match not only an experience that took nearly 5 years to complete, but one that rewards you with the same sense of fulfillment.  The storytelling was enriching, the game play was immersive and deep enough to never feel dull, the worlds you visited were imaginative, detailed, and awe-inspiring, the relationships you made and the enemies you betrayed are unforgettable, and let us never forget the music that was riveting and as moving as any other score in gaming or film could hope to accomplish.  The Mass Effect trilogy will undoubtedly go down as not only some of the greatest games ever made, but may go down  as one of the best trilogies ever to exist in any form of media, and for that Bioware, we thank you.

Grade: A+