lauantai 31. maaliskuuta 2012

20 Questions

I wasn't going to do this before the Year 2 summary coming up in August, but there have been so many interesting questions, and I've had so little interest in updating the FAQ section, that I think it's as good time as any to answer some of them. To be more precise, 20 of them, in the good old style of 20 Questions.

How's it going?
This is the most usual sentence my blog-related e-mails start with - this, and all variations of "Greetings, cocksucker." I'm all right at the moment, thank you. Most things at work are fine, my best friend's about to be a dad, no one's screwed me over worse than usual in the last 30 days, and I've met some incredibly fascinating new people. I'm just dandy.

You've been jabbering on about it for the last year and you still haven't got Skyrim?
Let me break this down as plainly as I can. No, I don't, which makes me a very lonely person on the planet. I'm definitely getting it, but you have to understand that I have never considered The Elder Scrolls to be that huge of a deal. Hell, I'm not even close to completing just one game in the series, although I have each one that preceded Skyrim. The main reason for the (bunch of) delay(s) is that it's still a very rare find for anything less than its original, full retail price. There's always something that I consider more interesting, and it's usually much cheaper. Once again, I'm getting it - the Xbox 360 version, just as an act of consistency. Believe me, you will know when I finally have Skyrim in my shelf.

But seriously, it's a quite good movie.
How about the movie reviews? And could you at least tell us your general opinions on movie adaptations of video games? There a favourite one? Least favourite one? Something. 
I don't like watching movies alone except when I'm too hung over to do anything else, that's the first and foremost reason for this delay. In a nutshell, I like to talk about the movies with someone while watching and after 'em. Also, I don't feel right doing just one or two periodical movie reviews, this one's just GOT TO BE A MARATHON. There's no doubt in my mind about that. It's still coming, it's too great of an idea to pass up, 'cause as you've seen in all of my reviews of licensed games, I like to talk about movies - a lot (a backdrop for the next question). So, it's only natural that I will take on this marathon of dung sooner or later. There's your answer: most movie adaptations of video games suck ass. But, they all suck ass differently, that's what makes them great critical fodder. My favourite one would have to be the first Mortal Kombat movie; it's not a masterpiece in drama, but it's good entertainment. The sequel's not only a horrible video game adaptation, but probably the worst movie I've ever seen - right after The Exorcist II. I liked Silent Hill, 'cause it captured the spirit of the game series quite well - hell, better than any Silent Hill game released since Silent Hill 3. To name another God damn horrible waste of celluloid, I can't possibly leave Super Mario Bros. unmentioned. All in all, there are really, really bad ones, and semi-good live action adaptations of video games. I'll get to 'em when I find the time... and someone to watch the flicks with.

You spend an awful lot of time talking about movies, especially when you're doing licensed games, and while there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, where does it stem from and why are you not doing movie reviews?
I have absolutely no interest in doing movie reviews of a similar scale. I wrote a few movie reviews just for fun some years ago - I reviewed the Batman quadrology and the whole Star Wars series - but I very soon grew tired with it, I figured it just wasn't my thing. While I perceive writing actual reviews of movies a little boring and one-dimensional, I enjoy talking about them and making a few points. I'm also a sucker for all sorts of trivia (I know, "no shit").

You've reviewed a lot of what you claim to be your favourite games. How many yet unreviewed games do you think there are which will make it past 9 and/or in the Top 60?
Whew... I seriously don't know... but I could name at least one game which will most likely make it to no less than the Top 10 - which should tell you that I'm not done with games that I consider absolute masterpieces. I won't name it, though - I don't want to get your hopes up for a high profile marathon just now. I've spared a lot of praise up my sleeve, believe me.

You've talked about reviewing your collection, which includes sports games. Do you really think there's any sense in doing an NHL marathon - or anything like it?
No, I don't, and I totally see your point. Instead of standard reviews, I'm doing something different with sporadic sports titles such as EA's NHL franchise, which is having its turn in the spotlight relatively soon. Something kinda in the style of the DLC Guides I've been doing, with the main difference being that the games are not exempt from the Top/Bottom lists.

Which kind of games do you consider the most fun to review? Or the most difficult?
The answer to both questions is "any RPG". You've seen the gigantic reviews; when I get my juices flowing with any deep RPG, there's just no end to stuff that I want to point out. However, starting to write such a review is always the hard part. About halfway into it, everything starts to come naturally.

How long does it take you to review a game, counting out the play time?
A couple of hours with any game - and it would certainly take that long even if I wrote in my native language. I'm very careful nowadays; I usually proofread every review at least a couple of times before publishing it. Gigantic reviews, the most recent example being that of Mass Effect 3, take me days to write. I started writing the review the day after getting Mass Effect 3, and finished up the day I completed it, which means it took me four days to write. This way, I made sure I didn't forget to mention anything important - I usually do this with games which I know to be up for a huge, thorough review.

I'm far from calling it even
with Malak.
Name one or two games which you'd totally want to review again.
No question about it. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The original review on display right now is a rushed piece of shit. Although I'm perfectly fine with the rating, I zoomed through the game due to my hardware problems, and didn't really stop to look around and see what made it a great role-playing game, just a great Star Wars game. The only reason I reviewed it was that I couldn't leave it out of the Star Wars marathon as it was one of the main reasons for me to start doing the marathon. Although I've decided not to do the review of the PC version all over again, a review of the Xbox version is in the works, and it'll be a whole lot more thorough. There's also one game which I would like to delete from the blog's timeline and do over, namely Super Metroid. It was the first game I ever reviewed, and it shows... I wish I would've started out with a little less of a masterpiece. There's so much more I'd like to tell about the game than just "it's fuckin' great."

Are the days of the Monster Mash over?
Not by a long shot. I still have plenty of great ideas from all ages to build up a few Mashes. A Monster Mash requires some downtime from everything else, and a certain mood. I'm pretty certain you will see one or two mini-Mashes before the end of the year, at least on Halloween.

What's your relationship with James Rolfe, a.k.a. the Angry Video Game Nerd? You cite him quite often.
We don't have one, I don't know James. But I know where you're getting at. I started writing game reviews before I even knew who he was, but I must admit he was a great influence on my early reviews, and an even greater influence on all of my retro reviews. While it might seem that I end up reviewing a lot of the games he's famously reviewed (Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, Fester's Quest, Batman: Return of the Joker, Frankenstein: The Monster Returns etc.), on purpose, and to the same outcome, I'm actually trying to avoid it the best I can. I see eye to eye with him a little too well when it comes to flaws, and the reviews have a tendency to end up like transcripts of his videos. Like I've said before, though, I'm still waiting for him to take on the Bubsy franchise...

Being a newborn BioWare fanatic such as yourself, are you going to review some of BioWare's earlier/more "obscure" titles, like Jade Empire or Baldur's Gate?
"Newborn BioWare fanatic"... I like that! The answer to your question is: absolutely! Jade Empire is up there on the shelf, waiting for its turn, which will not come for a while, however, since it's been added to my collection after the concept of reviewing my collection first came to me. Same goes for Baldur's Gate. I have a physical copy of Dark Alliance II for the Xbox, and in my usual style, I'd feel guilty if I didn't go for a BG marathon when it gets its turn.

The time will come when
I will tell you about the
greatest tale of friendship
there ever was.
What's this talk about "Looking Back at Mass Effect"? What's it all about, and when will it be published?
I think I put it quite plainly, but Looking Back at Mass Effect is a short review of the whole trilogy, and a chronicle of the decisions and views on different characters and situations from my original (or more correctly, "favourite") Shepard's point of view. It might sound like a diary or "Commander's log" of sorts, but it's not - that's already been done, so well at that, that I wouldn't feel right about doing one. I can't really explain it, you'll have to see it for yourself to understand it. I can't promise you any details on the schedule, I guess I'll at least wait 'till things settle down about the ending of the trilogy and how it supposedly "ruined" Mass Effect, and see how BioWare decides to deal with the criticism... which I think is completely pointless, by the way. I have just one thing to ask of those "former fans" of Mass Effect: think you could do it better?

Now that you're finally done with Mass Effect 3, which upcoming game(s) are you pumped up about the most?
I haven't really thought about that, but when I do reflect on it a little, I'd say Resident Evil 6, which is coming in the fall, and Grand Theft Auto V, to which a release date hasn't officially been slated yet. I have fears and doubts of both games, but I think that in the end they're gonna rock.

It was a while ago and I don't know if even you remember it yourself, but you said something about reviewing Wii games. I'm a Wii owner myself and would like to see this happen, is there any semblance of truth to this left?
I do remember, I'm surprised that someone else does. The reason I haven't talked about it more is that the schedule regarding Wii is wide open. I've been thinking of borrowing my friend's Wii when I have my official summer leave from work, that would give me lots of time to skewer a few Wii exclusives. However, unlike what happened with the Xbox 360 at the same time last year, Wii will never become a standard part of the blog, I'm never going to buy it, and this decision stands. So, unfortunately you'll have to settle with the little you're going to get in the future.

From a classic gamer to another: Is Mario truly dead to you? What about Link's adventures? Will you whip it once more (you know what I mean ;))?
Not the first time I've heard this question; I believe there was a similar question included in the Year 1 summary. Oh well, here's my answer at this moment: Mario is truly dead... until his resurrection. I firmly believe I'm not quite done with the franchise, Mario is such a completist's treat. Plus, there are Nintendo games - while not Mario games per se, they prominently feature the character, so I guess they could be labelled as Mario games by some degree. As for Link... I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I consider The Legend of Zelda perhaps the most overrated franchise in the history of video games, and I dare not take it on before I'm in a certain mindset. As for the last question: yes, I do know what you mean ;) And the answer is yes. I'm almost done with the Vampire Killer, just not quite.

Are you going to review games for more platforms in the future?
Yes. I've been thinking of adding the aforementioned Wii, GameCube and the Nintendo DS into the mix sometime in the future, and there will possibly be other additions. I've also considered doing more PSP reviews than just that one.

