We're five years down the line and the greatest threat the combined forces of the galaxy have ever known has been revealed, fought and defeated a million times over. Romances bloomed as whole races died. But, finally, the galaxy is at peace in one way or other. Only now Nintendo fans are getting to sift through a third of it to find out just what the hell was going on all this time. I
t's strange for a series so famous for its storyline to be released to an entirely new audience in what amounts to a seriously abridged form. A pessimist would suggest that this was a cash-in, a way of earning extra space-bucks on the back of a lucrative year; an optimist would believe that the publisher recognised that this was the best game of the trilogy. Where your opinion falls will depend on what you want from a Mass Effect title.
If you're after that vaunted storyline, let us steer you away now. So much of the trilogy's appeal as a narrative was lodged in its small decisions, and you're missing out on many of the results of those here. Any game can ask you to choose the fate of a galaxy and see how that pans out, but it's in the quieter moments that Bioware's truly great work shines through.
If you had a save file from the first game, Mass Effect 3 could confront you with a character you'd known for years talking about things that you, specifically, had done. The cumulative effect became a defining feature of the series - by the end of each game and, eventually, the trilogy, you felt as though you'd had a hand in shaping what had happened throughout.
The Dark Horse-produced interactive comic, Genesis, which makes up the first half an hour of this game, can't offer that service. In fact, it doesn't even present the larger decisions of previous games in their full complexity, reducing many of the more multi-layered decisions into yes/no questions. We're not blaming the developer, it's a slick way of covering two huge games in their entirety, but you won't get the full effect of the Mass Effect storyline by playing this version. In terms of what you're getting, Mass Effect 3 is all bluster, a constant climax in which Earth is attacked by an extra-galactic spaceship race in the first five minutes and only gets louder from there. It's undoubtedly well presented, but it just doesn't feel right without the build-up.
That said, the benefit of the end of a story is that all the best action tends to happen there. This game didn't break that rule - it's an amazing action experience and the Special Edition goes a little way towards making it even better. Mass Effect 3 is a perfectly honed action-RPG, mixing cover shooting with on-the-fly power use, not to mention a streamlined levelling system that enables you to tinker with how you'll perform in combat. It's precisely the kind of game the Wii simply couldn't handle and sets an excellent precedent for the system.
Survey The Ordnance
The expected GamePad map is as useful for getting around unwieldy hub areas as it is in frenetic combat, while the addition of drag and drop touch hotkeys along the edge makes proceedings more fluid once you've mastered activating them. The ability to move squadmates precisely on the map is also handy, but too fiddly, given that you'll probably use your finger to do it.
On a more prosaic level, Straight Right's time porting the game seems to have been well spent, because it looks wonderful, showing off lighting, animation and even fixing the texture pop-up issues that plagued the original version with equal nonchalance. GamePad-only play (activated by holding down the minus button) is surprisingly easy to follow for a game that can get this hectic, too. Even the hugely underrated multiplayer mode is in working order from the off, with every available DLC pack bar the latest included (plus the From Ashes and Extended Ending packs for single player).