So I finally caved in and had a go on Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer. Like probably most people on the server that night, I did so reluctantly, after hearing that it was impossible to get the “preferred” ending (best of a bad bunch by all accounts) unless my Something Something Thingamajig level was at 5000, and that it was practically (though not literally) impossible to reach that through the single-player campaign alone. I’d been so dreading the ending that I’d been stalling playing the game altogether, dragging out side quests trying to avoid the conclusion, but I would have to face it sooner or later, and that included choosing whether to go the multiplayer route. A comment I read last night made my decision for me: “it’s more fun than grinding through that awful minigame”. Aye, the game of chicken with the beacons and reapers is fun for … ooooh, about 25 seconds, after which it makes you want to crawl on your hands and knees back to Bioware and beg for the mining gig back.
So, the multiplayer campaign … it’s pretty much like playing Brink. I only ever played that vs bots – hell is other people when it comes to online games – and besides, when you’re out in the sticks and only get a phone reception in one room in your house, I avoid online gaming as much to avoid disappointing other people as to flee from obnoxious children. As it turns out, there was only minimal lag (and this on a connection that struggles with Youtube videos!).
Starting up is easy enough – just pick a stock character and choose a name. There’s some basic customisation with armour and you have to go through the rigmarole of selecting a basic “pack” of weapons and other bits. You can unlock upgrades with points collected through the game, or through parting with Bioware points (purchased with real money). You pick a location, difficulty level and enemy type – though it’s best to choose “any” for all except difficulty or you might be waiting a while. Once done, you jump into the “waiting room” until you have a full team ready to go. The whole process felt pretty quick – I think it took about five minutes.
If there was a chat window, I didn’t see one, or nobody bothered to use it. Since at the end of the mission I was levelled up several times, I’m guessing I wasn’t the only noob on the squad. There was at least one other level 1 player, and another who was level 6. You read some brief blurb about being special ops, and then get dumped into the mission and it becomes like any other multiplayer game. The Brinkishness stems from the game’s own use of ladders and climbable objects, and the feeling of enemies coming at you from all sides. I was attacked by the “ground forces” of husks, cannibals, banshees, brutes, etc. and in that variety it’s reminiscent of Left 4 Dead, though it’s nowhere near as moreish or satisfying. The cover system doesn’t really work since they do come in from all directions, so more often than not you’ll be shooting something in front of you while getting shot in the back.
Despite the lack of communication, it was gratifying to feel like we were playing as a team, albeit one of noob strangers with no idea what we were doing. I just found the level 6-er and stuck to him (or her) like glue in the vain hope that (s)he had a better idea of how to play than I did. As it turned out, Level 6’s job was mostly to resurrect me after I got shot in the back, and I’d immediately lend extra fire power to whatever (s)he was shooting. It sort of worked.
When you get shot, you’re usually just downed and revivable, but if you’re not revived within a certain time you “bleed to death” and switch to passive cam, Guild Wars style. You can toggle between different players to follow the action, but luckily you’re likely to have been resurrected by the game before you get too bored, since that happens after each “wave” passes. I think there were about nine waves in the mission.
I’ll give it this much: it was tense, and my heart was pounding after my little ordeal, but as a gameplay experience it scores a big meh out of ten. As a hybrid of every other multiplayer game, it doesn’t distinguish itself beyond not having annoying 13 year-olds camping over your spawn points and yelling ALL-CAPS abuse at you. In that respect, it is at least not too much of an ordeal and instinctively easy to play, but it’s less the tasteless-but-moreish popcorn experience of L4D and more like a lukewarm McDonald’s breakfast. It makes you wonder why they bothered.
But it is indeed better than that f***ing minigame.