STAFF REVIEW of Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012.
by Brent Roberts

Mass Effect 3 Box art Throughout mankind's history when we observe the stars and heavens above, our imagination and curiosity run wild. Thoughts emerge such as "Are we alone?" and "I wonder what's out there?" and our quest to explore the heavens is born. Millions of galaxies spread wide across the emptiness of cold blackened space; it becomes apparent very quickly that our little drop of water in the overall cosmic ocean may just not be alone. Ever since BioWare first released Mass Effect, our passion and desire to explore other galaxies, discover new races, and ultimately preserve existence of sentient life as we know it, has erupted like the fusion induced furnaces that power the stars themselves. Now as we begin our journey across the galactic sea, we set our focus on Mass Effect 3 and the qualities that make this entry one of the best in the series. Hold on tight readers because we're about to send your imagination through a mass relay of information that will amaze and astound. Set your course, fire up your engines, raise your shields, and lock and load all weapons because now we are thrown into an intergalactic war for survival, not just for mankind, but for every living being in the universe. It is time to launch Mass Effect 3.

In order to understand the future, one must understand the past and in Mass Effect 1 and 2 you determined the outcomes of the past. Your character was fraught with moral dilemmas and choices to make and every action your character made, had direct or indirect repercussions on the outcome of your game. This was the core of the story for both Mass Effect 1 and 2 and thankfully this hasn't changed in Mass Effect 3. Your choices can still be felt throughout the galaxy, like ripples in a pond, given that your character can be carried over from Mass Effect 2, so all your actions and decisions you have made over the course of the past still hold true to the effects of the future. With the story of Mass Effect 3 in your hands, it is up to you how you wish to shape the future. This is a quality of gaming that BioWare is known for incorporating into their stories and in doing so, grip the adventurer from beginning to end in a tale so stellar and grand that we experience a wide range of emotions throughout our journey.

There have been some improvements as well when it comes to all aspects of Mass Effect 3. For starters your ship, the Normandy, is now more streamlined for enhanced functionality but it still keeps to its roots and brings about everything we have expected since the original Mass Effect. One of the most enjoyable improvements is the new planetary scanning system. In the original Mass Effect we got to physically explore planets, however, that didn't last as Mass Effect 2 implemented a new scanning system that became more of a pain to endure instead of increasing our enjoyment. Now though Mass Effect 3 has changed the scanning system to include a more precise method for scanning various planets. This system has been completely overhauled and now even incorporates a ranged sensor transmission where you can search for various items and objects of interest from your ship's overview while it navigates different solar systems. Other gameplay enhancements as well include the new cover kill where if your character is in cover, one press of the button and any enemy that is standing directly across from your cover will be dragged over and put out of its misery. While this may not be as groundbreaking as some of the other innovations, when you are trying to tackle a group of enemies, having a one hit kill option can definitely turn the tide of war in your favor.

While we're on the topic of innovation, it goes without saying that Mass Effect 3 provides some of the best innovations to make this game the pinnacle of the Mass Effect trilogy. One of the biggest innovations for Mass Effect 3 is the Kinect integration. This could be considered the perfect gaming application for Kinect because it doesn't make the Kinect equipment the focal point, but instead makes it an optional enhancement for your game as is. It does this by making the emphasis on voice command controls. Since dialogue is one of the main critical aspects of Mass Effect 3, BioWare has made it so that you can verbally control the dialogue entries via Kinect. While this isn't something that some will enjoy, the fact that it's optional is a plus. There thankfully aren't any hand gestures where you have to stab an imaginary enemy to use your Omniblades; instead the combat aspect is controlled, in real time, by your voice. For instance if you are pinned down and you can't get a shot off, you can use your voice and say commands such as "Liara warp" and you will watch as your teammate Liara uses her warp and shreds the opposition. This feature is not just devoted to your team of followers; Shepard himself can switch his weapon just by your voice command. Say "shotgun" and if you have a shotgun with you, Shepard will equip it. This keeps the battle fluid and allows you to make real time decisions that will either make or break you. You can also use Kinect for various mundane tasks such as "Gather" or "Open" if you wish to progress through a door. While this may not be a popular feature, it does allow a fresh new experience by adding more innovation.

