Tag Archives: Commander Shepard

Gaming | Review: Mass Effect 3 – Part 2 | This Is Entertainment

Take back EarthAfter 45 hours of fighting, the Earth has been saved. Mass Effect 3 is undoubtedly the greatest conclusion to Shepard’s fight against the Reapers we could have hoped for, but it’s far from faultless. Just like in the first part of our review, in part 2, you can expect minor spoilers, but will stop short of ruining it for you (hopefully), just enough to explain ourselves.

After countless disc-swaps, we reached the midpoint in the story (see part 1), which is centred around the Citadel – the same could be said for the entire series to an extent. Needless to say once it is over, things have changed over at the hub of the galactic community, and this brings up the first of a few bugs.

You will find the map highlights ‘places of interest’ as well as people on the right hand side. Unfortunately, due to the endless number of plot threads, the game can often get confused about which people should be there and which aren’t. For example it assured us banking Volus Barla Von was behind his desk at his store in the banking area in the Presidium Commons, but after Act 3 he could no longer be found there. Luckily, the journal marked his quest as completed, so we weren’t short of his war assets for the grand finale.

Other issues with the game stem from its cover system. While leaps and bounds ahead of Mass Effect 2, the game still struggles with cover at various points, sometimes taking you around a corner rather than mantling over cover, and rolling into cover often ends up with you just standing there looking at a wall. Generally it isn’t a major issue, but in the occasional fight, particularly the more frantic battles you face towards the end (think four Brutes at once…) you feel as though the game restricts you rather than enables you.

Scanning, while now dealt with in systems rather than planets to an extent, is still a fairly laborious process, with no clues as to whether there is even anything to find in a particular system, and some entire clusters seem to be pointedly empty, as if DLC might unlock something to do on one of their many worlds. The impending danger of scanning revealing the Normandy to the Reapers provides an initial fear, but quickly dissipates when you realise the auto save merely takes you back to when you entered the system – meaning if you can remember where the assets are, it is a simple case of trial and error for the game to give up its treasures.

Cut scenes too are riddled with issues. The usual conversation wheel loops from ME2 remain, which allow you to ask for elaboration on a point multiple times, and at one point in a conversation with Liara on the Normandy, both she and Shepard decided eye-contact was for losers and instead looked to their left and right respectively, while continuing to talk normally.

Can you beat Cerberus AND the Reapers?Despite this, it isn’t enough to ruin what is an incredible tense build up to the finale. In the second half there are a number of side missions (depending on how many you did in the first half, obviously), which see you meet up with more members of your ME2 crew. In our playthrough, we only had one squadmate missing – sociopath biotic queen Jack – and we didn’t miss her. Some squadmate appearances seem more significant than others, and you feel that without mainstays like Garrus and Tali you would lose a lot of what makes the game fun.

Passive conversations take a step up a notch as well, depending on your personal story. Some moments we enjoyed from these were Garrus and James Vega’s verbal sparring, EDI and Joker’s romancing in Pergatory and Tali drowning her sorrows in the lounge after Shepard meets up with Miranda to face-off with her controlling father.

The From Ashes DLC provides you with a brand new squadmate, a Prothean called Javik who was preserved in a life pod back on Eden Prime to be discovered by Shepard. The debate rages over whether this content should have been included in the retail release, and for 800 points the price is high for little more than a simple side mission, but having a Prothean in the ranks makes for some interesting encounters through the game.

As you near the end of the game, you feel the urgency of the mission build, in what is a masterstroke from BioWare in terms of their much boasted ‘integrated storytelling’. The occasional line is often thrown in to hark back to the first title in the series, but sadly the memorable side missions from Mass Effect, such as collecting Keeper data, aren’t tied up in what would have been a great opportunity to reward veteran players.

Combat difficulty gains momentum as you take the plunge and commit to finally taking down The Illusive Man, something many players have been begging for since the shifty head of Cerberus (voiced expertly by Martin Sheen) appeared on the scene at the opening of ME2.

