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Though it is less emphasized than before, the story is still an integral part of Mass Effect 3.
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★★★★✩

Mass Effect 3

For Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360

Mass Effect 3 has been one of the most eagerly-awaited games of 2012 by a long shot. The first two games are among the most beloved sci-fi action-RPGs of all time, and expectations for the third installment were running high. Luckily for fans, the finale to this epic trilogy manages to meet most of the expectations.

As in previous Mass Effect games, you create a character and customize his or her appearance, class, and backstory. If you have a save from the previous game, you can import it and continue playing as the same character, which is the ideal way to play. From there, you choose from three settings that affect how the game plays: action, role-playing, and story. These basically change the menu settings to three different setups that affect the game in different ways. For the first time through, role-playing is highly recommended.

The game begins with a potent introduction; running through a futuristic Vancouver that is under attack by massive extraterrestrial mechs is an unsettling sight. In a way, the game seems to have more in common with Resistance: Fall of Man than Mass Effect at times like this; but that isn’t such a bad thing. This is the final battle of the Mass Effect story, and the outlook for the human race is bleaker than ever. After this introduction, things settle down as you make your way out into the cosmos, gathering allies to strike back against the nearly-omnipotent bad guys. The first few hours of the game can be a bit slow, but eventually it picks up and really improves. The awesome Galaxy Map makes a return, and as usual there are no shortage of places to explore and missions to undertake.

Special mention needs to be made of the new online multiplayer mode. In this fun addition, you team up with other players to stave off waves of foes. It is a fun diversion, and gives the game another dimension.

The visuals are among the best that the current generation of games can muster. Mass Effect 2 was a benchmark title when it came to graphics, and this title neither gains nor loses ground in that regard. Sci-fi geeks will love the visuals in this game; as you travel from planet to planet, it isn’t uncommon at all to look up and see awe-inspiring views of nearby planets, moons, and rings looming in the sky. Mass Effect 3 really showcases how far games have come in the graphics department. The only downside is that at times the frame rate gets pretty sluggish during major firefights.

The audio is also very strong. The sound effects pop; the noises made by the Reaper machines as they rampage about the landscape are forceful and unsettling. The music is always well-suited to the situation, whether it be the serene music of the title screen or the epic crescendo of some of the battles. The voice acting is superb — enough said. Some of the characters in the game are memorable because of their voices alone. The only issue here is that sometimes the music is a bit too epic during mundane battles with mechanical goons.

The controls are similar to Mass Effect 2’s in most respects. They are a little stiff, but they suffice. There are subtle downgrades from the previous game, such as the controls being a little unresponsive at times when trying to get into and out of cover. At the same time, there are also subtle improvements like being able to alter your direction while sprinting, which allow you to maneuver faster. Overall, the controls are perfectly fine.

The big question going into the release of this game was whether or not it would meet fan expectations. The biggest downside is that the RPG elements are more scaled-down than ever — this game is a shooter through and through. It’s a shooter with a story to tell, however, one where your actions make a real difference as to the final outcome. So it still has some of that character-driven role-playing that made the rest of the series so good. The side quests also aren’t as inspired as those of Mass Effect 2. However, once this game gets rolling, it is hardly a disappointment.

Mass Effect fans, give this a whirl. New to the series? Start with the previous games first. This is one trilogy well worth the full experience.