I was expecting a dramatic increase in PC reviews when you got your new hardware :(
Well... I'm sorry? I promised to do more of them, and I'll stick to the promise when I find the time. That's all I can say on this subject right now.

Have you calculated the monetary value of your physical game collection? Assuming it's in top shape, there could be some big bucks involved.
It's generally in top shape. Every new copy I've ever bought of any game still looks like new. The PS1 games I've bought used or been donated, are somewhat banged up without exception. Nowadays, when I buy used games, I always aim for the box that looks to be in absolutely flawless shape (and they usually include the original DLC codes). If such flawless box can't be found, I buy the game new, or just wait for a better-looking copy to show up. The answer to your question is no; since my SNES collection just suddenly vanished back in the day, I haven't dared to. Besides, I wouldn't care. I'm not selling anything except extra copies.

What does the future hold for your blog?
I think all of the previous answers will answer that. If not, you could always shower me with more questions.

maanantai 26. maaliskuuta 2012

REVIEW - Die Hard Trilogy (1996)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: August 1996
DEVELOPER(S): Probe Entertainment
PUBLISHER(S): Fox Interactive

Probe Entertainment. A game studio that always went both ways with their licensed games. They made extremely bad video game adaptations in their time, most of them on Acclaim or LJN's payroll at that, but sometimes they surprised us with titles that were more than decent. In 1995, Probe Entertainment made Alien Trilogy for the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn and Windows '95. The game was surprisingly well received, considering the poor quality of their previous Alien games. Probe then went on to make a game based on the Die Hard series, which had just expanded into a trilogy with the premiere of Die Hard with a Vengeance. Die Hard video games had never been half decent, and considering Probe's very inconsistent track record, the game could've failed miserably. Instead, it turned out one of the best licensed games in history.

Yippie-kai-yay, motherfucker!

The game chronicles the worst days in the life of N.Y.P.D. officer John McClane - known as a man who's always at the wrong place at the wrong time. In Die Hard, he takes on a group of terrorists who have seized control of a Los Angeles office building where his wife works. In Die Hard 2: Die Harder, he goes solo against a group of mercenaries that have taken over Dulles International Airport in Washington. In Die Hard with a Vengeance, he tries to save the whole city of New York from a vengeful bomber together with a reluctant shop owner.

Although I've anxiously waited for a good reason to slap Die Hard Trilogy in for the first time in 14 years or so, the thought ultimately scared the crap out of me. The moment I grabbed the CD was a moment of hesitation. Most PlayStation games haven't aged well, nor have many games of that generation altogether, in comparison to how well honest retro has aged. I seriously thought whether I should play the game, or just leave it be and remember it how it was. Remember the countless hours I spent on the demo alone back when the PlayStation was brand new. I promised long ago to take it on along with the rest of my collection, even its truly ugly spots, so in the end, I just started the game with a win or lose attitude. Die Hard Trilogy is still a damn entertaining game. Sure, it has aged, a lot - in countless less graceful ways. But, it was an outstanding, tense, unique action game in its time - and it has remained that to this day.

Terrorists: brown shirts. Civilians: white shirts.
Got it.
The most unique thing about Die Hard Trilogy, of course, is that it's not just one game - it's three different, arcade-style action games in one, unlike its spiritual predecessor Alien Trilogy which was an FPS all the way. The games based on the first two movies are somewhat influenced by earlier video game adaptations; they both have the same basic ideas and gameplay similarities. They're much better, though. The third movie was a new one at the time (damn, I'm old...), so the gameplay concept was entirely up to Probe to decide. They went with a generic 3D Grand Theft Auto schtick... five years before 3D GTA existed. Hell, a year before the whole GTA franchise existed. A straightforward action game, the best rail shooter in the history of the genre, and a joyride against time on the streets of New York City, all in the same package, and in the hard, unforgiving style of arcade. Oh yeah, and it's all based on a trilogy of stellar action films. Yippie-kai-yay!

Visual presentation is what makes fifth-generation games age so sadly. While some 16-bit games still manage to astounish with their amazing visual output, such as Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island or Chrono Trigger, the rough polygons and the grainy image of the 32- and 64-bit era burn your eyes like acid. There's a lot going on in Die Hard Trilogy, and it's a complete mess. Good thing most of the joy in gameplay's still intact - not all of it, though. I'll get to that later. The music is pretty good, although it's techno all the way. They captured the spirit of blowing shit up quite well. You can actually listen to high-quality versions of these tunes from the game disc using any stereo set - naturally, they don't work that well without context. A very transparent Bruce Willis impersonator spews out a number of clean punchlines ("Yippie-kai-yay" needs a "motherfucker", seriously), an even worse (and God damn annoying) Samuel L. Jackson impersonator appears in the last game, and both the hostages and terrorists yell out some generic, random quotes to inform you of their presence. That's it for the "voice acting" - that's what the atrocity is referred to as in the manual. The sound effects are still great, and count for the great bang 'n' boom experience the game basically is, despite its many flaws in the audiovisual department.

Cops flying around, blood splatters on thin air,
uh... *something* blowing to pieces... yep, it's
a McClane kind of Christmas in low definition.
The first game, based on my favourite action film of all time, is a very straightforward third-person shooter, with all of the genre's most basic arcade gameplay elements in place. Power-ups, weapon upgrades, grenades, body armor, the ability to dodge, those ones. Your goal is to free all hostages on each floor of the Nakatomi Building - those floors which you have access to - and kill all the terrorists. Simple, ain't it? The idea might be - but the game is DAMN HARD. Die hard? No, it ain't hard. It's very easy. Die easy. The controls of the game are quite outdated. Analog control would help the game greatly, but the game was released prior to the DualShock's arrival to the scene, and unlike many other re-released games, Die Hard Trilogy never got the patch. The button scheme is laid out somewhat clumsy, and the digital pad doesn't make the already hard aiming any easier. Nevertheless, it's a fun game, once you get the hang of it. It's incredibly satisfying to blow whole units of unsuspecting enemies to piles of blood, bone and shit with a well-placed grenade, and blow up all kinds of shit for business or pleasure, even if you know damn well you're never going to beat this one. One death, and it's over. That "New Game" in the beginning? Just for show. There ain't no continues.

The second game blows Die Hard 2 - the movie - off the map. It blows every rail shooter that came before it, even Virtua Cop, CLEAN off the map. It makes the original Die Hard 2 computer game that much more laughable. Rail shooters used to be so damn boring on home consoles - arcades were a different thing. Having a light gun made them a little more interesting to play at home, but not by much. Die Hard 2 does not need a light gun; most rail shooters of the time had specific targets. You couldn't do shit to the environment. In this game, you can demolish just about EVERYTHING. Like in the first game, killing civilians drains your health, but just about everything else gives you bonuses. Secret routes, better weapons, LOTS of points for those who are interested, and simple pleasure for one who simply loves virtual demolition... like me. This one's ultra-violent, and ultra-cool. Unlike the first game in this "collection", Die Hard 2 is hard and you have only one life to go on, but play it enough and you'll learn it, and eventually beat it - you have the basic gameplay concept to thank for that. ...And after you've beaten it, feel free to try again and see how much destruction you can conjure up this time around. This game rules. It's the best rail shooter of all time, and it's only a part of a larger whole. Imagine that.

Crazy Taxi just got a whole lot crazier.
In Die Hard with a Vengeance, you have three chances, and I gather it's because it's not only skills and reflexes you have to worry about here, but sheer luck as well. Simon's been planting bombs all around New York City, and your goal is to reach those bombs and run them over using different vehicles - upon impact, the bombs still explode (naturally), which makes this game kinda hilarious and the goal kinda pointless. Zeus is by your side, barking directions in a really nasal, heliumized voice that sounds nothing like Samuel L. Jackson - except when he got high in San Andreas - and there's a GPS to aid you as well. Although you have two virtual aids giving you clues to the locations of the bombs, you have an extremely unforgiving time limit to meet. The controls are again quite clumsy, civilians are extremely hard to avoid hitting, other cars tend to get in your way constantly whether or not you honk them to death, and all in all, I must say this is the weakest game in the bunch. It can be fun once you're in the right mindset, but I can't guarantee it. If my memory serves me correctly, I've beaten this part of the game once, so it's not impossible. Just extremely hard, and in my opinion, the only part of the game that can turn from hard to exclusively tedious.

After a decade and a half of letting the game rest, I headed into Die Hard Trilogy with deep fear of totally botching one of my childhood/pre-teen favourites, but exited the game with a smile. It's still got a lot of explosive power in it, although admittedly most of it is found from the second part of the game, which is all about murder and total obliteration of public places. The remaining parts have their flaws, but they're good, blood red entertainment nonetheless. On Probe's usual scale, Die Hard Trilogy could almost be named a masterpiece. It's not quite as great as I remembered it to be, but it's an achievement considering its makers' reputation as licensees.

+ The game sports unparalleled tension across all of its segments; they're very challenging, but short enough to make you want to try again... and again
+ The Die Hard 2: Die Harder segment is an amazing effort in its genre
+ The music is quite good in this context
+ You can still feel the violence... 

- ...Even though the game is ugly and messy as heck
- I can't really decide if the "voice acting" is hilarious or simply damn bad
- The first and third segment could really use analog control; movement is clumsy as it is
- The Die Hard with a Vengeance segment is entertaining, but notably weaker than the first two

< 8.0 >

sunnuntai 25. maaliskuuta 2012

REVIEW - Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

GENRE(S): Shooter
AVAILABLE ON: Amiga, Atari ST, C64, PC
DEVELOPER(S): Grandslam Entertainment, Tiertex Design Studios (PC)
PUBLISHER(S): Grandslam Entertainment

No matter what you think of his movies, Renny Harlin (born Lauri Harjola) was a pioneer in taking Finland to the international map of popular culture. In 1990, a couple of years after directing a moderately well-received installment in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Renny took on directing another sequel to an immensely popular film, namely Die Hard. While critics' reception to the film was mixed, Die Hard 2 outdid its predecessor in terms of box office income, and stands as Renny's most financially successful movie to date. The movie certainly hasn't been forgotten, but the game, released on four different home computers in the course of three years, has. There's a reason for that. Or a few.