Another groundbreaking innovation for Mass Effect 3 is the new inclusion of multiplayer and multiplayer character development. Very rarely can a game noted for being a spectacular single player experience successfully infuse an equally as good multiplayer experience. For starters you can have multiple different multiplayer characters to play as. There are your standard male and female characters, but there are also some unlockable familiars that can allow bonuses to be applied to your character. The multiplayer game mode itself is similar to game modes we'd find on other AAA titles and could be considered a firefight/horde style experience where you battle through various waves of increasingly hard enemies. While this may not seem innovative as we have experienced this before, the fact that it's in a Mass Effect game and done very well, is the innovation. Your options for multiplayer allow for teams of 4 to venture out onto one of the six levels in one of the three different difficulties, and against one of the three different enemy types. Your character though would be less enjoyable if you didn't get to develop your skills as you would in the single player story, thankfully BioWare has you covered. Now in the new multiplayer you have the ability to upgrade various classes and various powers within each class. If all this innovation wasn't enough, BioWare gave us a cherry on top with the new multiplayer shop. Here you can use your in game credits that you have earned to purchase various levels of equipment boxes and each filled with a wide range of random tools that range from making you an intergalactic grim reaper, to items that will bring you back from death's cold grip in space.

As before in the past, Mass Effect 3 truly brings the stars and heavens alive in a way that can only be described as a piece of galactic art, where we paint our journey how we see fit. Every aspect that our eyes bear witness to is draped in uncompromising beauty. The character models are much more lifelike and when you combine their independent character interactions and voice over work, BioWare has done a masterful job in bringing the characters of the universe to life. The scenery and environments you will encounter throughout your voyage are breathtaking to behold. Even the loading screens are done with beautiful video which make waiting to load different areas a joy to behold. No longer will you have a static screen with a loading icon, now for instance, if you are in the Citadel, your loading screens showcase a panoramic view of the Citadel grounds w/ traffic moving about, water spouting from fountains, lush beautiful landscapes and more. With every moment of your journey in Mass Effect 3 taking you through the expansive universe and throughout various galaxies, BioWare has delivered an ocular sensory overload by bringing you the closest you will probably ever come to voyaging amongst the stars.

While all these new innovations and improvements are wonderful, none of these would be worth mentioning without a phenomenal musical score to support all of this. With a wide range of sweeping stellar soundscapes this is one game where the volume must be turned up. I found myself in the beginning just listening to the opening opus of music that seemed to mesmerize me with its minimalistic qualities. That?s not to say though that every musical track is a tranquil blend of harmonics, when faced with a monumental moment of choice, that?s when the soundtrack takes a more regal approach where the music provides a feeling of epic proportion. When the action heats up so does the music and you feel your heartbeat pumping to the beat of the in game music and that?s when you know that you are ready for war. While the soundtrack itself is a milestone accomplishment for Mass Effect 3, the voice over work as well shows that BioWare pulls no punches when it comes to ensuring it's done right. By utilizing some big name Hollywood actors/actresses who know how to project various emotions and feelings through their voice, every character interaction seems genuine and independently amazing. Through Mass Effect 3's audio, our ears are given the gift of a true sonic marvel, and one that will stand the test of time and set the bar, when it comes to audio, to a level almost unreachable.

When we as gamers find a game that can enrich our lives through its story and allow us to interact and shape the outcome, we find ourselves face to face with a masterpiece of quality gaming. BioWare is a company known for producing games that move our hearts with pure story telling emotion, blind our eyes with their graphical brilliance, soothe our souls in spectacular sound, and most importantly bring our imaginations to life. Without question Mass Effect 3 has now become the new pinnacle entry into the trilogy by introducing a plethora of new innovations and improvements on already solid aspects. Let us take to the stars and let our imaginations be our guide. Let us shape the future how we want; Let us be the ones that ignite the fires of the stars. The interstellar heavens call to our souls, now let us answer that call through our adventure in Mass Effect 3.

Thank you for all your hard work, it is through your efforts that our dreams come true.

Overall: 9.8 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 9.9 / 10


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