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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

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Gaming: New Halo: Reach trailer

There may still be seven weeks to go before Bungie’s final (allegedly) outing into the sci-fi adventure universe of Halo, but Microsoft are keen to rack up the anticipation factor, which is why we now have a shiny new HD trailer.

September 14 will come around quickly once the summer weather wears off and people quickly retreat inside from their barbecues to shelter in the warmth given off by the whirr of their Xbox 360s – unless you can afford a glossy black one of course.

Halo is the backbone of the Xbox legacy, so you can understand why MS are pushing it so hard, but what can we get out of this latest trailer?

With a lot of exposure for the multiplayer aspect of the game through the Beta test, this trailer focuses on the campaign mode, which will see you take command of Noble Six. No rookie this time around, unlike the slightly lacklustre ODST, this squad are hardened Spartan IIIs, but not the tough cookies Master Chief and his pals are, so things should be a little tougher this time around.

The trailer opens with the planet Reach, the fall of which is well known by veteran Halo players, suggesting the ending of the game won’t be too happy. Proceedings take a distinctly Avatar-like turn as we see numerous flying transports (the pre-cursor to the Hornets seen in later games) crossing mountainous forests, so there may be levels similar to Halo 3‘s opening trek.

Soon Spartan troops are being briefed, including glimpses of the skull-faceplate-painted character known as ‘Ghost’, alongside humans, meaning the days of stealing human characters’ Shotguns will soon be here again.

Next an armoured convoy with air support speeding across a sandy plain before being attacked by The Covenant, which should be exciting since the series has been aching for an out and out mass vehicle battle for years, hence the popularity of the ‘Heavy’ multiplayer modes in Halo 3.

The Elites rear their head as the enemies once again, but this time around you have the advantage of armour upgrades (or downgrades?) to give you a helping hand, and The Covenant forces begin to overwhelm the backgrounds just as they did in New Mombasa.

A quick glimpse of what looks like a fighter jet we’d recognise from an American war film stirs up some questions before soon revealing it’s attached to a space rocket, which leads us to a Star Wars-esque space battle, but there is little time to absorb it as Bungie snatches Reach away from us again to keep us wanting more. As it should be.

With all their pedigree Bungie have every reason to make this an unforgettable title to see out the series on, with people growing tired of modern warfare once again it’s time to return to sci-fi, so everyone will be too engrossed by the time Call of Duty wants to fight back.

James Michael Parry

Gaming: Top 5 Xbox LIVE Games

Online gaming is massive, something I’ve touched on previously in my blog, and nowhere more so than Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE, but for those of you who are yet to be bitten by the bug, yet to see your Xbox 360 reach it’s full potential, I bet you’re sitting there thinking: “Paying a fiver a month to play online? Why should I?”
The answer, is quality. The Xbox LIVE community thrives because of the people who make it what it is. Only last month we heard the story of players continuing to play Halo 2 after Microsoft decided to shut original Xbox LIVE down. Nowhere else would you get the same sort of devotion, except perhaps the most dedicated hardcore Counter-Strike servers.
So to initiate the unconverted, I’ve decided to pick out the top five games which show the best of what Xbox LIVE has to offer. While there might not be many surprises on the list, and there are many many more excellent games to be enjoyed online, these five together give the most enriching and entertaining all-round online experience.

1) Halo 3 (Developer: Bungie // Publisher: Microsoft)

So first up we have the big daddy of modern online gaming, the game that took the idea to a whole new level. By March last year over a billion matches had been played on multiplayer and it still ranks highly on the weekly Xbox LIVE play figures, reaching number three on week May 24th according to Major Nelson.
But just because a game is popular, doesn’t mean it’s automatically good, we all know what sheep people can be. In Halo’s case though, the Bungie team have learnt from the multiplayer in Halo 2 and improved everything about the matchmaking and game types to provide as wide a range of game types and general destruction as possible.
Standard deathmatches are all well and good, but fancy driving around the map with explosions everywhere from infinite ammo rocket launchers? Well you can thanks to the ‘Rocket Race‘ gametype – although it is rare to come across these days – as well as the more traditional ‘King of the Hill‘, ‘Gladiator‘ and ‘Team Swords‘ all being hugely enjoyable modes.
Another feature which in many ways was underused is the infinitely customisable ‘Forge’ mode, in which players can customise any of the maps in the game with additional crates, explosives, weapons, vehicles, practically anything in fact, leading to some inspired custom levels.
The latest DLC pack ‘Mythic‘ – released with Halo ODST – included a map called ‘Sandbox’ with large areas above and below the actual map for exactly this reason, sadly Bungie made little effort to introduce the best custom levels to the rest of the community and so the level failed to fulfil its potential.
Despite that Halo continues to be consistently fun to play despite being released in 2007, and the generally team-based play means the learning curve isn’t too steep.
2) Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (Developer: DICE // Publisher: EA)
While many of you at this moment are no doubt incensed with anger at me choosing this game in place of the astronomically successful Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series.
The reasons this game tops it for me are two fold: firstly – Modern Warfare is hard. Now I’ve no problem with things being challenging, but Call of Duty is not a game you can just pick up and enjoy, you have to unlock the higher ranks for decent weapons and perks and though the Death Streak perks on MW2 initially give you a tiny edge, it’s easily the most frustrating game I’ve ever played for the sheer “Here we go, oh no I’m instantly dead”-factor.
On Battlefield though, team play takes a new meaning as you can spawn on your team mates. Of course they still die just before you get a chance to appear, but you find you can get out of a fix pretty quickly if you just hide in the foliage for ten seconds.
The multiplayer is based around a class system, namely Assault, Engineer, Media and Recon, and are as self-explanatory as they seem. There is some range, but not enough to make any one class miles better than any other, and a good balance in multiplayer is key.
The maps on the game are nicely varied, and the destructible environments give a certain uneasiness, since a place of safely can be deleted in an instant by a stray tank shell.
The vehicles themselves are what make the multiplayer so enjoyable. You and friends commanding the skies from a HIND helicopter or creating a Tank convoy to storm the enemy position. Not that vehicles make you invincible either, meaning a solid defence can take them down.
The lack of multiplayer modes, which are set to be increased come the next DLC instalment, don’t make the game repetitive or dull at all, and you really get a sense of a prolonged skirmish even in short games because of the amount of time in the action, though if you get the timing wrong when spawning you can find yourself with a long walk to the objective.