How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?

While waiting for his wife's plane to land on Dulles International Airport on Christmas Eve, John McClane has a run-in with a group of mercenaries who have taken the entire airport staff hostage and seized control of the electrical equipment that affects all incoming planes.

Make no mistake about it - I like Die Hard 2 very much, but it's way too much of a carbon copy of the original movie. It has John McClane, it's Christmas, even though the plot involves rescuing dozens if not hundreds of people, John's wife is in the core of the events, making it all personal for him... the connections are endless. Hell, even Dick Thornburg's in - one of the most annoying pieces of shit in the history of cinema... and we love him! Just the fact it's so similar to the original film, doesn't make it bad. It's far from bad. It's just so similar that these films are very hard to watch back to back.

Anyway, when I took on this little Die Hard video game marathon, I was quite positive there would only be two games included - Die Hard for the NES, and Die Hard Trilogy for the PlayStation, talk about polar opposites. Three at max, if I had found a version of Die Hard Trilogy 2: Viva Las Vegas in time, but I didn't. Then I browsed through my old DOS games, just for the fun of it - I was pretty hung over - and stumbled upon this game by complete accident. I had no immediate recollection of this game's existence, let alone what kind of a game it was. Then I remembered that my friend used to have it on his Commodore 64, along with a lot of licensed games that some sort of a tube kept pushing out back then. I have no memory of how the game's ended up in the innards of my computer's hard drive, but it's there, and it works fine in DOSBox, so I gave it a shot. It was certainly an experience, to put it politely.

Attack of the clones.
First of all, the graphics ain't much to look at. The enemies all look like Rocky Balboa in that grey jumpsuit of his, and... well, the first level is pretty much impossible to beat by honest means, so I guess I can't say anything about the diversity of the level design - or lack thereof. The title song is actually pretty cool, albeit generic - but it's one of the two tunes you'll be hearing. The other one plays in the beginning of levels, the rest of the audio bank comprises of crappy sound effects.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder - named after the stupid subtitle given to the movie in certain countries - is a very straightforward rail shooter. You shoot with the left mouse button, and use superweapons such as missiles or grenades with the right one. The enemies don't have any weak spots, in other words it doesn't matter if you shoot them in the leg or straight between the eyes, as long as you do it a million times. Shooting innocent security personnel - who don't do their jobs very well, by the way - doesn't seem to affect the course of things in any way. You might lose some points, I guess...? What a tragedy.

It's clear from the start that the game isn't very entertaining, but it seems harmless enough... until you reach the end of the first level. These two guys will bust through a door and kill you. You read quite right, they'll kill you. There's nothing you can do about it. You can throw all the missiles you have in stock at 'em. You can shoot 'em a million times. You can pop a vein or two trying to make it to these two guys with full health, it doesn't matter. You can try to gather power-ups - which take a million shots to be registered as collected, as well - it doesn't matter. The game is over.

I guess there really ain't much more to say. What CAN I say? Well, at least this game was very mildly entertaining for a few minutes, that's more than I can say about Die Hard for the NES. If you doubt me, feel free to haul your ass to any well equipped abandonware site and dig this one up to try it for yourself. They'll kill you!

+ Uh... well, it's simple(-minded) entertainment
+ The theme song's surprisingly cool - although probably ripped off some other game 

- You die four minutes into it
- The enemies take a million shots to go down - take this game seriously by the slightest hunch and you'll blow a carpal
- The power-ups are extremely hard to collect

< 3.5 >

REVIEW - Die Hard (1991)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: July 1991
DEVELOPER(S): Pack-In-Video
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

Lethal Weapon came out in 1987. This movie was the new standard for traditional action film. Instead of some buffed up supersoldier played by Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger, it had a drunken, suicidal delinquent played by Mel Gibson. Instead of having anything to do with science fiction, it was a street ready buddy movie, packed to the brim with action and insanely funny punchlines as we used to know and love 'em. Just a year later, Lethal Weapon's standard was broken by somewhat of a spiritual follow-up, John McTiernan's Die Hard. Starring Bruce Willis, a newcomer to the big screen, Die Hard is arguably the greatest action film ever made, a true classic and an even more solid part of my holiday traditions than It's a Wonderful Life. Lethal Weapon and Die Hard are often compared to each other and widely regarded two of the most iconic action movies of all time. Both movies spawned their own bunch of video games, as well, and none of them were very good. Activision made their first Die Hard game for the PC in 1989 - it bombed. The Commodore 64 version, which came out a year later, fared a little better. In 1991, three years after the movie's premiere, a third unrelated game was published on the Nintendo Entertainment System. This game was also published by Activision, but made by Pack-In-Video, who were already responsible for some of the worst 8-bit movie licenses ever made, including Friday the 13th and Rambo. This game might lack the infamous logo of Pack-In-Video's usual partners in crime, but it certainly might as well be LJN's doing. In a word, Die Hard the video game is horrible.

The fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench, the pain in the ass

N.Y.P.D. officer John McClane meets up with his estranged wife Holly to spend Christmas with her at the Nakatomi Building, one of the largest office buildings in Los Angeles. When a group of German terrorists takes control of the building and everyone inside it hostage, cutting all communications, John takes it upon himself to neutralize the threat.

The graphics suck. My God, they suck.
I'm not that big on straightforward action flicks, but I fuckin' LOVE Die Hard. I know the movie inside out, I've memorized each and every line, I've busted my balls to learn to say "Yippie-kai-yay, motherfucker" just like Bruce Willis, and I stand in silent awe every single time I see Alan Rickman falling to his death in the end. I liked the first two sequels, too, the third film in particular. The fourth one was a huge disappointment, as it was more of a typical American action movie than the kind of special genre film the first and third one were - not to mention the fact that it was rated PG-13, which means that John McClane no longer used any language. Even the "motherfucker" in the aforementioned "Yippie-kai-yay, motherfucker" was blurred out by a well-placed gunshot. I kinda liked the movie, anyway. It's always a treat to see Bruce Willis in his flagship role, were some of the best elements of his character toned down or not.

The Die Hard movie franchise, as it was, was also rare as it spawned a very playable video game back in the mid-90's - Die Hard Trilogy, which is the main purpose of me taking on a couple of earlier Die Hard games like this. Before I even saw it, I knew that Die Hard for the NES would suck, royally. I even got AVGN to confirm it with a video review I consider one of his best ones yet. However, when I finally tried Die Hard, I found that the video merely scratched the surface. The game is one of the ugliest, most tedious licensed games I've ever played on the NES. The only things that carry it are the name, and the fact that unlike Pack-In-Video did with the abysmal Friday the 13th, they at least tried with Die Hard - tried to make it a relatively realistic adaptation of the movie.

The game is played from a very generic and stoic top-down perspective, and the vision of terror is crowned with hypnotically ugly floor patterns straight out of an epileptic's nightmare. Areas that are not within John's current field of vision are blacked out, which makes the game look even more of a mess. The so called cutscenes feature some really odd caricatures of the characters - got to say they nailed Rickman's Hans pretty well, though - and it's hard to see any distinction between background items. Not to mention to make out what they're supposed to be. The music is horrible and repetitive as heck. Good thing the game doesn't seem to be that long at all... if you can find enough sense in it to beat it, that is. I can't.

Darn. I'll try again.
So, the bottom line is that Die Hard has terrible controls, and it doesn't make any sense. That's what James noted in his review as well - he hit so many right points and described them so well that if I wasn't out to write a serious review, I would reference his video right now and quit this review. The main goal - apparently - is to hack your way through five floors of the Nakatomi Building and take out all the bad guys in each floor. There were 12 in the movie, it's perfectly understandable that there are 40 in the game for the sake of video game drama - your character's stamina can only take the original 12, though. The enemies move in ridiculous speeds that are impossible to match. The only things more ridiculous than their speed is the trajectory of their bullets - all over the screen, literally - once again compared to John's, and the fact that the bastards keep running away from you like cowards. They're not impossible, but incredibly hard to hit. Often you don't need to deal with more than two to three enemies to get your life bar nearing its bottom. When there are two or three enemies ganging up on you from multiple directions, you might as well put the controller down and go for a smoke. You might've guessed that you only have one life to live out.

There's somewhat of a different time limit to this game, which is tied to Theo's (the hacker) skill to hack the locks of the Nakatomi vault. If I'm not totally mistaken, you have about 20 minutes to beat the whole game. Failing to beat the clock apparently does not result in a game over, but a different ending. Imagine that - multiple endings. In a movie adaptation. Rad. Gotta wonder who's ignorant enough to go for another game of this fucking tardfest. I'd be happy just to reach one ending so I could lay this bastard to its deserved, shameful rest with a good conscience.

Why did I do it?
Many journalists note John's foot power as a unique feature - just to find one, I guess. John was barefooted for the most of the movie, and his feet were in extremely crappy shape by the end of it, but as James noted, the condition of John's feet is one of those things that are totally unnecessary to be presented in a video game. John's foot power allows him to sprint and match the speed of the enemies, but it's gone extremely fast, and can only be replenished with medikits that are hidden under the blackest stone. Walking on broken glass also decreases John's foot power, and there's going to be a lot of that on certain floors.

Some licensed games are fun to play or at least somewhat cool, because they're based on something you love. Even the suckiest Terminator games have their brief moments - except for The Terminator on the NES. Die Hard isn't fun in the least, not for one passing second. It had been three years since the movie's release - Pack-In-Video could've had some second thoughts and simply quit making the game halfway through development. No one would've minded - hell, no one would've noticed. But no, they had to carry the doomsday project to the end and leave another stain in the big book of licensed games made for the sake of capitalism, not the best of players in mind.

