Game Downloadable Content (DLC) usually adds a playable chapter to a game you already own as a way to keep replayability, at least until the next instalment. Most games don't even do that after a while (Dragon Age II... I've just about given up on you!). But the new 'Citadel' DLC for Mass Effect 3 kept me occupied the whole day today with a variety of unexpected activities that blended run-and-gun, duck-and-cover (which IS ME3) with the fetch-and-carry of a point-and-click classic adventure game for a rather unique payoff.
The premise is that Shepard and the crew of the Normandy SR-2 get recalled to Citadel for -- of all things -- shore-leave in the middle of the Reaper war. So now Shepard gets to enjoy swanky new digs with upgradable furnishings with which we can play interior designer. While at Citadel, Shepard gets an alert that he (I'm playing a male Shep) is a victim of identity theft, opening up a hectic battle with only a souped-up pistol, limited ammo and no healing medi-gels as he battles solo through heavily armed mercs to regroup with his squaddies.
It's tough at first, especially when you've forgotten most of your keyboard settings, and the initial panic of an unfamiliar combat situation, but eventually muscle memory kicks in. Survivability increases when Liara and Wrex show up to watch your back, but it would help to know where the extraction point is instead of running around at random under heavy fire hoping to trigger a bacon-saving rescue.
The one behind the identity theft scheme is an uncomfortably familiar figure we know from... past encounters, but we'd never think we would face in a firefight. A tough fight it is too, with not one but two enemies who heal and regenerate shields quickly, with the fate of the Normandy (my ship!) at stake.
The whole point of this crazy battle is to have every squad member contribute in some way to the retaking of the ship. Even Traynor (who never gets to go on missions) puts her expensive tastes to good use. Mission success triggers a follow-up mission -- which is where this DLC ventures into the bizarre: actual shore-leave.
At this point, the game goes into interactive story mode. A whole new area on Citadel becomes available, purely for recreation. There is a casino, an arcade and a combat simulator to play in. There are credits, unique weapon mods and household furnishings to win in the casino and arcade while the combat sim unlocks further difficulty levels, scenarios and more characters to add to the squad roster, simulated, of course. You could spend hours here getting addicted to the numerous mini-games scattered on this level. Your squad mates offer to play a round with you too, so you can see how they are enjoying themselves when they aren't being shot at. Even characters from the ME and ME2 who are not part of the roster in ME3 show up and reminisce the good ol' days.
There's a lot of running back and forth to meet all these characters set loose on the Citadel, but the idea is to send invites to a party you're hosting in your fancy new apartment. It's an awkward party to be sure, with everyone making conversation instead of mincemeat. As host, Shepard gets to run all over his apartment looking for someone to talk to until everyone's just about talked themselves dry. Which is probably why I don't host parties in real-life. Too much work.
The conversations are hilarious, though, revelling in the awkwardness the different characters have with each other. Prejudices, old wounds, memories remembered by some revealed to others who have forgotten, while everyone becomes more inebriated with each successive conversation. They're so much like friends and colleagues that it's hard to remember the characters are just CGI puppets after all.
So much has gone into the storytelling that makes this DLC worth the download. Sometimes, it's tedious with so much running back and forth between locations, but that's the limitation of the game design. It is, after all a shooter first, though the story itself is a thumping page-turner. It's good to have a night of non-violent camaraderie (Jarvik, Zaaed and the Krogans notwithstanding) before returning to the front-lines the day after.