If you want to play "Mass Effect 3," you'd better have two weeks off from work or school, and 14 pizzas. Because this is a long, long game -- as lengthy as several novels.
Some characters speak so much dialogue, their stories alone would count as several chapters in a book.
In the sci-fi future of "ME 3," outer space bullies called Reapers are brutally destroying every organic life form in our galaxy.
That includes Earthlings and many other species whose civilizations are intellectually superior/more warlike than ours/have really ugly faces.
You portray Commander Shepard (a man or woman, the choice is yours). Your main mission is to broker peace among species and convince them to engage with humans in intergalactic war against the Reapers.
So "Mass Effect 3" is three things:
1) A role-playing game with lots of chitter-chatter. During conversations, you try to choose the correct dialogue options to win over allies, to gather intelligence and even to extinguish an entire race.
2) A cover-shooting game. The shooting and melee attacks against Reapers are superior and smoother than in the previous, great "Mass Effect" games.
3) A bunch of compelling narrative movie scenes.
As is the case with the "Mass Effect" franchise, you command a spaceship.
You travel back and forth between this ship (chatting and romancing underlings about important stuff for an hour at a time) and dozens of planets and moons.
On those planets and moons, you kill baddies, rescue goodies and talk with potential allies.
Here's a great twist. The game lets you choose what kind of gaming experience you want. Do you want "Mass Effect 3" to be a straight-up shooter, a verbal role-playing shooter or mostly a story-centric movie?
That's a terrific option. It gives fans of pure cover-shooters a chance to dispense with long conversations. (I spent two straight hours on one little space station alone, talking politics to a bunch of creeps.)
But I tried playing "Mass Effect 3" as a shooter only and it lacked heart. So I turned the role-playing dialogue choices back on and it was much better. I felt more invested, instilled with nerve-racking purpose to the shooting.
My specific complaints: I'm often confused as to which part of the galaxy to travel to for missions; I don't think the GX12 Thermal Pipe is where it's supposed to be; and the "Target the Reaper" boss is a disaster of design.
Aside from that, "Mass Effect 3" is stunning in depth, game play and beauty. The artistry of space ports, deserts and battlefields are like so many art galleries.
Give credit to the companies BioWare and Electronic Arts, plus director Casey Hudson, writer Mac Walters and a team of hundreds of designers and artists.
BioWare claims this is the last act of a trilogy featuring Commander Shepard. Maybe. But if there's one thing the galaxy will be saved for, it will be for another game sequel projected to earn many millions of dollars.
("Mass Effect 3" by Electronic Arts retails for $60 for Xbox 360, PS 3, PC -- Plays addictingly fun. Looks great. Challenging. Rated "M" for blood, partial nudity, sexual content, strong language, violence. Four out of four stars.)
Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@review journal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.