+ The movie's one of the best ever...
+ ...And the game's actually got something to do with it - which is quite rare 

- Awful graphical presentation, all the way from background patterns to the angle itself
- Horrible, stiff controls that make confrontations a lot harder than they already are
- Foot power... bitch, please
- Cryptic advances that seem to make no sense or difference

< 3.0 >

VGTune of the Week : Fear Factory

David Wise produced a lot of great tunes for us players during his active career as a composer, and his best work is arguably found from the Donkey Kong franchise. The music is great throughout Rare's series of Donkey Kong games, so it's hard to pick just one tune which stands out above the rest. I ended up choosing "Fear Factory" from the first Donkey Kong Country game (1994).

tiistai 20. maaliskuuta 2012

Just resting up

Hi everyone, just wanted to make it clear one more time that I'm simply taking a breather here after the whole Mass Effect 3 madness settled down upon my completion and review of the game. I'm currently replaying the Mass Effect trilogy, but I'm in no hurry to complete it this time, so it doesn't really do much in terms of being in creation's way. I've enjoyed my deadly antics as a renegade so far, and I can't wait for the (mass) effects they have on the sequels. I hope I'll be able to put Mass Effect 3's thousands of variables to good use in the end.

The name of the next game to be reviewed is still in somewhat of an interstellar limbo, but I have a pretty good idea what I'm covering next - assuming I'm done with it in decent time. If not, I'll go with the original plan and start whipping through my collection. If I do this, it's safe to expect a lot of reviews popping up in April (another busy April!). I predict we'll all know what's coming next before the end of the week.

That's it for now, the next thing you'll be hearing from me will hopefully be a review. Cheers.

maanantai 19. maaliskuuta 2012

VGTune of the Week : Leaving Earth

This week's tune is quite predictable. "Leaving Earth", Clint Mansell's only single-handed contribution to the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack is kind of a theme song for the game. In all its simplicity, it's full of emotion and the scene it first plays in is probably one of my favourite cutscenes of all time. The cutscene can be found in its entirety on YouTube, but I decided to go with just the song.

keskiviikko 14. maaliskuuta 2012

It's not over yet

After five days of playing Mass Effect 3 nearly non-stop like a God damn steamroller, I've finished the game. I might have finished the game, I might have even reviewed it, but it's not over by a long shot. You might even say it's only just begun. Up until Mass Effect 3 was released, and up until I had the final Achievement from that game under my belt, I felt wrong playing as anyone other than my "The" Shepard. I modelled him after myself - as far as I could with Mass Effect's dated character editor. His opinions were my own, romances were dictated by who I'd like to be with if I was him, and friendships/rivalries were formed according to my own personal takes on people. First impressions counted, and they were usually correct. Never before have I felt one video game franchise being such an honest escape from grim reality as Mass Effect. It's like another world for me, or it was.

Now that The Shepard's story is over, I can look at Mass Effect as a game.

My evil side brought to life as a
I'm restarting the trilogy with a polar opposite of my true Shepard, that I have named Nina. Instead of the background file combo I've grown used to - Vanguard / Earthborn / Sole Survivor - Nina is Soldier / Spacer / Ruthless. I have pictured her as the kind of woman who spots liabilities easy - a little too easy - who does absolutely everything it takes to get jobs done even if it means sacrificing a whole lot of good folk, and when it comes down to her or them, she always comes first. By far. She's the kind of girl who reads The Art of War each night before bedtime. To her, life IS war. She's like a female version of Jack Bauer, way nastier though. In short, she's batshit crazy.

While I'm hacking through the Mass Effect trilogy for practically the third time within a year, I'm working on a HUGE article/feature called "Looking Back at Mass Effect", which chronicles the life and choices of my true Shepard, from the beginning of Mass Effect to the end of Mass Effect 3, and covers my thoughts on the trilogy as a whole. This might take such a long while that I'm probably gonna have to push publishing the feature to a much further date. I'm still sticking with my plan to begin storming through my collection soon enough, after all. I just thought that all Mass Effect fans out there might enjoy hearing what I'm brewing up.

Hope you liked the review - as long as it was - and I hope everyone out there who downright hated Mass Effect 3 can respect my fair take on the game. It was not perfect, I admit that, but storywise, it was pure Mass Effect as far I'm concerned, and that's all I dared to truly hope from it.

REVIEW - Mass Effect 3 (2012)

GENRE(S): Action / RPG
RELEASED: March 2012
PUBLISHER(S): Electronic Arts

Games rarely get loaded with as much hype behind their release as the conclusion to BioWare's epic tale of Commander Shepard. Mass Effect 3 was actually first mentioned within the previous game, long before it was officially announced; it was said in the in-game tutorials that you should remember that each decision you made in that game counted in the next one. Development of the game had already begun before Mass Effect 2's release; in the between, BioWare made a sequel to another massive franchise, Dragon Age II - which was bombarded by the gaming press. Many people thought that Dragon Age II's notable inferiority to everything BioWare had done in several years was because their main focus was on making Mass Effect 3 the greatest BioWare game ever. So, although Dragon Age II had the potential of turning the hype of Mass Effect 3 into worldwide skepticism, it only boosted people's expectations. Mass Effect 3 was finally released to mixed reviews; great acclaim by the press, but unforgiving criticism by fans of the franchise, some of which have already gone as far as to call Mass Effect 3 utter garbage. Now I'm on my final quest as Commander Shepard, out to determine whether Mass Effect 3 is truly a disappointment, or simply a victim of way too much hype. One thing's for certain: the long and noble mission of perhaps the greatest action hero in video game history is coming to its climax, and I'd be damned not to be there when it happens. Win or lose.

Get off my rock

Mark Meer :: Commander Shepard (Male)
Jennifer Hale :: Commander Shepard (Female)
Freddie Prinze Jr. :: Lt. James Vega
Ali Hillis :: Dr. Liara T'Soni
Lance Henriksen :: Vice Admiral Steven Hackett
Tricia Helfer :: EDI
Martin Sheen :: The Illusive Man
Kimberly Brooks :: Lt. Commander Ashley Williams
Brandon Keener :: Garrus Vakarian
Seth Green :: Jeff "Joker" Moreau

Shepard's been stripped of his military rank and forced to stand trial on Earth for his/her actions on the Bahak system, which resulted in the utter destruction of a large batarian colony. Of course, Shepard did it to protect the whole galaxy from a Reaper invasion. Due to the Citadel Council's blind persistence that the Reapers are merely a myth, Shepard is not only skating on thin ice, but Earth is not ready for what comes next at all. A full-scale Reaper attack on Earth marks Shepard's return to active duty; while humans are desperately fighting for their future against an unknown enemy, the SSV Normandy goes on one last galaxy-wide tour so Shepard can assemble the ultimate team, and finally unite the warring races of the galaxy to take down the Reapers for good.

During the last couple of months, I've talked so much about Mass Effect 3 you'd think Mass Effect 2 was my favourite game in the world. That isn't too far from the truth; I actually feel like I didn't give the game its due with a 9.4 (!). I've jabbered on about it so much that I myself am guilty of overhyping and promoting the game, and I've probably turned away many readers who never were into Mass Effect, or don't even know what it's all about - there are not many gamers out there who do not at least know OF Mass Effect, but I know for certain there are some. After all, it's only been a year since I myself completed the first game. Feels so much longer ago, though; I can't even remember the time I had no knowledge of Shepard's quest for galactic peace. The first game was awesome; I sincerely loved it, but it had many minor flaws which bugged me throughout the experience. The second game just simply blew my mind; I did not see it coming at all. Not only did the game blow every BioWare title I had played up 'til that point clean off the map, it indeed became one of my all-time favourite games in a quick little snap. Parts of Mass Effect 3 were already written before Mass Effect 2 was completed, as Mass Effect was always meant to turn out a trilogy, and BioWare claimed to have very quickly caught on to the few things that were wrong with both previous installments - as well as the experimental Dragon Age II - so it was pretty safe to assume that Mass Effect 3 was going to be something extravagant. Something absolutely huge. The greatest climax to the greatest Western RPG series you could ever hope for. Unfortunately, making those kinds of assumptions of video game sequels in these modern times is very risky, in many ways, and frankly, I've got to say Mass Effect 3 is NOT the bullseye I hoped it would be. But, it is a great game, and if you have the slightest love for the franchise, you have simply GOT to play it.

Assuming he survived Shepard's little field trip
last time around, Garrus Vakarian is back in
action. Seriously: what more do we need?
It's a good thing that I usually start dissecting a game such as this from the characters and plot, 'cause they're some of the things that have given a lot of players a lot of reason to flame it for. "It's no longer an RPG, it's a God damn generic action game with lesser dialogue choices, lesser customization of your gaming experience, it's linear..." Yada-yada-yada. I knew what to expect from Mass Effect 3 when I started it. First of all, and this SHOULD be obvious, I knew that if I had never played the previous games, I would have absolutely no emotional connection to this game, and yeah, perhaps it would've hit me as just another action game. But - lesser customization? Perhaps locally. But that's, again, what the previous games were there for. You created your Shepard in those games, and hopefully imported him/her into this game - believe me, what you have done in the past makes a huge difference in how the game will play out, and how you'll experience the story. Yeah, it's a bit linear, for about ten to twelve hours into the beginning, I admit that - and that is one of my main reasons to be disappointed with it. I thought the original Mass Effect's six-hour tube run was quite enough. But, the most important thing to remember about Mass Effect 3's style is that we're in all-out war here! There is simply no time to be running around in the Citadel and solve whether an asari consort spread the word of an elcor ambassador's small wee-wee against her ethics or not. Or helping an annoying salarian geek cheat - oh, sorry, not cheat, but "slightly improve his odds" - on Quasar machines. This is war, we're in the eye of the storm, and what we're out to get are assets for that war. We have no time for people, things or properties that have absolutely no use for us. Whole planets are burning out there, and it's not just Earth we're supposed to take back, but the galaxy.

