Well in less than 2 weeks time Mass Effect 3 will land on our sunny shores in all its space operatic glory, and to whet our appetite, EA has released a demo consisting of 2 levels and a multiplayer component for us to get a taste of what M-shep and fem-shep have to offer.
Without spoiling the story for those of you who haven’t had the luck to play through the first 2 games, Mass Effect 3 is a storyline-driven 3rd person action RPG with team elements… simply, you shoot people while hovering over your characters shoulder, there are “levels”, and you get to manage 2 aliens or humans though increasingly awkward situations.
In single player mode, you get to play through a tutorial level, then get jumped to a level later in the game where you experience the game as a slightly more developed character. Mass Effect 3 handles ably enough in single player mode, with AI characters taking cover and exchanging fire smoothly and without any major glitches. Interestingly, they can’t seem to stop talking, which can be annoying but adds significantly to the immersion during firefights. Skills feel powerful and weapons work as advertised, though enemies can be a little bullet-spongy and take just a little too long to keel over.
What really irks me is the way the cover mechanic is handled. In true console-port style; running, rolling, taking cover, and vaulting over cover are ALL bound to the same bloody key, so it really relies on the game selecting the right context for your action. Naturally, the game isn’t perfect at this, so running around a corner causes you to take cover right in front of a group of enemies and hitting the space bar once too often while taking cover will cause you to vault excitedly over your cover like some suicidal bunny. The cover mechanic is often too sticky by far, making it a fiddly couple of seconds as you figure out exactly how to get your superglue covered back away from whatever conveniently chest high item you are behind. (Like in a console, you need to walk “backwards” away from the cover in order to get out from behind it… thumbsticks anyone?)
In multiplayer mode, you no longer play Shepard but rather a member of a special forces team which has volunteered to join in the fight. Gameplay is very similar, with enemies even more bullet spongy than ever. (On the easiest mode you can be shooting people in the face for a good 3 seconds and all they do is kinda stumble before lying down… i swear they have glass golems in those suits.) There is only one game mode in the demo where you have to fight off 10 waves of enemies for experience and complete some randomized objectives during these waves for credits. The experience levels for character, and the credits can be used to buy weapon packs which contain new weapons, weapon upgrades, new characters you can use and so on and so forth, kind of like booster packs in a Wizards Of The Coast card game. You can then use these to uh, earn more credits and uh, buy more weapon packs. As you might have figured out, this becomes quickly becomes a grind.
Strangely, Mass Effect 3’s lag compensation ends up teleporting you back and forth between 2 random points if it get too laggy, as the game carries on around you oblivious to the fact that you have managed to bridge time and space, and are doing it repeatedly on the battlefield to show off.
This doesn’t mean that the demo doesn’t have its fair share of exciting moments (like Liara), especially when you get to take down a FREAKING MECH (and Liara), but the grindy nature of multiplayer , and the consolified controls sap some of the fun out of the game. Perhaps EA will use this demo as a chance to brush up certain mechanics, but seeing that Mass Effect 3 is due to launch early March, it is very unlikely that things will change significantly from what we are seeing right now.
Verdict: BUY, if only to see the end of this great Bioware trilogy.
Final note: Bioware has this strange habit of putting children in extremely life threatening situations… Skyrim hangover perhaps?