Thursday, December 04, 2014

Game Review: Mass Effect 3

I just finished Mass Effect 3, the final installment in what has become my one of my favorite video game series.

Here is my review for the first Mass Effect-

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I've also played Mass Effect 2, but didn't write a review for it. Most of the good things I had to say about the first game apply to the whole series. However, I've been so blown away by the Mass Effect games that I wanted to write my thoughts after finishing the trilogy.

This is a work of fiction that is on par with Star Wars, Star Trek, or any other great work of sci-fi. The virtual galaxy you can explore is full of unique planets, alien creatures, and ponderous questions which our entire species must face. I'll repeat them again, because I think they are so vital to consider:

• Is there other Life in the universe, sentient or otherwise?

• What happens when interplanetary species begin to contact each other?

• What is humanity's place in the cosmic order? What role does the individual play in this order?

Is it possible for ANY form of intelligence, or even information, to survive the incomprehensibly vast cycles of cosmological time, on the scale of billions of years?

Mass Effect takes place in the future, after 2147 CE, when humanity has found alien devices & "Element Zero" in our solar system. These artifacts allow us to develop FTL (Faster Than Light) Travel. The subsequent discovery that Pluto's moon, Charon, is actually a "Mass Effect" Relay allows humanity to instantaneously travel to other Relays throughout the galaxy. A vibrant galactic civilization already exists, with a 45km-long space station, called The Citadel, acting as its capital. All advanced alien races are represented here, and after the events of the first two games, humanity has become a major force in galactic affairs.

Your character is Commander Shepard, and you can carry over your character's traits from previous games' save information. Humanity's high standing in the galaxy is, in part, due to the earlier actions of Shepard- most notably fending off an attack on The Citadel by a Reaper.

The Reapers are central to the Mass Effect series. Tens of thousands of these gigantic, conscious machine creatures come out of deep space every 50,000 years to "harvest" sentient organic life, for their genetic information. It is a mysterious cycle that has gone on for at least a billion years and was initiated by an "Intelligence" that's even older than the Reapers.

It turns out this seemingly destructive cycle is actually meant to preserve life, since any advanced biological species will eventually create synthetic Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) that inevitably wipes out all organic beings. The "Intelligence" sees this cyclical harvesting as a way to maintain order and allow new species to evolve. It is revealed that the Mass Effect Relays and the Citadel itself are actually part of an elaborate trap, developed by the Reapers to accelerate the harvesting process of sentient beings and make it more efficient.

In this game, the merciless Reapers have arrived, landing on the home planets of the advance species throughout the galaxy, including Earth. The game starts with an awesome sequence in Vancouver, Canada, where imposing Reapers, taller than skyscrapers, are completely annihilating the city. This is the threat you face from the very beginning, and gives a sense of enormity that such an existential threat would pose to us. In addition to the numerous & varied enemies throughout the game, you actually get to face down a few Reapers in different situations.

It is a rich story, that touches on many deep issues that the human race may one day have to consider. As literally out-of-this-world as this game is, I feel that it is a visionary & realistic depiction of what humanity may one day experience when we are able to travel among the stars...

The planets and alien races are fantastic, yet convincing. The number and uniqueness of the locations throughout the galaxy made it endlessly visually interesting. Although you can no longer land on & explore planets as side missions, I'm glad that the act of scanning planets for resources was made much less tedious than in ME2.

As far as the actual gameplay, there's a perfect balance of customization, role-playing elements, and intense combat. The RPG aspects of the game include dialog options, morality choices, and engaging characters. The combat is excellent, with the ability to use five weapons and a half-dozen powers. The weapon variety and the ability to freeze the action to switch weapons on the fly don't interfere with the intensity of the battles. 

I chose to be in an Adept class, so my character had biotic powers that were effective and fun to use, such as- • the ability to project a destructive warp field • launching a shockwave that throws enemies in the air • creating a mini black hole, a singularity, that holds enemies. The ability to also coordinate your teammates' powers with your own attacks makes the combat much more strategic.

Overall, I was engaged the whole time and couldn't wait to see what the next mission or story sequence would bring. Games like this are such monumental creations, and why I still play critically acclaimed titles such as this one. Even though I've played video games my whole life, I am still awestruck by the technical achievement as much as the game play. It's pretty common for me to just wander around an area, observing visual details and marveling at the artistry behind the level design.

One of the very few reasons I can't give it a 10 is because the game's ending left me unimpressed. I picked the ending where Shepard can take control of The Reapers, using technology developed by an ancient race. I thought there should have been a more cinematic finale, with more impact for the end of such an action-packed story.

Despite my slight disappointment with the ending, the rest of the game was so superb & awe-inspiring that it didn't diminish my overall view of a great game and a undeniably epic series.

• The Monkey Buddha's official rating: 9.75

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