Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mass Effect 3: the Reapers are here!

The galaxy faces the biggest ever threat to organic life, yet the disparate galactic races are more interested in tearing each other's faces off than deal with the mechanical menace of the Reapers. Once again, the human Spectre, Shepard, has to rally his troops and save the galaxy... but first he has to escape the burning wreck of his home planet, Earth.

The Mass Effect story is truly breathtaking in scope. It encompasses timelines counted in stellar cycles and the spatial breadth of the Milky Way. The enemies, the Reapers are each "skyscraper sized" and each requires a fleet of warships to bring down. There are thousands of Reapers actively harvesting the galaxy of organic life. Against such odds, it's surprising what one charmed person can do to salvage the situation. It's in the dogged determination of doing the smallest of things that may have the widest implications; "for want of a nail", as it were.

Among the smallest of things are Shepard scouring both shops and planets for spare parts to fix this and that here and there. Any advantage is better than no advantage against an enemy of this scale. Thankfully, that's not all he/she (player's choice) does. The Shepard's main mission is to unite the galactic races to join the common cause of ridding the galaxy of the Reapers once and for all.

The meat and potatoes of ME3, as with the previous installments, is the boots on the ground fighting in third-person. Whether against "indoctrinated" aliens or rouge human factions, you have the choice of fighting style which you build your Shepard to exploit. Whether it's up close and personal with melee or shotgun, or my preference of sniping heads off via a zoomed scope at a distance, the idea is to find cover (of which there is plenty) to hide behind while being shot at, and taking your shots as opportunity presents itself. At the same time, you have to guard against having your position flanked, which usually results in disaster.

You also have a choice of two squad members per operation from a range of possibles. It's best to mix strengths, preferred fighting styles and support powers in order to make the best use of coordinated attacks. And because teamwork is vital to survival, much of the game also involves a lot of talking and making nice with your colleagues on board your starship, Normandy II. Talk nice enough with one preferred crew member (comprising a jumble of human and alien races -- it's an equal opportunity starship) and there also appears the opportunity to start or rekindle an on-board romance. Emotions are universal... and apparently biology is too. Ahem.

And there is the heart of the Mass Effect franchise. The storytelling is emotionally involving, especially since choices and mistakes made in the previous two installments linger throughout and have an impact on #3. The name wall on the crew deck of the Normandy lists fallen comrades, and it's sobering to see how many familiar names appear there. It's a testament to the depth of the story when for nearly every name you can recall a backstory and also the circumstances of their demise.

And even in this last episode, the message rings home: in war, friends die. For Shepard, and for you the player, the objective is to minimize the casualty list, save as many as you can. Though often, the choice either isn't yours to make, or it's a choice you have to make.

ME is less of a game and more of an interactive theatrical experience. The animated actors deliver enough pathos to make you feel their hopes and anxieties and mourn their loss if it comes to that. The soundtrack is well-orchestrated to create the appropriate moods: stirring space battles or the piano solo that is so emotive when Shepard gets the "best seats in the house" while watching the Earth burn and waiting for the cavalry to arrive.

Since different choices lead down different paths, there are multiple endings to be experienced. Regardless, for my run, I believe I have experienced the most logical and satisfying one. It effectively guarantees that an ME4 is impossible, that the story has finally played itself out, and I can get back to my life again. Phew!

No comments: