The plot of Mass Effect 3 is curiously apt, considering that the game is bringing down the world around us as we type: malvolent machines called Reapers, each the the size of a tower block, descend upon the civilised planets of the galaxy and start tearing shit up in an attempt to wipe out all sentient organic life. As Commander Shepard, it's up to you to stop them, using squad-based combat and a variety of technological and psychic powers.
Oh, and guns, too. Lots of guns
These machines will destroy you
Now, take a look at your Xbox 360. Innocent, right? WRONG. DEAD WRONG. It has the power to run ME3, and if you've got a Kinect unit plugged into it, a terrifying synthetic eye that follows you around the room and recognises your facial features. You can't trust that sort of thing. If you had kids, and our research suggests you probably don't, would you leave them alone with it? Of course not. Not now.
Unlike the enemies sucked into the gravity-well psychic powers of our Biotic Operative Liara, we've managed to escape the pull of Mass Effect 3. But not for long, because Mass Effect 3 is the best game we've played this year. In fact, odds are it might be the best game we play all year, but seeing as we're less than a third of the way through so far that's a pretty bold statement to make. Still, though, it's a contender.
This is Liara; she's pretty cool. She makes folk hover in mid air so you can kill them
We just can't stop playing it
Put it this way; every morning, we get up an hour early and spend it playing the game, then get into work late. Every evening, we get home and play it again until our eyes are red-rimmed and sore, and we fall asleep on the sofa leaving Commander Shepard staring, powerless, at the holographic map of the galaxy in the Combat Information Centre.
We've stopped eating properly, unless you count chips (and you shouldn't). We've stopped showering, because each shower is ten minutes that we could spend saving the galaxy. Children are running away from us in the street. Women are pointing and laughing at our increasingly thatch-like mess of hair. Birds are eying us up as a potential nesting spot. We've somehow generated cartoon stink lines above our heads, and pretty soon, flies will circle us too.
There are plenty of enemies to fight - these ones are called Cannibals, and cover themselves in scavenged armour and bits of their dead mates. Lovely
We're... kind of in love
But we DON'T CARE. Personal grooming be damned – we have a galaxy to save from giant robots that fire lasers out of their horrid faces. The plot, which has spent three games and five years building to a rolling boil, is astonishing. It's involving. We care about the characters, and once you hit your stride in the game they start dropping like flies – no spoilers here, obviously. But rest assured you'll give a shit once they start dying.
And all too often it's on your head. You'll be asked to point-blank decide which race you want to assist in a war, and the side you don't pick are almost unilaterally wiped out. The blood of civilizations thousands of years old is on your hands, and it's never flippant or unbelievable. The story writers at developers Bioware should be congratulated, given money, and then offered some sort of footrub or oral sex (their choice) for just how unfathomably fucking engaging this game is.
We didn't intend to deal with the fallout of smashing an alien race to pieces – we just wanted to play a game, maybe relax a little bit after work, but here we are. Unwashed. Unshaven. Unloved. Frozen with indecision over the outcome of alien peace talks. Wishing we could bring our friends back to life. Look what you've done to us, Bioware. We used to have lives.
This is your pilot, Joker. Voiced by Seth Green, he's a likeable sort of guy and spends much of the game trying to convice a robot to have sex with him. As you do
Don't buy this game
It will, of course, all be over – not soon, though, as we're twenty hours in and from the looks of things we're about halfway through the second act, in story terms. But until then, we'll be useless. We'll write some words dispassionately, half-heartedly do some research, stare blankly at a PR until they stop talking, and generally stumble uselessly through life until we get the chance to tumble back into the massive, intoxicating, thoroughly believable world of Mass Effect 3.
If you have a career, if you value your friends and loved ones, we beg of you – please, please, don't buy Mass Effect 3. It's just too good.
On our save, we made a female Shepard because we prefer looking at ladies, given the choice (sorry dudes). As a consequence all those other screenshots look weird because there's just some random bloke hanging around in them, as far as we're concerned
We're kidding! FUCKING BUY IT. It's out 9 March on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 – but if you've got the choice, you should probably buy the Xbox version, because the Kinect functionality is top-notch (and it gives you a reason to use the bloody thing)