Gaming Extra: Mass Effect 3 preview

Sheehan Hannan, Assistant A&E Editor

With an inspirational speech, a flashy explosion, and squid-esque Reaper spaceships descending to the earth’s surface, the “Mass Effect 3” demo is finally upon us. The demo, exhibited at last year’s E3, is now available to the public on all three major platforms. “Mass Effect 3,” developed by Bioware studios and published by Electronic Arts, is scheduled for a March 6 release. It is rated Mature.

The third game in the series continues the saga of Commander Shepherd as he battles the Reapers, a race of organic-robotic creatures intent on harvesting all organic life forms. Like its precursor, “Mass Effect 3” features a continuing storyline, in which choices made in the previous games affect the characters and plot of the current one, assuming you can manage to find your previous save in the dusty nether regions of your hard drive.

The demo consists of the game’s opening sequence, in which the Reapers reach Earth, interrupting Commander Shepherd’s trial and continuing where the last game left off. You’re tossed right into the action, with Captain Anderson as a temporary squad mate. Additionally, players are given the chance to play through a much later level of the game, in which Shepherd attempts to rescue the last remaining fertile Krogan female from Cerberus operatives.

The demo definitely bodes well for the final release, with a strong graphical performance and fully developed characters. Combat is also tweaked, with faster pacing, an enhanced cover and movement system, and more emphasis on melee attacks. Melee combat is further complemented by Shepherd’s enormous holographic knife, making for “Assassin’s Creed”-style hyper-dramatic takedowns, complete with guts and gore.

While there will be significant improvements in the combat systems, they will not be as drastic as the transition from “Mass Effect” to “Mass Effect 2.” Indeed, the increased difficulty and updated melee system is a good transition. The cover system, however, seemed somewhat choppy, though it could simply have a bit of a learning curve. The game’s cut-scenes blended well with the action, though the awkward facial animation that plagues this series continues to be an issue in the demo. All the character models have been updated, the most obvious being Ashley Williams, who has been a bit more…sexualized.

With this release, Electronic Arts hopes to push rudimentary multiplayer, which was previewed in the demo. The system pits four players against endless waves of AI enemies, much like the horde mode in “Gears of War 3” and “Saints Row: The Third.” While enjoyable, the demo was plagued with matchmaking issues, as each player has only one life and most people tend to leave the match upon dying, rather than waiting for the next round. Hopefully, the developer will include alternate game types in the final release, though the focus will be on the seemingly boundless universe of the single-player game.

The release of “Mass Effect 3” is bound to be the year’s biggest so far, as previous games in the series have been considered groundbreaking for the RPG genre. Promoters are also hyping the release with one-of-a-kind promotions, like launching copies of the game into the atmosphere on weather balloons. Wherever they may land, they will bring full copies of the game before release, providing they don’t end up in an ocean somewhere. This year, Cleveland winds may be bringing you more than snow and sniffles.