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Mass Effect 3 conquers gaming galaxy in reviews roundup

Mass Effect 3 is out today in America and the first reviews are up, lashing dollops of praise on this titan among roleplaying games.

After nearly five years, thousands of dead aliens and hundreds of hours spent in lifts, BioWare's spectacular sci-fi trilogy Mass Effect has come to an end. Mass Effect 3 is out today in America on PS3, Xbox and PC and the first reviews are online, lashing rich dollops of praise on this most forward-thinking of roleplaying games.

Intergalactic bad/good/girl/guy -- the choice, as always, is up to you -- Commander Shepard is up against the Reapers once more, and this time the implacable alien-robot foe is invading the universe in force, laying siege to Earth and the rest of the populated worlds of the galaxy, hell-bent on wiping out all organic life.

As if! Like that's gonna happen! Don't you know who you're dealing with here? This is Shepard, and his rough-and-tumble team of oddly shaped space-badasses! Zooming around the Milky Way in the Normandy spaceship, drumming up support for his cause and bumping into all his old comrades and enemies along the way, this is what you can definitively call a tour de force. PC Gamer calls it "an urgent and galaxy-critical plot that directly involves the entire crowd of oddball personalities the series has built up. And it works."

I've only played the demo, but from the reviews, the game itself sounds very familiar, tweaked in various ways to make combat more fluid and engaging and the roleplaying elements more involved and meaningful.

You can even yell at your TV and properly pretend to be Shepard. "The Xbox 360 version supports the Kinect peripheral," GameSpot says, "allowing you to call out commands to teammates ('Liara: Warp!'), perform your own skills ('Pull!'), interact with objects ('Open!'), or choose dialogue options. This is all absolutely functional, and sometimes even enjoyable." Miaow.

What's always fascinated me about the series is its promise of weaving the decisions you make in one game into future episodes. ME3 is where this all really pays off: depending on your chequered past, various characters are either missing or altered, and "decisions you made in 2007 -- both major and minor -- are not only referenced but seamlessly woven into the ongoing drama," reckons Eurogamer.

Mass Effect 3 multiplayer

A brand-new element to the series is a multiplayer mode where, by doing four-player combat, you level up generic characters, both human and alien, that aren't part of the single-player mission. "A four-player skirmish with a maxed-out group of skilled players is a sight to behold," Eurogamer enthuses.

When your characters are good enough, you can send them into battle as part of Shepard's mission to ready the galaxy for a final fight. Get it ready enough and you'll see the best ending when you complete the game, although you needn't ever play multiplayer to achieve this.

Some commenters have expressed annoyance that the disc doesn't come with the full game, as seems to be commonplace now. A downloadable missions pack, for which you pay extra, is available now. An accompanying iPhone game, which also contributes to your galactic readiness, will set you back another fiver.

Praise for the game is almost unanimous though, with a 94 per cent average on Metacritic at the time of publication. GameSpot says it's "remarkably satisfying" and "poignant and memorable". VideoGamer is the only UK publication to sound a note of dissent in its 8/10 review. "There's little here to convert non-believers, but then this game is not for them. This is one for the fans, and few who buy it will be left unsatisfied by how the story -- their story -- ends."

All that's left, then, is to wait for Friday's UK release. As The Guardian puts it, "An awful lot of gamers are praying for the sort of snow that decimates public transport and provides a ready-made excuse to skip work."

Will you be taking a judicious day off on Friday? What do you think of all the DLC bits and bobs? Watch our sister site GameSpot's video review below, and let me know in the comments, or over on our galactically epic Facebook page.