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Mass Effect 3: Why BioWare's finale will make you sad

All new plot and gameplay info, plus how we embarrassed ourselves asking Casey Hudson about lesbians

Maybe it's the jet lag, or trying to survive on nothing but Mentos, but watching the Mass Effect 3 demo behind closed doors at E3 today we almost found ourselves welling up.

As you'll no doubt know by now, the beginning of the game sees Earth under apocalyptic attack from the Reapers - a race of ginormous biomechanical spaceships which emerge from dark space every squillion or so years to harvest all organic life like big evil hoovers. What you won't know is how incredible that opening sequence looks. It easily blows away the brilliant intro from Mass Effect 2, and sets the scene for what looks like a bravura end to Bioware's trilogy.

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Before showing the demo, executive producer Casey Hudson told the crowd, assembled inside a steel room decked out to feel like the Normandy - complete with TV windows showing Earth outside, that after E3 they would not show this section again until the game comes out on March 6, next year.

Read on to find out what happens and get the latest gameplay info. MILD SPOILERS, obviously, but nothing we think will damage your enjoyment of the game.

The demo kicks off with Shepard's trial for the supposed crimes he committed in Mass Effect 2 being messily interrupted by the invading Reaper fleet. You've seen Reaper ships before, but not like this, and never so many. The very obvious reference point is Spielberg's War Of The Worlds, both in the way they stalk around lasering the puny humans below, and in the honking bass sound they emit.

The whole thing looks ridiculously epic. As Shepard and Anderson pick their way through the rubble, overhead Alliance shuttles smash into buildings and a larger cruiser goes pop, releasing a massive blast wave. To complicate matters further - and they're already fairly complicated - Shepard must also fend off the attentions of 'Cannibals', four-eyed, bulgy-fleshed monstrosities which seem to act as footsoldiers for the Reapers, which he does with his punchy new Matlock rifle.

Our heroes gain some brief respite inside a building, and that's when the big emoto-moment gets foreshadowed. Shepard discovers a young lad hiding out in a vent, much like Newt in Aliens. He has the option to ignore the urchin or help him to safety, but despite selecting the latter, the kid still won't come out because he's too scared.

A few firefights and some exposition later, Anderson reinstates Shepard's rank of commander and orders him off in the Normandy to recruit a coalition force of aliens to take on the Reapers. As Shep takes off he sees civilians being bundled onto evacuation shuttles, including the little lad from the vent. Their eyes meet for a moment, just as a reaper ship closes in. For a second it looks like the shuttles are going to make it, then lasers tear both of them apart. Which is the exact second our bottom lip might have quivered slightly.

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What's clear is that Bioware isn't going to pull its emotional punches for the third and final instalment. "This is the main event, this is full-scale galactic war," says director Casey Hudson. "This is the beginning of all the biggest events in the Mass Effect series, and it's going to be the best game in the series."

What's also clear is that whereas the previous two Mass Effect games have seen Shepard recruiting a band of unlikely extra-terrestrial ass-kickers before going on a mega-mission, this time he's going to have to rustle up an entire army.

"Commander Shepard's job is to rally the forces of the galaxy," explains Hudson, "going to other civilizations, getting their fleet and their armies together, build a plan, come back, re-take the Earth and wipe out the Reapers." Sure. No problem. Let's say we'll have it done by Friday lunch, just to be on the safe side.

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