Mass Effect 3 (EA/BioWare)
All good things must come to an end. The tricky part is making the end as good as the rest.
Mass Effect 3, the final act in the highly-acclaimed role-playing trilogy from ace developer BioWare, releases Tuesday, wrapping up the six-year arc of heroic Commander Shepard and his quest to save Earth from obliteration at the hands of a fierce alien race. It's also an unprecedented exercise in narrative consistency, as the dozens of decisions players made in the previous Mass Effect games — from big, galaxy-changing choices to seemingly innocuous conversations with minor characters — all come to a head.
And according to critics, it's a glorious finish.
"I guided Shepard across three massive games spanning over 100 hours, and feel BioWare has delivered one of the most intricately crafted stories in the history of the medium," gushes Game Informer's Andrew Reiner. "From Earth's darkest hour to the universe's last stand, this game revels in heart-pounding excitement and soul-crushing twists. It starts out with a bang and rarely slows as it races toward its conclusion." The score? A perfect 10/10.
Eurogamer doles out a 10/10 as well, due in no small part to the game's amazing flexibility.
"Whether you want a thoughtful character-driven adventure, a balls-out third-person shooter or the full role-playing epic experience, there's a setting that accommodates you," writes reviewer Dan Whitehead, who lavishes praise on the game's unique, personalized approach.
"The dramatic peaks and troughs resonate all the more since these aren't sterile cut-scenes from a pre-determined story, but emotional beats in a tale that's been yours to tell. Entire species will be wiped out, beloved allies will fall, and anyone who has invested themselves in this saga and its richly drawn cast will get a lump in the throat at some point," he adds.
More perfect scores from Vox Games, G4, The Guardian and UGO back up their claims, and while IGN steps it down a notch with a "mere" 9.5/10, the site still basks in the glow of Mass Effect 3's incredible storytelling, streamlined combat and fantastic voice-acting (Martin Sheen, Seth Green, Tricia Helfer and Freddie Prinze, Jr. play prominent roles).
It takes issue, however, with the game's side quests, which it calls "less compelling and interesting" than in previous games.
"Mass Effect 3 isn't the best game ever made," concludes author Colin Moriarty, "But it'll certainly be in the conversation for a very long time to come."
We're not sure Giant Bomb will be joining that chat. Crashing the party with a mostly positive 4/5 review, writer Jeff Gerstmann hails Mass Effect's ability to seamlessly weave together strands from all three games, but is less than thrilled with how the rest of the experience turns out.
"Even though it has some interesting ideas, it's hard to get excited about yet another take on wave-based survival, especially one that uses the occasionally-clumsy Mass Effect combat as its base," he says. And though he appreciates the game's multiplayer offering -- a first (and last, as it were) for the series -- he isn't convinced it was worked in as well as it should have been.
"Once you start thinking about how most of the campaign's side content either uses these same multiplayer levels or has you performing extremely basic retrieval tasks, it's easy to start feeling slightly indignant about the whole thing," he adds.
By and large, however, critics agree that this is a fitting finale to a remarkable franchise, and one that fans simply can't afford to miss. It's currently enjoying a 94 rating on Metacritic -- the top video game mark thus far in 2012. You'll face hundreds of difficult decisions while playing through the Mass Effect series, but it's evident one decision should be easy as pie: go buy this game.