The feeling of heading into the final confrontation is there the whole time. You won't meet a whole lot of new folk, there are not that many new locations to explore either - except for some planets that fill a gap since we've never been there before although we've met a lot of their natives, such as the salarian home planet of Sur'Kesh and the asari home planet of Thessia. Filling gaps and tying loose ends is what well over a half of Mass Effect 3's storyline progression is all about besides that ongoing invasion. Think about just every major character you ever met during the saga or any major decision you made. These meetings and decisions have a LOT of weight on how Mass Effect 3 will turn out in the long run. Oh, and lest we forget, it also makes a huge difference whether or not you played the downloadable content for Mass Effect 2. The people you met, decisions you made and other things you did in each and every DLC pack released for that game matters - you could say they were not just DLC for Mass Effect 2, but the remainder of the franchise. Let's put it simply: you completed Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and every bit of downloadable content there is. Everyone, except for the one mandatory corpse - who in my case was Kaidan Alenko in the first game - survived. Congratulations - you have a deep, lengthy game on your hands here. Starting Mass Effect 3 from scratch as a whole new Shepard and manually choosing your previous decisions from a list obviously results in a much more hollow experience. A lot of people I know, who have called this game overrated, overhyped and have just verbally smashed it to the ground at every opportune gap, are non-surprisingly people who originally turned to Mass Effect 3 to get a first taste of the franchise everyone's talking about. That's not the way. If you want to get into Mass Effect, you have to start from the beginning - that's my professional opinion. If a game released in 2007 is "too old" or "primitive" in your books, you should just stay the hell away from the franchise and leave it to us who know how to appreciate great games regardless of their age.

This review's going to be quite a write-up - not to mention quite a read - without me babbling on and on about how great this franchise is and already was before the release of this third game, so let's take a quick look at the character design before finally disassembling and re-assembling the monster itself. I guess I should tell you a little story about Commander Shepard at this time - it isn't a pretty one. My shock with Mass Effect 3's first minutes was felt all the way in Canada, I hope. Okay, so I unboxed my Collector's Edition of the game, all wound up, my socks were spinning around relentlessly. I had already redeemed all of my codes, downloaded the soundtrack, quickly read through the books, installed the game and the DLC... all that was left was the highly anticipated moment of simply choosing "Play Mass Effect 3" from the Xbox 360 Dashboard. There was some shit about EA and Origin that took away a precious moment, but in time, I finally got to the main menu. "New Game" - God, how I've waited for this. "Import ME2 Character". I've waited for this even more. The game then "listed" my characters, in other words the only guy I've ever used to actually complete both games - Jack Shepard, Level 30 Vanguard, Earthborn, Sole Survivor. Sounds about right. I choose Jack, eagerly waiting for his slightly enhanced face to pop up on the screen like he never left. Every decision I ever made is in order, and my background checks out just fine - guilty as charged. However, my Shepard looks a lot like he does in the promotional art, and the game politely informs me of TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES that prevent my customized face - that I have used since Mass Effect, a game that is FIVE YEARS OLD - to be imported into Mass Effect 3. "Dear player, please accept this boring default Shepard, make a new face for your Shepard, or fuck off." That's basically what it says.

The new version of the new Normandy.
You see, Mass Effect 3's character editor sucks ass. It's worse than it's ever been. The reason it probably won't accept your Shepard is that some of the facial features that the previous editors included do not exist in Mass Effect 3. Some of the memorable options are not there, and "small details" like scars have been taken out altogether. Let's see, hmmm... this game's main character is a war hero, who has seen a LOT of shit in his/her day. Shepard tracked down a rogue Spectre agent - a Spectre, and a highly respected one! - and eliminated him, then Shepard died as in becoming minced meat, then Shepard was brought to life like RoboCop or the Six Million Dollar Man, then Shepard went on a suicide mission that could've resulted in his/her death for a second time. I think just one scar on Shepard's face would make all of this a lot more believable!

So, what I had to do might sound quite hardcore, but it had to be done, because I refused to play the game if I could not import Shepard as he was. I slapped in Mass Effect 2, watched the first cutscene - I had no choice - and played through the intro sequence to get into the character editor. I re-imported my original Shepard from the first game in order to make just one change to his features, so I could generate myself an identity code, which I would then have to manually stick up the rear end of Mass Effect 3's editor. Well, that didn't work. You see, I forgot that you could not customize your old Shepard in any way in Mass Effect 2; either you made a new Shepard, or just went with the default, which never was an option for me. I already tried making Shepard look as much as the original as I possibly could in Mass Effect 3 and it didn't work - man, the editor SUCKS! BALLS! Well, since the original face worked no problem in Mass Effect 2, I thought that maybe I could recreate the old Shepard in that game, write down the code and type that code into the editor in Mass Effect 3. I got pretty close, close enough to be happy with the old-new Shepard, so I did just that, I wrote down the code and slapped Mass Effect 3 back in. I entered the identity code, and... my Shepard's face was distorted as hell. But, with a few modifications to it, I ended up with a guy that looks very much like my original Shepard, just younger without scars, and with different-coloured facial hair, because even the colour palette isn't as wide as it was five years ago. I can't rightly describe how much the character editor reeks, but I believe you got the idea. The whole thing with the game not being able to read a face created in the first game was supposed to be the subject of a day one patch, but we still haven't seen it. And, even if they do patch it, it doesn't change the fact that the editor itself is crummy.

Anyway, what Shepard is like this time around, and what people's takes on his/her person are like, are probably pretty much up to what you've made him/her to be in the past. Everyone knows you, everyone knows of the heroic or horrible deeds you've done. Now it's up to you to save the galaxy, whether you or anyone else likes it or not. You are entitled to have opinions, but you are not entitled to make as much decisions as you have been before - because the choice to turn down a valuable asset to the war is not yours to make. You need everyone and everything for your cause to achieve the best possible outcome. Hell, even completing every single-player mission might not be enough to win this war - you might have to call a friend or a few of them to handle a few co-op assignments with you, to increase your readiness and chances against the Reapers. Despite not being able to make much decisions that affect the fate of the galaxy, Shepard is still an extremely solid character, but it has never been all about him/her, against all claims. Watching Shepard sulk in what he/she has become during the saga is made way deeper and more interesting with the strength of the dozens of great supporting characters that have been introduced to us along the way, meaning those who survived. Confrontations with these people bring Mass Effect 3 one step closer to what this franchise used to mean to those people who claimed this game to be garbage (after playing it for five to ten minutes).

Be wewy, wewy quiet.
Your squad is very compact in terms of manpower, and like everything else in this game, the identities of your squad members are pretty much determined by characters' survival in the previous games. There's a surprise member, I mean an even bigger surprise than Legion in Mass Effect 2, a couple of old friends, the new character James Vega, and either Ashley or Kaidan depending on which one survived the nuke in the first game. That's about it; if you have the From Ashes DLC, you gain access to one additional squad member, who is very essential to the whole backdrop of the franchise and good to have along. I couldn't imagine playing the game without him. That's a sign of good DLC, right there. A lot of other old friends might or might not show up along the way - once again and once more, depending on whether they're still alive - to simply catch up with Shepard, or play crucial supporting roles on missions, or even work as temporary backups for your chosen team of three. If you had a romance in both previous games, you are faced with even more painful (?) reminders from your past, and quite definitely painful decisions. You could say that Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 were the choice, and Mass Effect 3 is the consequence. It might not be the climax of this franchise as a game, but it is the climax in every other way, and that is what makes it so God damn enjoyable. It's filled to the brim with characters you've grown to know and love in the last five years; those who you've always looked up to are presented perhaps better than ever, and even those you've never really cared for show whole new sides to themselves. Yes, this is still a story - a magnificent character-driven story, with magnificent characters. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

If they tell you that the game's not as great as its story, they might unfortunately be right. Although I completely understand BioWare's choice of direction, and while it is better than what they did with their previous game Dragon Age II, it doesn't mean I like it as much I'd want to. In short, it's a repetitive game. Gone is the perfect balance of Mass Effect 2 - the perfect balance between going out all guns blazing and solving problems with a little good old-fashioned diplomacy. Also, gone is the interesting and constantly changing level design that was one of the previous game's finest traits. In Mass Effect 3, almost every place basically looks the same - it's war-torn wasteland with the exception of just a few colonies that have not yet been hit by the Reapers, and of course, the Citadel, which stands just as proud as ever, yet also more limited than ever. Well, at least they didn't utilize the unholy union of copy and paste like they did with Dragon Age II.

Although there are sometimes pretty epic storyline situations you must handle, such as the enigmatic "tower quest" from one of the gameplay trailers - in which your goal is to get to a tower all the while the mother of all thresher maws is shaking the ground beneath you and a Reaper has got his laser pointed on your forehead - these situations are all handled the same in practice. Run, shoot, punch, take cover. Maybe go and flick a few switches along the way. Don't worry, you don't need to bypass or decrypt anything. The game does it for you, if need be; yes, all such forms of minigames are gone. Regardless of your character class, you're a frontline commanding officer, and you're here to do what frontline commanding officers do best; kick ass and take names. There's no room for tinkering with computers; that's the science team's job. Cool, huh? No. It's not. There's rarely profitable exploring to be done on any playable level. Most of the stuff you find you can also find somewhere else, and quite seriously, all you need to do to be able to complete missions is to practice your aim. In storyline missions, there's at least a little bit of the balance I mentioned the game's lacking. In the very few secondary assignments the game offers you, it's safe to expect nothing but pure shotgun chaos.

