Before I begin, let put your mind at ease friend! There’ll be no Mass Effect 3 spoilers to be found in these here passages. Firstly, I’m not a jerk. Secondly, I’m a big fan myself, so I know full well how vital every twist and turn is to the overall Mass Effect experience! Well, at least I though I did anyway. One of the first things the demo asks you – and I gather this feature remains in the full version – is whether you want to have the AI make all the dialogue choices for you, supposedly so you can focus on the combat.
While I question why anyone would want to play an RPG in such a fashion, it’s not as crazy a proposition as it would have been in ME1 or 2. If this demo is anything to go by, then the combat in ME3 is a significant improvement over that of the two previous incarnations, both of which I’d lovingly describe as “passable” even on a good day. Most noticeably Shepard is way more mobile than ever before; able to perform cheeky combat rolls as well as a some smooth parkour when the situation demands it. Plus, the commander no longer suffers from the dreaded space asthma, so can now partake in brisk jogs that last more than two or three seconds without needing to take a little nap mid-combat.
He or she (I’m gonna keep switching between the two from now on, just for giggles) has also finally got over his debilitating phobia of touching weapons not mention in her class description. So, much like it was in the first game, every type of gun is now available to all classes to use as they see fit. Grenades also make a triumphant return from ME1, with a different flavor unique to each class. Unfortunately said grenades ain’t mapped to a specific button in the console versions, and instead eat into your (still quite frankly ridiculous) limit of 3 hot-keyed skills at any one time.
Also unique to each class is the long awaited melee attacks. Contrary to what most ME3 promotional material may suggest, it turns out these attacks can be used whenever you damn well please and are not mealy a context sensitive stealth kills. But as there’s no way to accurately “lock-on” to enemies, I often found myself using these attacks to brutally pummel thin air, all the while being slowly eviscerated by the nearest goon. That’s ok though, cus’ they all look super badass even when you miss. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters right?
Other than those bells and whistles, the core combat mechanics remain more or less the same as they were before: you and two other dudes with laser guns hide behind things and then shoot some other guys, whom themselves are doing much the same thing. Leveling hasn’t changed much either, the only notable difference being that skill “evolutions” are now offered at much lower levels than they were in ME2. The demo does suggests they’ve brought back in a loot system of some kind too. However most of those features locked out, so I can’t really give you any details on how that stuff works just yet.
Changes to the visuals seem fairly significant by comparison; character textures in particular are noticeably sharper than before and thankfully don’t seem to suffer from the Unreal Engine’s™ patented “texture-pop” technology. Unfortunately this is where the tone of this preview turns a little gloomy, so stop reading now if you don’t want a total buzz kill. So, after playing the demo on all thee major platforms (PC, PS3 and Sega Game Gear) I can safely surmise the following: the PS3 version is SO not ready. I realise the PS3 version of ME2 wasn’t exactly silky smooth either, but at least I could look at it without feeling ill! The frame rate is the the real deal breaker, from start to finish it was so abysmally low that I’m actually dumbfounded EA let this demo even see the light of day for fear of a PR disaster.
While that might sound like just a nerdy little nitpick, in this case I assure you it’s a very serious problem. If you don’t believe me, just imagine trying to line up a head shot or get engrossed in an emotional cutscene when the whole game looks like a child’s flip book. Given that the PS3 is my console of choice, I’m personally considering bringing my PC version Shepard out of retirement rather than having to put up with farce for even a moment longer. At the very least I’d recommend any PS3 gamers pull their pre-orders until you know for certain whether this issue is something that’ll actually persist over to the full version. But hey, the fixed the screen tearing issue! That counts for something right?
I should make it clear that I’m not saying the Xbox 360 version is without fault either, it has its share of jank. It’s all within reason though, so no need for the Microsoft faithful to turn up at EA HQ with torches and pitchforks just yet. Unsurprisingly the PC version is (provided your rig’s up to the task) goddamn immaculate in its own right, and defiantly remains the platform of choice if you prefer your space marines looking extra spiffy.
PS3 concerns aside, the action segments of ME3 are shaping up to be a pretty solid in my book. I feel like they’ve addressed a lot of the core problems that made ME2’s combat a little tiresome, namely the lack of variety and rather laborious pace of play. That said, I very much doubt it’ll be the shooter revolution that EA’s wants you to think it is, but I can’t say I blame em’ too much for marketing it that way. The “video game featuring bald man holding a gun” industry is pretty competitive these days ya know!
As for the big question on many an ME fan’s lips, e.g. “OMG! Have nerf storyline make Gears of Mass Effect 3?!?!11” I just don’t have a bloody clue mate. All the conversational segments in the demo seemed pretty alright to me, and the voice acting still sounds top notch. But for the most part this demo was all combat, all the time. Looks like we’ll just have to wait till March to find out if all that juicy space drama goodness made the cut or not.