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Mass Effect 3: Conquering the co-operative frontier

In space, three co-op partners can hear you scream...

Commander Shepard has the weight of the universe resting on his (or indeed, her) shoulders in the thrilling climax to BioWare's epic sci-fi trilogy.

Mass Effect 3 picks up the story just as the Reapers (a mechanical race of human-hating doombots, if you're new to this) launch an assault on Planet Earth, the fallout of which is threatening to trigger a galaxy-wide war. Do not want! As ever, it falls to reliable ol' Shepard to dig everyone out of a hole.

Saving the universe isn't going to be a spacewalk though, and the first thing on Shep's to-do list is a task that would turn even the smarmiest politician's face green. He (or, y'know, she) has to zip around the galaxy, round up all the various civilisations that inhabit it and get them singing from the same hymn sheet.

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With a little schmoozing and a whole lot of shooting, you'll hopefully find yourself in charge of a cosmopolitan army force that's united and strong and ready to make tin cans out of the Reapers' shiny metal behinds.

But then again, maybe you won't. Since Mass Effect 3 closes the book on the Commander Shepard story arc, BioWare aren't duty-bound to keep your save file ticking over until Mass Effect 4. And so, all the decisions you've made over the last half-decade of space exploration finally come home to roost.

It's entirely possible, apparently, to botch your way to the finish which sees the Reapers' arms(?) raised in victory at the end. Pressure!

Fortunately for the less diplomatically minded, there is another way. If you decide to do your bit for the galaxy by enlisting in the separate co-op multiplayer campaign, all you have to round up is three friends and a pad with a working trigger button. Now that's our kind of politicking!

BIO HAZARDS
BioWare has been itching to bring a multiplayer component to Mass Effect since the very beginning, but it's only now, with the revisions that Mass Effect 3 brings to the combat system - including improved agility and a more aggressive melee attack - that the RPG wizards have felt confident enough to put together a piece of the Mass Effect universe that's all about the shooting.

And we mean all about the shooting. Mass Effect 3's co-op is a 'survival' game in the mould of Gears of War's Horde or Call of Duty's Zombies, with your team of four battling to outlast waves of brainwashed Cerberus troops in numerous different locations around the Milky Way.

Role-playing games are solitary pursuits by design so it always proves contentious when a multiplayer mode is bolted onto the side of one. BioWare seem to have got the balance right here though; Mass Effect 3's multiplayer can be totally ignored if you want to - it's possible to get the optimum endings without ever so much as brushing past the multiplayer tab on the menu screen.

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If you do decide to get involved though, you'll find that your endeavours enhance your single-player game in small but exciting ways. Multiplayer is set in the same story arc as the campaign with your squad being one of many fighting on the frontlines across the galaxy.

Success translates into what is known as 'War Assets' - allies, ships and radar stations which can be used in the (again, optional) Galaxy at War strategy system which complements the campaign mode. The aim here is to reinforce the galaxy's defence systems so they're ready for the Reapers' final push - so those added extra units will be gratefully received when it comes to the crunch.

Opinions will continue to be divided on the issue long after Mass Effect 3 has been released into the wild, but us? We love the idea of it! After five years of carrying the world on our shoulders, it's going to be great to finally let off some steam...

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