This is gonna sting a little.
Let's take somewhat of a break to go over the audiovisuals before going over the game's basics - look at that, I've criticized the game quite a lot before even laying down the basics. I seem to have that tendency with general disappointments. Well, the story's one thing I'm definitely not disappointed with - in fact, colour me surprised of Mac Walters being able to pull off something like this series of events after supposedly using up all his best ideas in Mass Effect 2, and Drew Karpyshyn already blowing our minds with the first game. The graphics are also something I'm not disappointed with. Being such a huge game, almost too much for the Xbox 360 to handle, Mass Effect 3 is artificially not too different from Mass Effect 2. On the surface, it seems like they only fixed a few details, shading and such, but later it turns out that Mass Effect 3 is a very cinematic game, with epic cutscenes, and character design that is way more alive than it was ever before. Oh yeah, and those emotionless ends to conversations that looked emotionless to begin with are completely harvested. They almost fixed 'em in Mass Effect 2, now there's no sign of 'em. Even with no sound, you can plainly see what kind of thoughts are going through the characters' heads. The conversations can be quite diverse, too - for example, James likes to practice hand-to-hand combat while talking, and you can block his punches or go on the offense by taking Paragon/Renegade actions in the middle of the conversation. Despite level design sometimes getting the short end of the stick when it comes to graphical accomplishments, Mass Effect 3 is generally one beautiful thing to look at.

Jack Wall's composed the music for the franchise from the beginning, but he backed out from the Mass Effect 3 project at an early stage. Well, let's see. We need a composer specialized in electronica and alternative, and since this game is mostly about the destruction of our home planet, a little bit of epic, dramatic, classical touch wouldn't hurt. Let's call film director Darren Aronofsky and see if he could borrow out Clint Mansell, his court magician who composed the score to many of his masterpieces such as Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler. Yes, he could... let Mansell compose a couple of songs, at least. The soundtrack's been promoted as Mansell's work throughout, but actually it's Sam Hulick, Christopher Lennertz, Sascha Dikiciyan and Cris Velasco who composed most of it. Either way, they're all on level with each other and the music sounds very consistent throughout the line. Epic, symphonic stuff, spiced up with just the right amount of electronic jive. I like it. Mansell's "Leaving Earth" is my favourite individual track - the scene it appears in was made to blow minds in itself - and will surely end up as the VGTune of the Week very soon.

The voiceover work is better than ever, and that means it's off the charts. Most of the original voice actors from Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, even those that played the most minor of characters, return to reprise their roles with just a couple of exceptions. The work of the couple of new actors is absolutely indistinguishable from the old, and you have to remember that I'm good at this - I'm good at spotting the tiniest errors to things like rhythm of speech. Like I said, there aren't that many all new major characters in Mass Effect 3 as you have a lot of loose ends to take care of, but your crew has four new, prolific members in specialist Samantha Traynor (voiced by Alix Wilton Regan), shuttle pilot Steve Cortez (voiced by Matthew Del Negro), on-board news reporter Diana Allers (voiced by Jessica Chobot of IGN's Daily Fix fame), and finally, your "right hand" James Vega, who's voiced by none other than the latest addition to the franchise's list of cult stars, Freddie Prinze Jr. - whose only touch to sci-fi so far has been 1999's film adaptation, or "abominaptation" of Wing Commander. Let's not hold that against him; even if he isn't nearly as fine in the big book of geeks as Lance Henriksen (Vice Admiral Hackett), Carrie-Anne Moss (Aria T'Loak) or Tricia Helfer (EDI), he delivers, and his Mexican dialect is quite believable. Then, of course we have Martin Sheen, Seth Green, Adam Baldwin, and a whole truckload of the voiceover scene's finest. Jennifer Hale, Steve Blum, Claudia Black, Simon Templeman... I could drop names forever. But I won't. You'll just have to take my word for the quality of the drama. It's one of the things that truly keeps you going. I like when they all come together like this - I'm more than tired with Quinton Flynn, though. The dude's been in almost every single game I've played the last ten years, starting with Final Fantasy X, and he's really not that good. That lisp is really annoying. I would blast at him some more if he played a central character - in Mass Effect 3, chances are you won't even bump into his character.

Whoa dude, watch it with those biotics of yours!
Back in a time instruction manuals were hot shit, reviewing these kinds of diverse games was easy. I just flipped through the pages and gave my opinions on each feature, then scrambled it a bit to make it all look and sound sensible, and talked a lot of important and less essential shit to make it my own. Gave me good reason to look at the damn thing - back in the good old times of 8- and 16-bit, instruction manuals ended up laminated, they were so great. Even if you didn't need guidance, you read the manuals over and over again because they looked so cool all over. Then they started doing them in black and white to minimize expenses, and then they stopped making them altogether. I just have to trust that utilizing my experience with the Mass Effect franchise results in a review that covers most of the game.

Let's start with my favourite subject, or at least what used to be my favourite subject up 'til I hit the wall with the character editor, and just one of the things that makes the Mass Effect franchise so unique: importing your Shepard. Although it's at least temporarily a fatal struggle to get your old Shepard's tailored face into the game just the way it was, all of the other stuff is in place. You can change your character class if you want - although class specifications hold even less meaning they did in Mass Effect 2 - but your background and reputation stays the same. If you hit the level cap in the previous game, you will start from Level 30; this one's got a cap of 60. Don't go thinking that even though the first Mass Effect game is apparently the harbinger of the problems with the facial import, that the decisions you made in that game wouldn't count. Oh, they do - they do count, for a lot. People have tried to figure out which ones count for more, the decisions you made in Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2; I'd say it's a pretty even match. And, ALL of the DLC counts for something. Bring Down the Sky, Stolen Memory, The Price of Revenge, Firewalker, Overlord, Lair of the Shadow Broker, Arrival. ALL of them count. Even Pinnacle Station. Go figure. I mean, extra war assets, whole side missions based on downloadable content for previous games, and notable changes to ones that exist without 'em. If you haven't downloaded them yet, now would be the perfect time. I think I would rate each piece of DLC better than I did back when I made the guide, after seeing the heavy consequences in Mass Effect 3. There's no doubt left in my mind; after this is over, I'm rebooting the trilogy, doing everything I possibly can, and in a better order to dictate an even better and more consistent story. I have the power - and that is the magic of Mass Effect, the magic that hasn't gone anywhere, for the most part.

Mass Effect 3 begins with a bang that shouldn't leave anyone out in the cold, but still long-time fans have taken it upon themselves to unleash holy hell on the game for having only two decisive dialogue choices 99% of the time. Seriously, when did you ever need more than one choice that builds up your Paragon status and one for Renegade? I don't understand what that fuss is all about, but I do acknowledge a few problems with verbal communication in this game, and the biggest problem, most definitely, is auto-dialogue. In the first game, everything that Shepard said was up to you, and that was king. In Mass Effect 2, he/she was given automated lines that weren't always to your liking, but those lines were way too few in numbers to make a huge difference in such a fantastic game. In Mass Effect 3, Shepard mostly talks all by himself/herself, with you having a say in it only in the most important key points of the conversation; I'm guessing this travesty was made because there's so much dialogue in the game already, that if you were given more freedom of speech, the game would span one extra disc, as if two wasn't enough. So, I find it very hard not to forgive the game - because constantly switching discs is frustrating as it is - but, it is still very disappointing how BioWare alienated us players from the character we players created. I didn't want to admit it after Dragon Age II, but I guess that now I have no choice: BioWare is not the same company it was a decade ago.

And who are you supposed to be, Batman's son?
The Paragon/Renegade system is very little more than artificial. I guess it was left in as tradition. It doesn't matter which side you are on, the fate of the galaxy still rests on your shoulders, and people respect you in better and worse. The only thing that matters is your general reputation, which is kind of like the Charm and Intimidate skills from the first game clasped together. The rep meter dictates potential dialogue choices, and the general population's takes on you, while P/R's just for show. Nice actions still raise your Paragon points, and being an asshole raises your Renegade points, and every action you take raises the rep meter in a linear fashion. Reputation alone improves your chances of being able to charm or intimidate people (the blue and red comments on the left, as usual). The choice to charm or intimidate is extremely rare, though.

There are very few true side missions or assignments in Mass Effect 3. Almost every single mission, be it one for the main goal or one taken care of for N7, counts towards a better conclusion. There are no rest stops - no hidden craters with ancient weapon schematics that silently show up on the galaxy map in the middle of the game and make you go apeshit. In the beginning of the game, once you make it to the galaxy map (it'll take hours), you have very few choices of where and how to proceed - just a few systems are open for exploring. One thing that truly rubs me the wrong way about this game... you go on the Citadel. You walk around, minding your own business. You overhear people talk, not really paying attention to what they're saying since you cannot converse with them. Side missions keep popping up. OK, so whatever they're talking about, whatever their problem is, you can help - by fetching them stuff from systems blocked by Reaper forces. You're not really sure what they need the stuff for since you were not listening in the first place, but that's not the point - the point is that getting the quest does not mean you can do it. It might take a damn long while for the system with their object of desire to unlock. What's the point in receiving assignments you simply CANNOT do? All the assignments and main missions pile up into a big ole' clusterfuck in your codex menu, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it - since you got most of the assignments just by walking the Citadel's streets, which is something you are mandated to do. Also, since there's no item menu, you can't always be sure if you have the item in your possession or not. You have to constantly keep track on your findings by utilizing pen and paper, if you wish to conquer the majority of this game. A wise and experienced BioWare fanatic would say: go to the codex menu, and collapse the quest to see your next objective - if it says "Deliver item X to person X", you've got the item and all you need to do is go back to whoever wants it. I've got news for the BioSages: that doesn't work. There are no current objectives marked on the quests - just the goal of the quest. Which is quite funny, 'cause standard codex files still expand to eternity.

