Publisher:Electronic Arts Platform:Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3 Release Date: March 6, 2012
After the tour de force that was Mass Effect 2, hopes have risen high that Bioware can deliver a similarly brilliant adventure with the final chapter in the series. After all, everything we've seen so far in the Mass Effect series has been working towards a single zenith which is soon to be realised - a galactic-scale battle between the intelligent organisms of the universe and the deadly Reapers.
You'll find yourself in the heart of this battle as Mass Effect 3 opens, with Commander Shepherd and Colonel Anderson both on Earth as Shepherd faces charges for crimes committed in previous games. Suddenly, without warning, the planet is thrown into chaos by the descent of Reaper forces. The city is thrown into ruin and the human military, previously unconvinced that the Reapers even existed, are left agog as Shepherd and Anderson escape in the fracas.
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Even judging just from the demonstration we saw, which included the entire opening sequence of the game as well as a later mission, it was clear that Mass Effect 3 isn't deviating too much from the mould of the earlier games. Everything from the interface to the overall aesthetic is fundamentally the same, with Earth looking disappointingly homogenous even in a semi-destroyed state. There was talk from Bioware developers about how the team had worked to make the first glimpses of Earth stand out as a powerful moment for the franchise, but it was a moment we failed to appreciate.
While Earth lacks any visual distinction however, the opening of the game is still a thrilling and bombastic affair, with Shepherd and Anderson vaulting over the ruins of the city and conducting a fighting retreat back to the Normandy.
Bioware offers more than just out-and-out action, however, with the opening section of the game still taking any chance it can to pull on players' heart strings and pack in some more of the amazing writing for which the series has become known. When fleeing through a nearby building, for example, Shepherd finds a young boy hiding in an air vent. Unable to linger for more than a moment before a Reaper attack squad arrives, Shepherd has just one chance to coax out the youngster and take him to safety.
In the demonstration we saw, the developer failed to woo the child out of his hidey-hole, dooming him. It's only a throwaway moment in the grand scheme of things and initially seems to be of little consequence, yet by focusing the planet-wide devastation down to this level Bioware immediately communicates the bleakness of the player's situation.
Later in the demonstration, we're shown an example of the combat itself, as well as given a chance to go hands-on. Here too it's clear that not a lot has changed, with Shepherd's squad made up of mostly familiar faces and abilities. In fact, the level we played - which sees Shepherd working with Salarian scientist Mordin Solus to extricate a Krogan female who carries the cure to the genophage disease - was familiar enough to be a little disappointing.