Mass Effect 3 – more of the same, and then some

In common with practically everyone else in the galaxy, I took the new Mass Effect demo out for a spin. The good news is that it’s more of the same. The bad news is that it’s more of the same. That’s not to say they haven’t thrown in a few new tweaks – there are some why-didn’t-they-do-this-before features included – but the jump between last DLC and new game is somewhat less than the latest Shepard-jumping-impossible-distance trick shot. 

The most immediate new feature is the choice of playing modes – Action Mode for those who just want to kill something fast, classic RPG Mode for stat-faffers, and Story Mode for players like me for whom combat and even dialogue are incidental to advancing the plot. In Story Mode, you still get to choose between Renegade and Paragon responses, but you don’t get the endless dialogue trees in which Liara gets to inexplicably tell you about her race’s sexual mores when you were just making idle chit-chat.

Liara is back, and so is Kaiden Alenko – unless your version of the original game ended differently to mine. The demo reintroduces many of the best-loved characters, including Wrex, Garrus and Anderson. As always, Anderson is trying to convince Shepard to stand in front of the Council and be stared at in disbelief for several minutes. That never ends well.

The combat continues the style of the second game, which is something I particularly appreciate. On the console, the A button is a catch-all for movement a la Brink. You can climb or jump or slide or roll, depending on the terrain. There are new, bigger, scarier foes to fight – but the strategies you employed in the second game will work just as well here. Mine generally consists of breaking cover to run around aimlessly, shooting in roughly the direction of my opponent and trying not to bump into the wall. In Story Mode, I miraculously didn’t die, but did run out of ammo several times. Fortunately the melee combat was easy and effective. I’d mention Clint Mansell’s score at this point, but truth be told I was so absorbed in the action that I didn’t even notice the music.

The more-of-the-same that I found disappointing was the graphics, which don’t seem to have been given an overhaul in the two years since Mass Effect 2. The textures are flat and the animations clunky, making it look curiously old-fashioned in comparison to its peers. That all gets forgotten during the game’s endless cutscenes, and the tale seems as gripping as ever.

At this point it’s hard to imagine any newcomers to the saga. Anyone who enjoys video games will know about this most superior of space operas, and if the endless reams of dialogue have hitherto put you off the first two games, stop! Say it takes you 20 hours to play the first game through, and the same for the second, just trust me: it’s worth it. Get the games now, play them through, and immerse yourself in the best extraterrestrial adventure since the Star Trek reboot.

Yes, your experience will be better with the first two games under your belt, partly because you’ve invested so many hours in these characters and partly to see how the decisions you’ve made will pan out. You just have so much history with your crew. Even though I’d already played Mass Effect on the 360, I bought it again on PC so that I could have that legacy effect for Mass Effect 2 using its import savegame feature. It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out in the third installment.

Despite playing the demo on the console, I’ll be getting the game proper on PC because these games are more satisfying with a keyboard and mouse. It’s not terrible on the console, though, and the button mapping is intuitive enough.

There’s a lot to like here, and one or two things to be excited about. But if you’ve played Mass Effect 2, you don’t need telling that. You’ve probably pre-ordered already.  Time for me to do the same.

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