The War Room in the Normandy gives you a breakdown of your forces, as well as the chances of success, ahead of the final assault to take back Earth, and it’s here that the Galaxy at War multiplayer really makes a difference to your final fighting strength.

The odds are always stacked against Shepard and his crew, and setting down on Earth – in London no less – this time around is no exception. While the setting raises a smile from a British perspective, (little other than big ben’s clock tower and some traditional English phone boxes set this apart from any post-apocalyptic warzone) the streets lie strewn with rubble and destruction as all manner of Reaper-class enemies advance on you almost relentlessly, particularly the instant-kill weilding Banshees, created from biotically charged Asari.

Despite the uncertainty of a war zone, Shepard still makes time for a chat, catching up with each of his squad members – end even video calling those who aren’t in the thick of it – for what is a deep breath before the plunge of the final big push.

The games ending  (which will try our best not to spoil) is the biggest bone on contention with the game as a whole, with Facebook campaigns and petitions already well underway in outrage at how BioWare could have ended the game as they did.

The truth of the matter is that there is no way the ending could ever have lived up to the events that paid the way to it, and the team have ended up tying things up with a head-scratching moment rather than a definitive ‘The End’.

While many would argue the conclusion alludes to the finale of Deux Ex: Human Evolution in its simplicity, the result is that players can discuss their ending knowing that the context of others’ games – which are infinite in complexity – are irrelevant, which is both and a strength and a weakness at the same time.

However players decide to end their game, the fact that their is still a choice goes back to what BioWare set out to do, and the ride always had to end sometime.

In the end, Mass Effect 3 is up there with the likes of Skyrim for epic story, but has a wealth of different experiences for each player in a totally different way. If a character is there or not changes the experience significantly, but doesn’t disadvantage or penalise the player as other games would. In the case of our playthrough, it was easy to work out where Jack should have been, but the mission was still hugely enjoyable without her.

Shepard’s story is one which everyone who plays ME3 will have a different level of investment in. To get the best possible experience, an import is crucial, and too an extent a lot of the emotional weight from the story just wouldn’t be possible without it.

Regardless of your choices, ME3 is a game which helps define this gaming generation, and makes the best stab at a Hollywood-esque franchise ever committed to disc. The issues tackled, romantic sub-plots, combined with the action and drama, make Mass Effect as a whole the most affecting story in gaming history, and one which demands attention from anyone who has ever picked up a control pad.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry

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Gaming | Review: Mass Effect 3 – Part 1 | This Is Entertainment

Prepare to take back EarthWith so many countless variables in Mass Effect 3, one person’s game will play out very differently from another’s. What is certain is that the game, so far, is one of the most involving, rich and diverse titles in the Xbox 360’s history. In this (spoiler free) first part of our review, we will look at the game up to the events on the Citadel, the political capital of the galaxy, around half way through the game.

The first thing to note is that importing a save is vital to the complete experience of Mass Effect 3. The story so far adds to every event which unfolds in the game, so if you haven’t seen the ancient Prothean beacon on Ilos, pondered the Krogan’s mass fertility disease the Genophage with Mordin or punched a reporter in the face, then you won’t be as invested in the galaxy as Shepard is.

Even so far there have been over a dozen occasions when characters who you have previously met, or decisions you have previously made, directly affect the outcome of plot points, from relatively minor side-missions to the main story arc.

The line between Paragon and Renegade has never been more blurred as Shepard must do whatever it takes to gather as many ‘War Assets’ as possible to take down the Reaper threat.

You’ll see many characters from Mass Effect 2 return as well, who have varying levels of integration with the story, since you have to bear in mind they could be completely absent from the game for some players if they did not survive 2’s Suicide Mission.

Many were disappointed with the Citadel in 2, and those criticisms have been met head on in part 3, with six areas of varying size to be explored, and selling more than just fish and space hamsters.

The most common difference you will notice between Shep and his shipmates is that they are far more dynamic. Far from static characters, you will find squadmates both all over the good ship Normandy and across areas like the Citadel, which makes them far more convincing as independent characters rather than just vaults of information which have to be teased open by talking to them at just the right time.

