MASS EFFECT 3 Preview: Games Can Stop Shipping After March 6

MASS EFFECT 3 Hands-On Preview

 

I have played an entire mission of Mass Effect 3 and it's had a profound effect on me. Sure, I'm excited about other games coming out this year. SSX is returning, giving me back one of my old favorite franchises. The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite come from teams I know and trust, and should be a great time. Amazing Spider-Man has potential, and I'm excited to play with several of the launch window titles for the PlayStation Vita.

But honestly? After March 6, 2012, when Mass Effect 3 hits my consoles, I don't think I need any other video games to come out.

 

I have made no secret at all about my love for this franchise. Whether it's the games themselves (I've played Mass Effect 2 seven times, folks) or the mostly-stellar comics and novels that have expand the universe (let's not talk about the most recent novel here, okay?), I have been engulfing myself in the story of Commander Shepard and the rest of her galaxy for the last several years. Mass Effect 3, based off one short single-player gameplay demo last summer, was already my most anticipated video game of 2012. Now, though, I find myself questioning how much games will have to offer me after its release.

 

At the EA Spring Showcase press event in New York City, we started off by taking a deeper look at the mobile offerings coming to the iOS. With Mass Effect Datapad, fans can get the inside scoop on all the characters, races, vehicles, weapons, and story beats they may have missed from some of the tie-ins. There will also be mini-games in the iPad app, adding to the "Galaxy at War" mechanic of the Mass Effect 3 franchise. After a brief demo of Datapad, a 10 minute developer walkthrough of Mass Effect: Infiltrator showed off the smooth touchscreen controls for the third-person shooter. Starring Randall Ezno, Cerberus agent, the game seems to play a surprisingly lot like the console/PC franchise. Movement is very cover-based, and gunplay is about lining up your targeting reticle with matching glowing circles on enemies. There are biotic abilities available to Ezno: Pull was shown, working very much like it does in ME2. As you progress through Ezno's story, you'll pull away from Cerberus, and eventually turn the intel you gather as Ezno over to your Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 3 for the aforementioned "Galaxy at War" mechanic, which the optional multiplayer in ME3 also adds to, increasing your galactic readiness rating for the big final battle. While the "best ending" of ME3 can be achieved without playing any of these things, playing them does make it easier to get. Exclusive weaponry is also unlockable in ME3 by playing through Infiltrator, but none was demonstrated during our walkthrough. That mobile game will be available on iOS devices "around launch time of ME3," with an Android edition to follow later.

 

After those demonstrations, it was time to jump into Mass Effect 3 itself. Each member of the press was sat in front of an individual big screen with a set of headphones and told to go to work on the second mission of the game, a trip to Mars to find a clue to what Cerberus is doing and meet up with an old friend. Only a Male, Soldier Shepard was available for the demo, so everyone used that version of the character. Despite all seven of my Mass Effect 2 playthroughs being with a female Shepard, it was remarkably easy to get engrossed in the story. Starting with a beautiful landing sequence depositing Shepard, Ashley, and new squad mate James Vega onto Mars, I picked up the Xbox 360 controller and added some customization points to powers for all three party members. After adding the obligatory ammo effects and equipping abilities to fast keys on the d-pad, it was time to go to work.

The mission began with the three of us taking down the initial wave of Cerberus agents, all of whom were pretty standard issue and relatively easy to defeat, provided you have ever played a Mass Effect game, or really any third person shooter. We were playing off a "fresh" game, meaning there was no imported data from the first two. It was remarkable how much background information about things like Mars, the Protheans, the Reapers, and of course Cerberus was fluidly added into the expository dialogue, all without stopping the action. The mix of action to exposition and story seems more balanced than in previous entries; there was plenty of story, but my heart was pounding the entire time. After Liara shows off that she's no mere scientist with a little bad-assery, James gets sent back to the ship and Liara joins the squad. It's just in time as well, as her biotic abilities come in handy against the more advanced Cerberus agents who carry shields. Tactics like squad placement and flanking enemies are definitely more important in Mass Effect 3 than prior installments, and it makes combat considerably more fun.

 

In just this one mission, there was a confrontation with a major foe, the tease of another (from the novels — yes, I literally clapped and said "HELL YES" out loud when he appeared on screen), two very big reveals about Cerberus and what they're now doing with/to their agents (another time that I clapped and got the attention of the people running the demo), hints at the past and current status of Shepard's relationships with Ash and Liara, a chase sequence that was actually very fun, some big time shootouts, and conversations that imply a harsher, more focused Shepard than we've yet seen. In short, this was 30 minutes or so of pure awesome.

In casual conversation with lead writer Mac Walters after playing, he said "I've played it all the way through 7 times so far. Five times fresh, and twice with imported characters. I can honestly say I haven't seen all there is to see in the game." With the densely packed 30 minutes I got to play, that's not hard to believe, and encouraging for those of us with several imports and character classes we'd like to play with.

I told Mac the same thing I led this piece off with: that from what I played, I didn't think video games need to keep coming out after March 6. I told a friend via text message that I may have to retire from video games after this game comes out. Is this all hyperbole? Yes, but it's also the easiest way to describe the genuine feeling I had after playing this single mission. The demo for the game hits February 14 (because BioWare and EA love us all), and should do well to tide folks over; the countdown to March 6, 2012 should be on the calendars of every gamer out there: the war for the galaxy is on.

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