Mako had its fans, and one hater - that was me. The planet scanning system in Mass Effect 2 had its haters, and one fan - that was me. OK, I never really liked it all that much, but I preferred it over the Mako sequences. Whereas scanning one whole star system's resources might've taken hours in both previous games, in Mass Effect 3 it takes about two minutes. This is how it works: you go to a system, pick a cluster, and activate a sonar pulse. With luck, that pulse might pick up a signal. You go to that signal. It could be just about any sort of debris just floating around, or a planet you can scan for one single resource. You have to shoot one single probe to render the scanning of one planet complete. If there's still an unclaimed percentage of stuff in the cluster, just fly around and keep setting off those pulses to find another signal. There's a twist, and it's almost just as useless and annoying as buying probes and fuel in Mass Effect 2: that twist has a name, a name given to an ancient force by humans who never really understood them. Of course, I'm speaking of the Reapers. The Reapers have taken most of the galaxy under their control, so it's only natural they're controlling well over a half of the galaxy map. Each time you use the pulse, you attract Reapers to your location. This is supposed to happen only in Reaper-controlled territories, the game even tells you that, but it happens wherever there are resources available. Once the Reapers have detected your presence, they're coming for your ass in swarms, and make probing and simple salvaging extremely difficult. You're not even supposed to be able to probe or salvage anything in a danger zone, not until you've completed a mission - that settles the bastards down - but actually, all you need to do is get out of the cluster, and check back in to see if luck's on your side. If it's on your side, you'll re-enter just next to the signal, and be able to investigate before the Reapers reach you. Feels more stupid than it sounds like, I assure you. Oh yeah, and in case you're wondering, getting caught by the swarm means C.M.F. - Critical Mission Failure. However, by resuming the game, you'll end up in the cluster you died in, so not much is lost. Checkpoints do work, absolutely - and the fact that they finally came up with use for the Select button, that no one can complain about: it's the universal quicksave button.

In-depth conversation really hasn't changed all
that much. There's just less of it.
Action is the game's strongest trait, but since most of the game is comprised of it only, a game of traditional RPG length, I can't blame people for getting extremely bored with it at some point. There is very little conversation when it comes to any mission in the game - most communication with characters happens on the two hub worlds of the game, which are, of course, the Normandy and the Citadel. My only real negative when it comes to the missions - once again, I was personally prepared for all-out action - is the minor flaw that Shepard cannot holster his gun. I feel stupid running around my gun pointed at nothing all the time, especially since holstering was an option in the previous games. Indeed, all forms of decryption minigames are gone. All you have to do, basically, is to fight your way forward through wonders of enemy design - I mean, damn. God damn. - and at least on higher difficulty levels, you need to think of elaborate strategies to get by. Things are scattered around as they always were; exploring for them is a pain in the ass, though, and you will very rarely find anything unique. It's usually just ammo, weapon upgrades, armor pieces, new weapons... nothing you wouldn't find from (your favourite) stores on the Citadel if you happen to miss them. On just one occasion, I found myself exploring for a key item, 'cause I was lucky enough to remember that I had to keep an eye out for it on a specific side mission. I would like to embark on side missions with the sole purpose of fetching optional stuff that'd make a difference to me, personally, like I did, a LOT, in Mass Effect 2 - that's just not the way BioWare intended Mass Effect 3. Now I'm just out getting war assets - which don't make a stinking difference to me if I don't get some friend to co-operate with.

The co-op mode in Mass Effect 3 is just great, on paper. It's undoubtedly great fun to play, but. Microsoft has got to stop with LIVE Gold; LIVE Gold is the ONLY way you can play Mass Effect 3's multiplayer games on the Xbox 360. There is no local split-screen mode, at least not yet. I have LIVE Gold at the moment, so I don't have a personal problem with this issue, but the only person I would like to play with has neither Mass Effect 3 or LIVE Gold, and Mass Effect 3 is the only purchase of those two he's ever going to make. I definitely don't blame him, 'cause Gold is yesterday's news in a world where PlayStation Network is 100% free. Anyway, the co-op missions are directly related to your progress in the single-player campaign. By completing co-op missions, you increase your chances against the Reapers in the form of "Galactic Readiness". No matter how much war assets you attain in the single-player campaign, it's the co-op that deals the damage to the Reapers, so to speak. This is an extremely cool and unique feature, it truly is - the thing about multiplayer modes in games has always been that they don't count for shit, except for Achievements in the modern world. In Mass Effect 3, you can accomplish so much more with a friend, you could even say that the only way you're getting the full experience is by going at the game with someone you trust. It's just too bad that you have to buy a totally useless Gold membership to be able to do it. Fix this, BioWare. Immediately.

So, anyway, combat's fun, in healthy doses. The basics are not that different from Mass Effect 2, but this time you can jump faster over covers - meaning you don't have to take cover and then jump over it - do a dodge roll into four directions, surprise whole groups of enemies just for the fun of it and to prevent them from calling in reinforcements, do individual stealth kills (very rarely, though) and even hijack enemy mechs. THAT'S FUN. Oh, and melee attacks are very important. Since my current Shepard's a Vanguard, he has no access to the much promoted Omniblade, the game's new, prominent melee weapon - but he has a special attack of his own in its stead, an ultra-powerful biotic punch. Since I haven't invested much into melee prowess, it's not all that "ultra-powerful", but it keeps a Husk down. Those guys have a serious problem in understanding the term "personal space".

Experience points come from completing missions and assignments - including the Citadel's one thousand and one cryptic fetchquests - as well as examining personal datapads and all the other crap on the field. The ability points work exactly like they did in Mass Effect 2, just the maximum levels for the abilities are higher - 4 points for Level 4 of an ability, 5 points for Level 5, 6 points for concluding the individual ability tree with a passive superpower. However, the trees themselves are quite different. Indeed, there are six levels to each ability. The first three levels are of natural development of an ability, but the last three you can choose yourself from two potential choices. Let's take Shockwave, for example. At Level 4, you can choose whether you want Shockwave to do more damage to enemies, or if you want it to blast enemies through the air at a wider radius. Level 5 is usually a similar choice. At Level 6, you can choose either one final touch to the ability itself, one final touch to the individual character's attributes, or a lesser attribute boost, which however affects the whole squad. I find the whole character development system satisfactory - it's not what it used to be, but sufficient.

All that was laid down just now was only Part 1 of this review. Part 2 introduces the two hub worlds of this game in much basic detail, because telling everything I can about them without spoiling anything, in close combination with everything I already told you, should give you an idea of what the game is like. Let's start with the Normandy. Your beloved ship, the Cerberus-made version, has been "upgraded" - Debatable with a capital D - to meet with Alliance regulations, so it's a bit different than it was in Mass Effect 2. There are now five decks to explore - your cabin, the CIC, the crew deck, engineering and shuttle bay.

The cabin is exactly the same, with just a few artificial downgrades. You can listen to tunes from the sound system, but you can't change the tune. There's no space hamster - that's honestly my deepest concern. There's no terminal for Achievements. What probably annoys the hell out of most players is that you can still customize your basic armor sets, but the colour palette, as big as it looks, consists of some really crappy combinations, shades and tones. In Mass Effect 2, it was easy. I just picked the darkest red possible for the main tint of my body armor. I do the same in Mass Effect 3, and I still look pink. What is this game's problem with artificial character customization? Really?

Hackett's come a long way from just being
Lance Henriksen's voice on the radio.
You annoyingly return to the back of the CIC after each mission, to the vid comm room, where you communicate with your superiors. The next room is the war room with the strategic console you have no use for if you're not into, or not able to get into (fuck you, Gold) the whole experience of the game. The tech labs are now merely used for local conferences. In the actual CIC, you can check in with specialist Traynor, who replaces Kelly Chambers as your source of information regarding your e-mail and the state of the crew. The galaxy map's where it's always been. There's no weapon room, that's saved for the upper decks. Joker's in the cockpit, making witty remarks as always, and I've got to say he's never been better. His conversations with members of your squad and the crew, including his new co-pilot, are priceless. I've always loved Joker, but this game makes him an irreplaceable member of your crew - you'll find yourself lucky that Joker couldn't die in the previous games.

The crew deck is the largest one, and most of the crew resides there... duh. There's a memorial plate for every person that ever gave his or her life for Shepard's mission, in the previous games, as well as this one. It's a great thing to look at and if there was a salute button, I'd use it every time. You can do a few things in the med bay, such as nullify your squad's ability points (the first time's free for each individual character) to reassign them altogether, and pick a bonus ability for Shepard from the special abilities of your squad. As in most BioWare's games, you'll have to talk to your squad and get to really know each member to learn their abilities. If they refuse to engage in real conversation with you and you still haven't gained a bonus ability from them, you'll just have to try later. In this game, you can't force a conversation with characters. When they've said everything they've to say at the moment, they trade real conversation for a single random sentence. It's a good thing, really - I had enough of trying my luck with 'em in the previous games. Speaking of trying my luck, Liara's new info office is opposite to the med bay, and there you can follow certain communications between certain NPC's on her personal computer, as well as upgrade your squad with miscellaneous intel usually found by scanning planets. Health and shield bonuses, weapon damage, all the usual stuff.

The engineering deck's exactly the same as it was before, with different people inhabiting its areas. The shuttle bay's the "new" part of the ship, and the most important thing about this deck is that there you can upgrade and mod your weapons in total peace, and buy stuff licensed by the various stores on the Citadel. The weapons have tier numbers like they did in the first game, but switching between them is not a problem. For example, if you have two characters who have Vindicator I equipped, upgrading the weapon just once to Vindicator II is enough to automatically change the weapon to Vindicator II for both characters. A single weapon mod with a higher tier number than the one you have installed on your weapon also replaces the old one automatically, for all characters that have a mod of the same series installed. This removes a whole lot of distraction and frustration. This is how it should've always worked, at least in the console versions. BioWare's menus in console games have thus far been some seriously enfuriating crap. This game has no other problems than the codex menu, and that particular problem is a problem in every version of the game. It's one which having a mouse does not cure.

