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Mass Effect 3: Hands-on uncovers smarter, brutal and fluid combat

Shepard finally puts his legs to use...

Shepard was never really good at the shooty stuff, and as a member of an elite group of intergalactic law enforcers with the power to destabilize and potentially destroy entire civilizations, it's always been a bit of a glaring hole in his skill set.

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It's not that he couldn't put a bullet in his enemy, oh no, when it came to doing that his aim was always as true as the greatest of gunslingers. It was the bit where an enemy got up close and personal and he needed to make a quick getaway.

In both the first Mass Effect and its sequel the moment you pulled away from cover and made a break for it the best your 'forged in the fire of service and battle', bad ass Spectre had to offer was a either a truffle shuffle or a short sprint in a straight line, that more often that not left you gasping for breath in the hot zone. That's the kind of frigidness that could result in the demise of the human race, you know.

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In Mass Effect 3 the big boys have joined the fight, after hiding out long enough to be confined to the realm of myth, the Reapers have crawled out from the depths of space and caught galactic civilization with its space pants around its ankles.

Laying waste to anything and everything in their path they've taken the conflict from a bunch of small rows and escalated it to a full-scale, all-or-nothing, put up or shut up, fight for survival.

Earth, and numerous other planets, are under attack and their inhabitants are ruthlessly being slaughtered by the Reapers. As mankind's best chance at survival Shepard will need to once again rally the troops and put an end to the Reapers. Fortunately, as we learned in our recent hands-on with the game, he's learned a few new tricks to give himself a fighting chance.

Princess in the Castle

Our hands-on kicks off aboard what looks like a medical facility. The complex is the kind of strikingly high-contrast sterile white architectural marvel that we've come to expect from the Mass Effect universe, but it's encased surrounded by clear blue skies, majestic mountains and thick green undergrowth.

It's the kind of odd pairing of motifs that BioWare has cleverly used to give the Mass Effect series a unique visual footprint but also a familiar sci-fi vibe. We imagine Shepard would be well up for vacationing here, you know, if it isn't blown up by the Reapers.

We're accompanied by Liara and Garrus, but before long Mordin shows up. The fast-talking, no nonsense salarian offers a quick handshake then gets to the business at hand. Apparently he's tracked down a fertile female Krogan, which have been something of a rarity ever since a biological weapon was used to put the kibosh on Krogan reproduction.

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Mordin has placed the female Krogan in protective isolation and instructs us to get her off the facility and on to the Normandy by ascending through each level of the facility and manually releasing the containment pod until it reaches the ship. It all sounds simple enough, that is until Cerberus soldiers drop in. Turns out it's their tropical medical facility we're on.

These guys aren't messing around; they very quickly fan out and take position behind cover, waiting for gaps in our frenzied firing and popping up to take shots before disappearing behind cover again. Every so often from the corner of our eye we spot one of the Cerberus soldiers make a cheeky dash from cover. They're all very slowly advancing on our position.

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