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Mass Effect 3 Review - Xbox 360
Few series have as ambitiously tried to challenge the entrenched videogame tropes as the Mass Effect games. Over three titles, Bioware has consistently favoured substance over spectacle, history over headshot, politics over plot device, choice over coincidence. Establishing a deep universe of interspecial relations, external threat and your personal rise to heroism within it, the series promised to show the effects of your actions across three games. The end is near – have they pulled it off?
This review has been one of the most difficult I’ve ever had to write. So much about Mass Effect 3 has already been said – about the game itself, what went on behind the scenes, and of course, the ending. The temptation to meditate on the hubbub rather than the game itself is high. And sadly, this general frenzy has overshadowed the fact that so much of the game is brilliant, emotive, satisfying, touching and just goddamn fun. But I can’t refrain from commenting on that meta level too, so you’d better buckle up for a long one.
Mass Effect 3 sees the return of the Reapers and an all-out assault on the galaxy in the culmination of two previous games’ worth of story and player decisions. It has many strengths: emotive, heart-breaking storytelling; a palpable sense of urgency and tension; refined combat and power usage; and both huge spectacle moments and intimate character beats. And yet, there’s a strange push and pull between the franchise’s status quo and new ideas that ends up making the game feel different but not definitively better or worse than the previous ones.
I struggled to even finish the original Mass Effect, whose clunky Mako missions and bland combat undermined an interesting story. Mass Effect 2 was a massive reinvention in many ways – tighter combat, gorgeous graphics, grander scale, deeper story, and full of minigames and side-missions – and probably still stands as the best game in the series. The third game doesn’t make as many drastic changes – there was less to fix – but does leave behind some enjoyable ingredients in favour of some different tastes. Planet mining, hacking and door bypass minigames are gone, as are all driving missions. Instead, you’ve got a sonar/planet probe/Reaper evasion minigame on the universe map and the search for war assets to bolster your fleet.
I missed these little diversions along a mission. One of the things I loved about the series was the variety of gameplay. You play an action mission, then work through the Citadel completing side missions and upgrading gear, then trawl the galaxy looking for resources, and then go on a mission again. The door opening minigames were in both previous titles and their absence speaks to one of Mass Effect 3’s biggest weaknesses – an occasional disinterest in respecting the history and attachment most players have to their character and the hundreds of hours they spent in this universe.
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