First impressions: Mass Effect 3

I wasn’t going to play the Mass Effect 3 demo. I promised myself I wouldn’t, pinky swear, and that I’d save myself for the actual game in March, and make it special with a nice bottle of gewürtz and chilli chocolate-dipped mango slices and something pretty to wear, and wait, what was I saying before?

As it is, I’ve managed to maintain a total media blackout on the game since its original reveal at the Spike TV awards in 2010, a not inconsiderable accomplishment for somebody who works in the same media, but maybe inconsiderable because I simply refused whenever I was asked to write an article about it. When I make an important decision like that, I always totally mean it except when I don’t.

"I changed my mind. It's a female class skill."

So, obviously, within minutes of the demo launching on Xbox LIVE, I was already downloading it and then I bunked off work the rest of the afternoon to play it.

The single-player part of the demo includes the first stage and then skips forward to another much further on in the game. I won’t drop any spoiler-bombs, but the opener is… kind of spectacular. Also, three yays for death-rays.

By some not entirely random coincidence, I’ve actually been playing through my unfinished Mass Effect 2 DLC over the past week, so the sequel-sequel’s New! Improved! Now with 100% more sticky grenades! features were instantly apparent.

There’s a bunch of new mobility options, including combat rolls, contextual cover switching and breaking, and – YES! YES! YES!– a quick vault that’ll put you over an obstacle instead of glued up against it while the Geth Prime behind you rearranges your anatomy with a rocket launcher.

That said, however, some of that infuriating stickiness has stuck around, and I did find myself attaching to things instead of moving around them more than one time, like every surface is covered in Velcro, a problem seriously exacerbated by the same laggy camera featured in the last two games.

"Project Velcro is going according to plan."

The HUD now displays more information, most significantly hit markers on enemy targets so you know whether you’re plugging meat or chiselling the walls – very useful when Cerberus agents are lobbing smoke grenades around the place – as well as your shields and damage taken, and tactical manoeuvring prompts.

There’s also a quick weapon swap and a charged, heavy melee attack.

The levelling system is somewhat more complex this time around, with skills splitting into two specialist divisions after the third tier, and more meaningful upgrades at each level. I guess BioWare was serious about putting the Real RPG Experience™ back into the series, although it’s not like anybody’s actually going to play anything except the Infiltrator, right? Exactly.

"Planetary scans indicate Vanguards at 6%, Commander. I don't get it either."

Onto the multiplayer then, and it’s honestly not quite the dreary, cynical checkbox add-on I’d expected. Basically, it’s a standard, four-player  invasion mode, although timed objectives are included from the third wave. Oh, and it’s brutally difficult. I mean, it’s really, really, stupidly hard. I never made it through the third wave, and the majority of games I played were over in the first. Mind you, that’s partly because I was playing with random strangers who’d evidently decided that cooperation was lame or something, and because the map layout makes it easy to become quickly overwhelmed if the team isn’t working together, and because it’s really, really, stupidly hard.

March needs to get here fast, but in the meantime, I’d recommend playing Mass Effect 2’s Arrival DLC. Because. Because why? Because it’s important, okay.