Aaron’s Antre: "Mass Effect 3" as good as advertised

Aaron Chum, Author

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How Aaron Chum has spent many hours over the past few weeks: huddled in front of his TV, playing video games.

– Katherine Lo

The past six or so months have seen an influx of video game titles, ranging from the perennial best seller “Call of Duty” to lightweights such as “Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games.”

Yet I’ve refrained from looking too deep into any of these games. Rather, for the past two years, I’ve been eagerly anticipating “Mass Effect 3,” the continuation of another bestselling series.

In short, “Mass Effect” is the story of Commander Shepard, a special ops soldier in the human Alliance navy. It’s late in the 22nd century and humans have stepped into the galactic community, interacting with a wide range of other species. Yet the tentative peace hanging over the galaxy seems destined to be broken — a giant horde of machines known as Reapers is coming out of deep space, intent on wiping out all life in the galaxy.

“Mass Effect” saw Shepard take down one Reaper. “Mass Effect 2” saw Shepard destroy the home of the Collectors, a species working in tandem with the Reapers. And “Mass Effect 3” follows Shepard’s attempt to repel a massive Reaper invasion across the galaxy.

At the beginning of “Mass Effect 3,” the Reapers invade Earth, forcing Shepard to flee and rally the various races of the galaxy through a combination of arm-twisting, sweet diplomacy and weapons.

“Mass Effect 3” is a hybrid third-person shooter and role-playing game. The player controls and customizes Shepard. Everything from Shepard’s gender to the species of fish in his or her cabin can be chosen. You choose whether your Shepard will be a paragon of virtue and go around the galaxy saving innocent souls (like myself) or a renegade, throwing aside everything else in the linear pursuit of destroying the Reapers.

And in this immersive story lies the reason why “Mass Effect” is one of the most profitable RPG series of all time. The story is extremely deep; one staff member once commented that the amount of writing in each game could fill several novels. Think about a universe the size of “Star Wars” or “Star Trek.”

Going off of this, the rich story leads to amazing cut scenes. Unlike your standard cut scenes in other games that are barely worth the effort to skip over, I more or less watched every cut scene. In short, it seemed as if I was watching an entire movie play out (and given the lengthy duration of the game, the cutscene probably do add up to a full length feature or two or three).

On a tangential note, according to Bioware (the developers of the game) senior community coordinator Chris Priestly, a movie for “Mass Effect” is actually in the works.

Praise could also be given to “Mass Effect 3” for the other side of gaming: the action. For the first time in the series, the action — the actual killing stuff to achieve the story — is commendable. In the first two games, the action was sheltered behind the overly impressive story — if these games had a weak link, it was the lackluster action.

No longer. The action of “Mass Effect 3” is fluid; Commander Shepard can roll around and fire as well as any other character in any other game.

So, how does the grand campaign to save the universe end?

To be completely honest, I don’t know.

One, I’m 15 hours into the game and preparing to launch an assault on a human extremist base on the alien planet of Benning. No end in sight. Rumors are I’m not even halfway done yet.

Two, I can’t guarantee a happy ending. The unique thing about “Mass Effect 3” is that the player, based on decisions made in this game as well as the previous two, can lose. Whereas one gamer’s quest may end in Commander Shepard heroically driving the Reapers back into deep space, another’s may end in the destruction of all sentient life.

And personally, I’ve succeeded in my quest to not peek at Wikipedia or IGN for spoilers. But I have picked up unsettling rumors about massive online petitions for Bioware, the game’s developer, to release new content giving alternate endings (which, if I must put two and two together, can only mean the ending sucked). In fact, Bioware just announced in the last few days that alternate endings will be available in the near future.

Admittedly, “Mass Effect 3” is not perfect.

There is the rare graphical glitch, most often during a cut scene. I’ll be talking to one of my squadmates on the Citadel, a gargantuan space station, when they’ll simply disappear for a few moments.

And the volume of content in the game sometimes backfires on itself. Bioware put so much effort into building great stories in the first and second games that, when said stories aren’t continued as thoroughly as in the previous games, it feels like a disappointment. At times, I would meet a former squadmate from “Mass Effect 2” on a mission — 15 minutes later, they were gone (although, as a disclaimer, I’m not anywhere near the end of the game so they may pop up again). In short, I’d prefer to spend more than 15 minutes with a character I spent 40 hours with in a previous game.

So, my final verdict for “Mass Effect 3?”

It’s the awesome conclusion to an extremely impressive series, one I hope to see continued (and it will be continued, if only because Bioware has made a ton of money off the series). The story is deep and immersive, making you want to spend those hours simply standing in corridors to listen to random conversations around you. Stick that together with a first-rate shooter, and you have an A+ game.

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