Another difference is the dialogue in general. There are far more ‘passive’ conversations, which don’t leap into a face-to-face conversation wheel, but just play out between characters. Often there will be conversations or arguments going on between NPCs and Shep can decide to back one side or another, but even when you can’t get involved you will see conversations progress as you re-visit areas, with characters offering new dialogue and giving you a glimpse into their personal struggles with the war. It’s details like this which really fill out the world and make it authentic, or as authentic an end to the universe as you can imagine.

Mini-games like hacking, bypassing and planet-scanning are gone, streamlining the experience, but instead you will find a more dynamic edge to the galaxy map. With the Reapers spread across the galaxy, zipping around isn’t as care free as it might have been. Some systems are being attacked by the Reapers as you visit them, meaning there is a chance you will run into one by passing through. What makes this more likely is the Normandy scanning the system for War Assets, since the sonar-esque signal reveals its location and draws the Reapers in. A bar indicates their alert level and when it fills you will hear the tell-tale Inception-horn of their arrival, often it’s a close call just to get away.

While you can read our initial impressions of combat in our previous post about the demo, which was representative of the finished product, there are a few more aspects to combat which are worth noting. The most pesky thing to come across is the deployable turrets put down by Cerberus Engineers. These shielded death-doers can cut down your character in a matter of seconds if you find yourself caught out of cover. The easiest way to avoid these confrontations is to beat down the Engineers before they deploy them, but this is far from easy.

While combat in the main game is more epic than before, and the accompanying cut scenes really show how BioWare have opened out the world so it’s more than just a collection of corridors, the real hard-as-nails nature of the enemies is revealed in the multiplayer mode.

A new addition for Mass Effect 3, the  mode contributes to the single player campaign by boosting ‘Galactic Readiness’. AS you kick ass and take names in multi player, the galaxy’s armies gain confidence for the final confrontation. While not essential, even a few multiplayer games can make a real difference to the effectiveness of your war assets.

Expect more on Mass Effect 3 in the next week or so as we polish of the single player campaign and give a verdict on the reportedly controversial ending, as well as the oft-mentioned From Ashes DLC. In the meantime read our interview with Commander Shepard’s male voice actor Mark Meer both early in development and deep in the middle of it.

James Michael Parry

Gaming | Mass Effect Demo first impressions | This Is Entertainment

Save the Earth..like that's never been done before....The first teasings of Mass Effect 3 have now been released in the form of a single and multi-player demo. Generally released on Tuesday (specifically designed to wreck relationships across the globe), the demo is now available through the Xbox UK Facebook page, but the multiplayer servers aren’t currently online.

While the nature of Mass Effect as a series means everyone’s playing experience differs, which is in fact one of it’s most appealing features, the demo does contain single player story content and therefore everything that follows is spoilerific, you have been warned.

What immediately hits you is the scale that this game will take, with the title screen (above) depicting the Reaper assault on Earth. These 50,000 year-old tin openers – or mechanical apocolypse-bringers, if you prefer – intend to destroy the entire galaxy with the help of the Mass Effect relays, which were left scattered around as bait for sentient species to go zipping around the cosmos.

Now they are back to claim their bounty, and the story begins with Shepard grounded on Earth after being stripped of his (or her) Commander status following the events of Mass Effect 2.

The first of many choices you must make as a player in the game (apart from your Shep’s gender), is what ‘style’ you would like to play. The game asks you to ‘Choose Your Experience’, between ‘Action’, ‘Role-Playing’ and ‘Story’.

‘Action’ cuts through the pesky story nonsense, gives you a ‘generic’ character profile and cuts straight to the shooting, treating any decision-making as a quick and easy cut scene and allow you to adjust combat difficulty as you see fit.

‘Role-Playing’ is the traditional, and some might say real, Mass Effect experience which BioWare intended, while ‘Story’ cuts down on the action to a minimum and keeps all the initial customisation options, but levels up your character as the story dictates.