3) Left 4 Dead 2 (Developer: Valve // Publisher: Valve)

If you prefer the dead to the living, then zombie dismember-em-up Left 4 Dead 2 is right up your street. Not only is it the most varied zombie game I’ve ever come across (though Dead Rising 2 is shaping up very nicely) it gives you the chance to be a zombie, and not just a trudging brain-muncher either.
The ‘special’ infected (the game’s term for zombies) have fantastic powers, from releasing your tongue as a lasso to ensnare your victims, covering them in toxic gunge or pouncing on them from a nearby rooftop to claw up their face.
It may all sound a bit brutal, but this is a battle for survival after all, and this game like no other makes you value your life as you manically swing a cricket bat, or gnome, to defend yourself from hoards of evil nasties.
The bedrock which the first game set down has been well build upon this time around, with ‘Survival‘ and ‘Scavenge‘ modes adding some variety to the usual run-of-the-mill campaigns, which themselves are very varied and enjoyable in their own right. ‘Realism‘ adds a challenge for veterans of the first game, taking away helpful pointers such as weapon highlighting and friends’ outlines when out of view, making things instantly more treacherous.
Xbox LIVE is woven into the structure of this game, it would be a shadow of itself without the help of random online strangers, however tool-ish they can sometimes be.
Learning how and when to use the special infected, particularly in the short sharp bursts that ‘Scavenge‘ offers, is even more enjoyable than tearing through the infected with your AK-47 as one of the very vulnerable survivors.
As much as it’s fun to work with your friends, it’s even more fun to hunt them down and devour them, with the sadistic pleasure we all feel seeing our friends in some mild peril – albeit in video game form.
This game also gets the ‘Pick Up and Play’ award for simplicity as Valve, with their considerable experience in first person shooters (stand up and take a well-deserved bow Half Life), have created the most intuitive control system, keeping things simple to make the learning curve as shallow as possible, and it pays off – gruesomely.
4) Red Faction: Guerilla (Developer: Violation Inc // Publisher: THQ)
Computer games give you the ability to enact your greatest and wildest fantasies from the comfort of your own sofa, and who in their right mind hasn’t liked the idea of blowing up everything in sight?
Thanks to Red Faction: Guerilla that dream came one giant jet pack flying leap closer, with Violation Inc’s highly impressive ‘Geo-Mod 2.0‘, a gameplay engine which dynamically maps the destruction of buildings, allowing you to cause the roof of a building to fall crushing the building beneath it ad other such havoc with the game’s various structure-deleting equipment.
In multiplayer this engine takes a more significant role in gameplay as towers fall to become bridges and the building you’re safely hiding inside quickly crumbles around you, forcing an energetic and varied style of play.
Game modes here are more inventive than most games too, but all containing a fair amount of destruction for good measure, naturally.
The highlight is the ‘Destroyer‘ game mood, which is pretty much as it sounds, one player tries to destroy as many buildings as possible while the rest of the team protects them, and the other team does the same. There are bonus points on offer if you kill the enemy destroyer.
It tends to work better on some maps than others, since sometimes people are too efficient and blowing things up and there is nothing left on the map by the end of the game, but it makes for some interesting matches.
Another key thing to mention is that the standard weapon is a sledgehammer, adding a satisfying twist to the standard melee attack, not to mention some amusing unlocks as you reach higher levels (ostrich-hammer anyone?)
5) Splinter Cell: Conviction (Developer: Ubisoft Montreal // Publisher: Ubisoft)
As the lone wolf of stealth action, Sam Fisher is getting on a bit, but at the risk of ruining his ‘one-man-army-super-badass’ image, Ubisoft decided to bring in some now acquisitions for their highly-addictive cooperative mode ‘Deniable Ops‘.
Players control either ‘Archer‘ (American, cocky, sarcastic) or ‘Kestrel‘ (Russian, cold, calculating) in missions in secret complexes, installations and generally other covert things. What makes the game mode work is the free-roaming parts, which allow you to work with your partner to navigate a large area filled with enemies by working out a strategy.
Of course you just wing it a few times, but then get separated and killed pretty quickly so decide perhaps a tactic or two wouldn’t be a bad thing. As much as it sounds like a lot of thought, after a while it becomes second nature, depending on how good your partner is, and you find progressing cooperatively even more rewarding than pumping your friends full of lead.
One place where the game really favours the coop mode over the standard campaign is the much touted ‘Mark And Execute‘ system, which allows players to highlight a certain number of enemies depending on the weapon they are using them, and then press a single button to kill them all automatically in a matter of seconds.
Because the two games are connected together there is a bit of leeway between one player pressing the button and the other, meaning you can often watch your characters executing half a dozen enemies through various walls and other obstacles, suggesting their bullets have suddenly gained wall-felling powers.
What began as feeling like a bit of a tacked-on option in the run up to the game’s release flourished considerably, thanks to – or even cause of – some significant delays, and made the title overall far better value for money.
So, if you’re Xbox-ing away at home on Mass Effect 2 for hours on end, blissfully unaware of the outside world, try connecting your Xbox up to the magical wonderment that is the internet and watch your games instantly become even better.
James Michael Parry