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Mass Effect 3 (PlayStation 3) artwork

Mass Effect 3 (PlayStation 3) review

"A disappointing final act, Mass Effect 3 is a military sci-fi shooter filled with hoo-rah bravado but lacking in any of the qualities that made the series worth playing."

The first and second Mass Effect games were adventure stories that allowed the player to make decisions that had enormous consequences. The first had unique and interesting gameplay that was part strategy and part shooter, and while the second dropped this idea in favor of becoming a standard third person shooter, it still retained above average storytelling with an emphasis on decisions and consequences.

Disappointingly, this final entry embraces the sc-fi military shooter attitude entirely and not just in gameplay. Where before humanity was an upstart many mistrusted with good reason, they are now the only sane species willing to take the threat of the Reapers seriously. The player will have no problems with the hierarchy he or she answers to this time, every encounter with your wise and noble military-uniformed superiors results in heartfelt salutes as the music swells. It is a far cry from the tense reports given to the Council in Mass Effect or the Illusive Man in Mass Effect 2. For the first time it felt like I was fighting for Space America and that anyone who was not was evil or soon to be recruited to the cause. Where before the player could make as many enemies as friends in the course of trying to save the galaxy, in this title you will find only ally after ally.

From the first time I began wandering the Citadel in the first Mass Effect I was sold on the setting. The galaxy had interspecies tensions going back centuries that were fitting and created an environment in which not everything was resolved, or even could ever resolve, and therefore made the environment in which the player would make his or her decisions believable and engrossing. But Mass Effect 3 treats these world building tensions and conflicts as problems for the player to solve.

It is a bit like playing a series set in the Middle East for two games, with all of it's religious and territorial tensions as backdrop. Suddenly, in game three a mission to get the Sunni and Shi'a to get along appears, followed quickly by a mission to resolve all disputes between Israel and Palestine. After the events of this game it is difficult to imagine any piece of media using this setting again, which is disappointing. It was a great world.

So far I have addressed the parts of this game that were just bad, but now I would like to take some time to mention moments that actually made me burst into laughter. The first came with the appearance of Diana Allers, a reporter who comes to stay on the Normandy. I wondered why this character existed. I thought that I would surely encounter Emily Wong, the reporter Shepard knew from the earlier games, and if anyone were to stay on the Normandy and provide a potential romance option it should be her. I thought it was a bizarre choice to make a new character and not even mention Emily, but I did not think too much about it. After completing the game and doing a little googling, I found out that this character was modeled and voiced by an Internet personality who works for IGN. Let the implications of that sink in.

Another amusing Mass Effect 3 character is Kai Leng, a pseudo-ninja with a hilariously bad design and some of the most ham-fisted, truly terrible attempts at characterization I have ever seen in a game. He appears in cutscenes to do amazing ninja feats. Sometimes, after these cutscenes, you will fight him. He is painfully easy to defeat, and has a laughable super-speed ninja run that is actually extremely slow and makes him an easy target. After you win, he will do more amazing cutscene feats to impress you and make sure you realize he is a serious threat. He even sends you a taunting email after one encounter which might as well have been a GIF of him twirling his mustache. Other characters have to remind you randomly that he is “bad news” because if they did not you would have to draw your conclusions about him based on his performance in battle and his attempts to troll you online.

Oh, by the way, all those characters who died in the second game based on the way you played? They have been replaced by similar characters so the events in which they were supposed to participate are unchanged. And that big decision you made on Noveria in the first Mass Effect? Completely irrelevant. No consequences here.

Which takes us to the ending, a subject about which too much has already been written. However, no review of Mass Effect 3 would be complete without addressing it, so I will do so here.

There is a deus-ex-machina that allows you to choose your ending, regardless of any decisions you made in this or the previous two games. This special device makes little sense and creates a tremendous plot hole for the series. Regardless, this device will allow you to choose one of three endings, or two if you did not complete enough of the game prior to reaching the conclusion. No decision you made prior to this moment will lock you out of choosing any ending. And all three of the endings are awful attempts that ape classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey. The endings are weird in a way that does not fit the series.

If my numeric score seems overly harsh, I would like to clarify that had Mass Effect 3 existed in a vacuum without the first two games, it would be an unremarkable third person shooter, a 5/10 or so. But existing as it does, as the conclusion to a series of good games that deserved better, I feel the score I give here is justified.

Germ's avatar
Community review by Germ (January 28, 2014)

Jeremy plays video games, sometimes.

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