Presuming you want to customise, the demo gives you all the options you might fancy, including who Shepard has lost from his team up to now, decided between ME1’s fallen comrades or ‘Several’ – suggesting there will be a significant effect on Shepard’s mental state depending on the amount of loss which has been suffered, which doesn’t show in the demo, but certainly will have implications in the full game.

As you jump into the action, The Alliance is tracking a large unknown threat approaching Earth. Soon there is news of the UK being under attack, and sure enough the Reaper invasion shown in the teaser trailer spans out as far as the eye can see.

For now Shepard has to get back to his ship, which means a bit of a trek with series regular Admiral Anderson. The interface is all familiar, albeit with some spit polish, but the health bars of both you and your enemies has now been split into sections rather than a continuous bar, meaning you can’t just hide to recover any longer – choosing your battles has never been more important.

The combat movement is far more fluid than ME2. Unfortunately it still fall short of the smoothness of Gears of War, but Shepard now has the ability to roll, dash between cover and, most addictively, deliver an instant-kill ‘hard’ mêlée attack which has your omni-tool sprout a large glowing blade to impale evil-doers.

Get your skills onPowers and abilities have been inevitably tweaked (the Adrenaline Rush is now a shadow of its former self at level 1) and the points trees are more complex. Instead of having three linear levels and then one specialisation at the end, the player can now customise three out of six Ranks, choosing between two variations. For example, at Rank 4 Disrupter Ammo can either have its damage enhanced, or you can make it available for the rest of your squad at 50% effectiveness. This allows for more personalisation of skills as you progressing, making a big impact on your combat effectiveness at later levels in the full game.

Combat too has taken a more stylised turn. Thanks to the improved mobility controls, it’s now easier to flank and outrun enemies, so BioWare has hit back with enemies with turrets and riot shields as well as meatier husks and even giant user-driven mechs.

Other little touches just throw up questions. There is also a ‘Weight Capacity’ statistic thrown in here and there but no sign of an inventory at present, perhaps something held back from the demo? There is also none of the detailed weapon customisations on show here, suggesting that these were added later on in the development process. Also the Bypass mini-game seems to have gone, what about hacking?

The feeling of the game really takes shape in the second section of the demo. Set later on in the game, the sequence depicts a visit to the Salarian homeworld to transport a Krogan female. It’s an action mission through and through, but you are bumped up to level 12 so you have a wide selection of powers at your disposal from both you and your team.

Powers play a much bigger part in combat than before, dealing some serious damage and deploying more quickly. Armour and barriers aren’t as easily taken down by straight-forward shooting, so some tactics are needed to take enemies down without you or your squad-mates taking too much damage.

Your companions are, as always, what brings the richness to the Mass Effect universe, and even the short selection shown by the demo oozes character. From Admiral Anderson’s trouble facing the reality of Earth’s destruction, to Mordin’s frantic but calculated orders shrieked to you amid a firefight, there is plenty here to make you think of them as real.

With just under a month to go until release on March 9 (in Europe), the game will be being polished up since this demo was submitted for verification, so we might still see tweaks and changes. (As for the multiplayer component, this should go live on Tuesday if not before, and there will be a separate update then if there is enough to say.)

For now, appetites should be thoroughly whetted.

Released 9 March

Don’t forget to check out our other Mass Effect articles, back in 2010 we spoke to Shepard’s voice actor Mark Meer while the game was in full swing, and then again last year when things were starting to wrap up. Plus the game features in our most anticipated games of the year, take a look.

James Michael Parry

Gaming Exclusive: Interview with Mark Meer, Shepard from Mass Effect 3

Last year This Is Entertainment caught up with Mark Meer, the man who provides the dulcet tones that bring the Mass Effect series’ Commander Shepard to life (the male version at least).

What with it being a brand new year, and there being a brand new trailer to gawp at (take a look at the Mass Effect 3 trailer), we thought we’d see how things were going.

This Is Entertainment: So how are things coming along with Mass Effect 3?

Mark Meer: Swimmingly!
TIE: Anything you can tell us?