Romances work very differently and they're much more complicated than they have ever been, mainly due to the stuff you might've done in the past. Reigniting an old flame is not nearly as easy as you'd like to think. Just think about it: if you were a woman, would you just blindly take back a guy who's humped a fine example of visual perfection while you were looking away? OK, so he dumped her right after he found out you're still interested, he's there for you all the time, and his heart still belongs to you, 100%. My Shepard would like an answer, 'cause he got his heart shot bad in this game. I worked hard to mend it eventually, though. Oh, well, even if an epic "back together" story won't end up taking place in your personal Mass Effect universe at all, there are plenty of fish out in the sea, literally. Your squad is very compact indeed, but romance options are not limited to the members of your squad - in fact, you can romance over a half of your crew. Not Joker, though. Thank God. Be wary - BioWare never seems to get enough of forcing your straight characters to come out of the closet. Gay romances are possible, even for men this time; fair play or preposterous misguidance of straight Shepards who are just trying to be friendly? You decide.

Then we have the Citadel. After the first trip, you can quick pick a location, if there's a certain part of the Citadel you must pay a visit to, but since fetchquests are updated all the time, it's recommendable, albeit frustrating, to run back and forth across the whole damn city each time you stop by. It's a good thing that most hot spots are shown on the map, even though you haven't passed them by yet (this works on the Normandy, as well) - important people, objects of interest, all that. The basic rule to the Citadel during the first half of the game is that it's somehow updated after every single storyline mission, there's always something new which kind of forces you to check in and backtrack across its several areas constantly. It's a good thing in terms of balance, but an equally bad thing in terms of actual enjoyability in the long run. It's this game's Kirkwall. I would rather enjoy scouting for assignments across the galaxy myself, or talking to specific people, not repeatedly running through large groups of people with the faint hope of overhearing something about a random alien artifact hidden somewhere on solar system X.

Different parts of the Citadel unlock as you go, in an early enough stage of the game, though. There's the main docking bay, as well as a larger docking area that houses refugees from Reaper-controlled planets (such as Earth). This place is just full of emotion. It's the one place in the game where I actually stop to listen to conversations between random NPC's from time to time. Sometimes, you can take part in some of the more heated conversations and support whichever side you wish to gain reputation, as well as Paragon/Renegade points. The Citadel Embassies include C-Sec's main office, the Spectre office where you can inspect and authorize different queries from all over the galaxy, as well as buy weapons and armour exclusive to Spectres (for a LOT of credits), and of course, the different embassies. Once again, duh. In Purgatory, you can lay back, watch respectable soldiers drink their brains to shit and once again find the answer to why Shepard's dancing skills are not very highly esteemed. Squad members who get critically injured - in storyline - are taken to the Huerta Memorial Hospital. Last, there's Presidium Commons - the largest area on the Citadel, with a lot of different stores (too many of them, in fact), and a lot of more or less interesting people to communicate with. The amount of time you'll spend on the Citadel at once highly depends on your deeds in the previous games, just like most of the other stuff going on in Mass Effect 3. So, if you're growing tired of running back and forth, you could say it's pretty much your own damn fault.

But, what if you've never played the previous games? Personally, I would say you're playing the wrong game. But, as it goes, there are certainly many video game fanatics out there, that have never played Mass Effect. Either they were too young to care when the original game came out, or they've never cared for RPG's, or whatever the reason is. Mass Effect 3 has generated so much hype that it's bound to attract new players. BioWare foresaw this, and added a twist. We, who import Shepard, have no say - at least in regards to the first playthrough - how the game will play out, generally. It's the classic Mass Effect experience. New players, however, and veteran players who start out fresh as a new Shepard (I'm missing the point) have a choice between Action Mode, Story Mode and RPG Mode. All players can easily eliminate decision-making altogether (AGAIN, I'M MISSING THE POINT) from the option menu, but these choices affect the whole game on a higher level. In Action Mode, there are no dialogue choices - at all. It's like you're watching any other game's story unfold, and all that you need to do to survive is to fight. NOT MY THING. Story Mode is vice versa. The dialogue options are there as they normally are, but combat is extremely easy. NOT MY THING. RPG Mode is the standard Mass Effect gameplay experience, as far as Mass Effect 3 goes as such. DEFINITELY MY THING. I see what BioWare tried to do here - make the game more accessible to a wider audience than ever - but personally, I find it very hard to believe that someone who's never played the previous games would understand or even enjoy five minutes of Mass Effect 3. It's a marginal franchise, and it's best that way. Final Fantasy, Silent Hill, Castlevania, and BioWare's very own Dragon Age - fine examples of magnificent franchises gone worse or truly bad, simply because their developers tried to suck up to too many target groups at once. Thought they'd learned by now.

The Mass Effect mythos has left such a lasting mark on me in the past year that as I have well promoted, I contradicted my own ideals by pre-ordering the N7 Collector's Edition of the game back in January. Even though they charged almost a hundred euros for it at GameStop, I just had to have it. Well, since the game didn't turn out nearly as godlike as I hoped it would be, and I already criticized the memorabilia that came with it in the video I posted a while back, do I feel stupid and once again robbed of good money? Hell, no. Unlike my Limited Collector's Edition of LittleBigPlanet 2, the N7 is one proud, standout item in my shelf. It has way more to show than a fancy tin box even after all is said and done - in other words, after all the DLC codes are used up. The price of this thing, with every collectable item still intact, will be through the roof some day. The From Ashes DLC pack is an irreplaceable part of the game, it's like this game's Stone Prisoner or Exiled Prince, but just much better! ...Relatively speaking, of course. A deeper review of it will be written some day, if I ever get into making a Mass Effect 3 DLC Guide - I most likely will. Now, it's just too fresh, and telling just a little about it would spoil the experience for those unlucky ones who haven't got it. The digital soundtrack is the bomb, the extra equipment is not OP'd at all, just very useful and universally efficient for players who don't like to spend too much time on tinkering with weapons. The concrete memorabilia might be a little scaled down, but rad and stylish nonetheless. No, I don't think I wasted my money. With as much love for Mass Effect as I have, it's mandated for me to have at least one Collector's Edition of a Mass Effect game.

The galaxy map's the same, just looks like
someone took a few dumps on it.
The game can be pretty challenging from time to time. There are a few specific combat sequences and boss fights near the end of the game that will have you strategizing deeply and utilizing your squad's different skills, even on Normal, and actually cursing - can't wait to take on Insanity sometime in the future. Although actual challenge doesn't really matter to me when it comes to RPG's - Mass Effect 3 being one is debatable, of course - I am pleased with its "you can't do it, it's suicide!" type of missions actually being difficult and tense unlike the final mission and boss fight in Dragon Age II. The three different endings of the game have been the subject of criticism, but I like the one I got just as much as I liked the story; I just didn't expect or exactly hope for the game to suddenly go on crazy gear in the vein of Assassin's Creed or Final Fantasy X, and I also would've liked to know what I was doing in advance. The game didn't tell me that, I hit the right switch (so to speak... or literally?) out of pure luck. I didn't come this far with my Shepard to screw up during the final moments of the trilogy.

The crafting of the Achievements is surprisingly smart. Mass Effect 3 is the first multiplayer game in the franchise, and very often developers attempt to promote the new multiplayer mode with dozens of Trophies and Achievements linked to the multiplayer mode, which some players do not even have the basic resources to nail. Mass Effect 3 presents a diplomatic solution; you can get most of the multiplayer achievements either by accomplishing goals in multiplayer, OR making equal accomplishments in the single-player campaign. For example, the "Tourist" Achievement is awarded for completing one multiplayer match OR completing two N7 assignments in the single-player campaign. For this, I have to applaud BioWare - they are clearly not idiots that expect each and every player out there to have a top-of-the-line broadband connection or mere interest in multiplayer games.

I wish they'd stop experimenting before it's too late, though. Mass Effect 3 is an excellent game, it truly is - if you're here for the story, and not just any story, but a story you've developed yourself in the course of the last five years. It will strike new players as an everyman action game - to new players, there are probably very few special things about it. The story is a magnificent climax to Shepard's military career in itself, and no real Mass Effect fan and veteran can deny that - it's supposed to be what keeps them going, even at the worst of times. The gameplay lacks balance and liberty to be who you want to be, the game might be a little repetitive, even boring - yes, all that, but as a story, it's everything we hoped for, and even more. In the world of Mass Effect, within the standards set by Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, that means a lot.

+ Shepard & Co.
+ Fleshed out cavalcade of enemies representing three different factions, and good villains altogether 
+ The story will blow your mind, even moreso if you've been a Mass Effect completist in the past
+ In regards to the previous, BioWare's attention to detail is unparalleled
+ The voiceover work is grand
+ The soundtrack is epic to the core
+ Combat (and experimenting with it) is fun as long as it stays fresh
+ Weapon and character development is simplified even further, but not linear by any means
+ There are very few forced conversations
+ The multiplayer mode's a fine addition to the full experience
+ The Trophies/Achievements rock despite the addition of a multiplayer mode
+ The Quicksave button might not be very useful due to the large number of checkpoints (it's a weapon against occasional freezing, though), but it is an excellent invention that I'd recommend to a whole bulk of games I've played lately - here's looking at you, Ninja Gaiden

- Countless, not to mention serious problems at launch for the Xbox 360, including the character import glitch and Origin's potential to fuck your Achievement counters up for the duration of a whole playthrough (this is where I yell "check!")
- You need Xbox LIVE Gold to just try the multiplayer game
- Ironically, character customization is more limited than ever
- The need to run around Citadel and the Normandy after each five-minute trip to God knows where is great, actually doing it is painful
- The level design lacks similar passion that drives the character and enemy design
- The game generally lacks balance; no minigames, no profitable exploration, limited ways to dictate the course of dialogue, too much straightforward action, and in turn, long sessions of simply running back and forth in the hubs
- Scan 'n' fetch seems to be the new name for all extra assignments; well, at least completely scanning the planets doesn't take nearly as much time as it did before
- The Reapers on the galaxy map are nothing but annoying distractions
- The Xbox 360 version demands disc change every waking hour; what was the point of installation, again?

< 8.6 >