While 2011 could easily be considered one of the best years for video games in the medium's brief history, 2012 is looking to be one hell of a follow-up! And one such game that has us all waiting anxiously by our Xbox 360 (or PlayStation 3, if you're into that) is none other than the final installment to BioWare's space opera trilogy: Mass Effect 3. Now, most of you will get the chance to test out the game with the demo that is being released tomorrow (February 14th), but I had a chance to get an early release of the demo and thought I would share some early impressions of the single-player with you guys.
The single-player campaign goes through two missions.
The first gives you the first 15-20 minutes of the actual single-player campaign from the game. You are former-Commander Shepard, who has been discharged and grounded from the Alliance military. You are no longer a member of Cerberus and the Alliance keeps you around in case you are right and the Reapers are going to attack Earth. I don't want to give away too many details, but let's just say that they don't end up keeping you around for nothing. The mission ends up with you running toward the Normandy while Earth is being attacked by aliens.
The second mission is where you really get a sense of how the game will play out. You travel to the Salarian homeworld to rescue a female Krogan. [If those words made no sense to you, you could go ahead and skip forward. No one will judge you, n00b.] You have squad members in this mission: Garrus and Liara. A few other friendly faces show up, here and there. And your enemy in this mission: Cerberus. Yeah, that's right! Cerberus is back and they're evil again! All is right in the world! I don't know what that means for the Miranda and Jacob characters (especially if you gave Miranda the business by the end of the the last game), but I'm all too excited to see what's going to happen.
The missions aren't very long. After all, it is a demo and BioWare does not want to give away all the details of their game prior to launch. It is just the right amount: enough to make you curl up in the fetal position after the demo is finished, chanting "March 6th, March 6th…" to yourself until… well, March 6th.
The first thing you will notice when booting up a single-player game is the new "Choose Your Experience" gameplay options. Right off the bat, you are given three ways of playing through the game (or, in this case, the demo): Action, Role Playing and Story. Action is for the COD gamer that just wants to get into the action and not have things like the dialogue options or key decision-making to get in their way. Story is the opposite, where the gamer is mainly playing through the game to experience the Star Trek-ian storyline without worrying whether or not they aim down the sight or take cover. Role Playing is for the Mass Effect fan, where you are in control of both the story and action. While fans might wonder why BioWare is choosing to give gamers this option in the final game, it is a great way to get more fans into the series and might also be better for those of us who enjoy replaying the games and might not want to worry too much about the action or story. Action will get the shooter fans and Story will get the Team Ico or Heavy Rain fans (since this is now going to be a PlayStation 3 experience, as well).
You can also play as "FemShep" (female Shepard) in the demo, if you'd like. I know there are quite a few of you "FemShep" fans!
If you're a longtime fan, there are a few changes that you might notice when starting the first mission. Not much has changed since Mass Effect 2, but button-mapping was given a bit of a redo. It's not too drastic a change, mind you. Mainly just press X rather than Y for certain activities. Honestly, the only way it could confuse you when playing or even feel like a headache is if you had just gotten done playing Mass Effect 2 (like I had on my first playthrough). But your first mission is an introduction to new and old players, so you'll quickly get the hang of it.
There is yet another change to the health meter this go around. You still have a shield, of course, but this time you're health meter is split up in five pieces. It still regenerates, like in Mass Effect 2, but only to a certain point. For example, if your health drops below the fifth piece, you will only regenerate up to the fourth. You can always use the First Aid option to bring it all the way back up (if you have MediGel, that is), but until you do, you will only have those four bits of health to work with. If this sounds in any way confusing, it is almost the same health meter that was used in Halo: Reach. It works very well. It lasts a bit longer than your health did in Mass Effect 2, but it still keeps you wary of just running out there, guns a-blazin'. Especially since your shield does not last as long as it did in the previous games in the series.
AI in the game is a VAST improvement over the previous titles! That is for both enemies and your squad members. Your teammates are not just standing behind, shooting poorly and taking up the best places for you to take cover. They genuinely help you! If you are taking care of the boss, they will flank or shoot the random smaller enemies that are shooting at you. If you go to a higher plane to take the bad guys down without them seeing you, they will not just randomly follow you and blow your cover. And not once did I feel the need to actually tell my team to stay put. They just knew. Just a huge step up. Not ju
st for the Mass Effect series, but for team-based shooters, in general. And the enemy AI never sticks to one place for too long. They are always dodging and always backing off if they see you approaching. They pick their shots and will kill you if you decide to just run up to them to try and melee. And just because you have that cool new Heavy Melee move does not mean that you do not need that assault rifle. Remember, kids: don't bring an omni-tool to a gunfight.
Better With Kinect?
Now I have been skeptical of the inclusion of the Kinect in Mass Effect 3 since the E3 2011 announcement. And as someone who works in a retail store that sells video games, I have become a little jaded when I see that purple "Better With Kinect" bar on a game box. It really does feel forced and it even looked as if it were forced upon them when presenting it at the Microsoft press conference at last year's E3. But I do have a Kinect and figured that I should at least give this Kinect inclusion a chance since I am testing it. So, the question remains: Is Mass Effect 3 "better with Kinect"? The answer is simple: it could be.
Now, I know that that's fairly vague, but hear me out. The idea behind this is that it stops you from ducking into the menu for a few seconds and keeps you right in the game. Rather than going to your Power Wheel menu and selecting Liara's Stasis, you can simply say, "Liara, Stasis". And, more often than not, it works… well! There are still a few hiccups with this. Surprisingly, it's with the things that are simply easier to push a button for anyway. Namely, opening doors and picking up items. For some reason, my Kinect was having the worst trouble hearing me say the word "Open". I am a fairly eloquent speaker. I don't stutter, slur or mumble. "Open" should be one of the easy ones.
It is also much simpler to just select a dialogue option rather than say it. Reading the sentence takes three seconds. Pushing my joystick right and hitting A takes less than one.
You can also change weapons with Kinect, which is also a great way of keeping you in-game rather than on a radial menu. And while I feel it is simpler to just hit X, I don't see why there is no option to just say "Reload". Is that a dumb thing to whine about? Yes, I heartily agree. But I bet that the first update to Mass Effect 3 will include the option to reload with Kinect.
Come on?! Do you really need a verdict here? It is a great demo that showcases some phenomenal improvements to gameplay mechanics and has a couple scenes that just make you angry that it is not already March 6.
If you are a Mass Effect fan, play the demo! If you have not yet played a Mass Effect title, play the demo! If you are an RPG fan, but chose not to get into the series because you are not good with shooters, play the demo!
Mass Effect 3 demo will be available on Xbox LIVE Marketplace and PlayStation Network on February 14, 2012 and the full game will be released on March 6, 2012 in North America.
Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter as @nitroslick.