MM: Sadly, no.
TIE: The final Downloadable Content for Mass Effect 2 re-united Shepard with Liara T’Soni, how was it getting to work more with Ali Hillis? Is there any truth to the rumour that her character will return in Mass Effect 3?

MM: I still haven’t actually met Ms. Hillis in person, but it was a pleasure to hear her voice in my headphones once again… I cannot comment on Liara’s possible presence or lack thereof in ME3 at this time. I will say that the Lair of the Shadowbroker DLC was some of my favorite work in the Mass Effect universe thus far…
TIE: BioWare Project Lead Casey Hudson has said that the series’ third instalment will have over 1,000 variables to its story line. That sounds like an awful lot of lines…how do you cope?

MM: Keep in mind that I get paid by the hour. I’m coping just fine.
TIE: Mass Effect 2 bagged best Role-Playing Game last year at the Golden Joysticks, was it a proud moment?

MM: The awards and accolades for ME2 just kept rolling in over the last couple of months – I’m certainly proud of the game’s many successes, but keep in mind, I’m just a small cog in this unstoppable entertainment juggernaut! Plus, any credit that goes to me must be shared equally with my other half, the lovely and talented Jennifer Hale.
TIE: IGN reported statistics last year showing that some people have completed Mass Effect 2 23 times. Have you ever been that addicted to a computer game?

MM: Way back when (in the mid-late nineties), I once played the original Warcraft for so long that I missed a night’s sleep entirely. I was doing a touring show at the time, and when the rest of the troupe arrived at my house in the morning to pick me up in the company van, I instinctively reached for the mouse to move myself from my front door to the vehicle. True story. These days, I tend to limit myself to one “Evil” and one “Good” playthrough of most RPGs.
TIE: The trailer released at the Spike Video Game Awards showed us a glimpse of London being overrun by the Reapers. Have you ever visited? What was your favourite place?

MM: Speaking of sleep deprivation… I’ve actually just returned from London and performing at the Annual 50-Hour London Improvathon! My wife Belinda is from London originally, and we visit there often, so I have quite a few favorite spots in that fine city. I always make a point of dropping into the world-famous comic shop Forbidden Planet, usually take in a few shows on the West End, do some improv shows with my friends from Grand Theft Improv at the Wheatsheaf pub in Rathbone Place, and of course there’s Hoxton Hall – an authentic Victorian music hall in Shoreditch where we do the Improvathon each year.
TIE: The next Dragon Age is only a couple of months away from release, have you managed to get your hands on it yet? How’s it shaping up?

MM: Not yet – I’ve been away for the last few weeks, so I’m hoping to pop into Bioware and see what’s up…

TIE: When we spoke to you last you mentioned you were looking forward to playing Fallout: New Vegas and Dead Rising 2, did you enjoy them? Anything you’re looking forward to playing later this year?

MM: Got Dead Rising 2 for Christmas, but I haven’t been able to play it yet. Now that I’m home, I’ll dive in. I LOVED Fallout: New Vegas – only had time to play it to completion once so far, but I killed Caesar! I’m unreasonably proud of myself for that (probably because people were constantly saying “That’s the man who killed Caesar ” around me for the rest of the game). I’ll definitely take another run at that one. Another Christmas gift was Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare – I’m very anxious to get to that, and to Dragon Age 2, of course. And, as a comic book geek, I’ll be looking forward to playing DC Universe Online and Batman: Arkham City…
TIE: You got a nomination for a clip called “Doug, The Last Man on Earth”, on The Irrelevant Show CBC Radio show, at the Canadian Comedy Awards last year. Were you miffed not to win?

MM: Not at all. It is, as they say, an honour to be nominated. I should mention, that wasn’t improv, which I do quite a bit of – it was a comedy sketch that I performed in, written by my good friend Dana Andersen. I’ll ask him if he’s miffed – I think he would have got the award if we’d won.
TIE: And finally, any news on Shepard’s chimpanzee sidekick?

MM: He’s going to smoke cigars and wear a little green derby. More than that, I cannot say.


James Michael Parry