Graphically, Mass Effect 3 isn’t leaps and bounds ahead of Mass Effect 2. Garnering the most improvement are the character models, which have finally abandoned the awkward, slack-jawed look of prior installments. Shepard, in particular, looks weary and tired throughout, fitting for a man who has the weight of a galaxy on his shoulders. Characters emote more realistically than in ME2, even if Bioware still hasn’t gotten the hang of creating convincing tears in their games. Where the game excels is in the details. Clothing, weaponry, ships, and the various landscapes you visit are presented with a much finer approach than previously. The sheer detail found in a Quarian’s encounter suit is staggering.
Hollywood composer Clint Mansell provides the soundtrack this time around, and the game is all the better for it. If you don’t know who Mansell is, let me put it this way: 9 out of 10 movie trailers in the past 10 years have used his Lux Aeterna piece from Requiem For A Dream as theme music. Mansell knows when to keep the soundtrack level and when to accentuate the big action pieces. Suffice it to say, several of ME3‘s musical themes have found their way onto my playlist.
An “End Once And For All,” which plays during the game’s final moments, is especially moving.
“Stand Strong, Stand Together” is another fine piece, played during a rousing, pre-battle speech.
No mention of Mass Effect’s audio suite would be complete without showering kudos on the extended voice cast. Shout outs go to Mark Meer, whose performance as Commander Shepard is taken to new heights in his final turn. Smooth-voiced Keith David gets a lot more meat to chew on in his third go around as Admiral Anderson and fellow Admiral Lance Henricksen could read the phone book as Hackett and I’d still tune in. Martin Sheen is sadly underused this time around as The Illusive Man, who only shows up for a few critical scenes.
One black mark on the entire voice cast is non-actor IGN’s Jessica Chobot, who shows up as Diana Allers, a wartime reporter you can choose to have on the Normandy. Had I known her line delivery would be this flat, I would have left her behind. Freddie Prinze Jr. voices newcomer James Vega but he’s let down by a boring, uninteresting character shoehorned in way too late in the trilogy for us the care about.
Trumping both graphical and audio presentation is the game’s success at pulling at player’s heartstrings. If you’re even halfway invested in Mass Effect and its huge cast, then a pair of plot-unavoidable deaths will have you weeping. Mordin’s noble sacrifice had me sniffling… and that’s before the crazy, brilliant bastard started singing some of his Gilbert And Sullivan and then the floodgates just opened up. But I really lost all pretense of masculinity when Thane passed away, in a hospital bed of all places. I was prepped when Thane died, but the kicker came when his son told my Shepard that Thane’s prayer for forgiveness wasn’t for himself… but for Shepard, knowing full well that the later would now seek to avenge his friend’s death. Damn, Bro… that gets me right here…
While I cannot say that I’ve joined the chorus of online voices crying foul at the franchises final minutes, I have to admit to some slight disappointment in the game’s ending. My problem isn’t with the Deus Ex Machina the writers pull out of their collective asses with barely 20 minutes to go in the trilogy, but rather with the lack of actual closure. There’s no big celebration, no victory party, no epilogue to tell the player what consequences his actions had or what the 20+ cast ended up doing with their lives. The game simply ends. And that hurts.
Ok. So I was a bit harsh in my review. How can I justify giving Mass Effect 3 a nearly perfect score anyway? Well, it’s because it very nearly is a perfect game and most of my peeves were with Bioware and some of their business practices rather than the finished product itself. Judged solely on the merits of its story, Mass Effect 3 deserves a high score. Sure, Bioware could have/should have given fans a much longer ending and some actual closure, but I can’t hate on a 30+ hour game for stumbling in its final half hour. Mass Effect 3 is a fitting end to a celebrated series. And it made me cry. No game as ever done that before.