In addition to being one of my favorite game of 2011, Battlefield 3 came with the added perk of early access to the Mass Effect 3 demo. It might just be three days earlier than the public roll-out date, but given that it's shaping up to be one of, if not the most anticipated game of 2012, it's no wonder I found a huge number of people jumping online to enjoy those three days.

The demo contains two single-player missions. One is a prologue type scene that re-introduces Shepard and some returning characters from the first games, and the gameplay servers as a quick tutorial / refresher. The second mission takes place later in the game, and boosts your level so you can enjoy playing with some ability upgrades before diving into a pretty solid series of shootouts, culminating with taking down an Atlas mech.

The first thing that struck me about the demo was how familiar it all felt. The controls are practically unchanged, and given how solid the previous entries were, you can't fault Bioware for sticking with what works. The abilities menu is deeper than ME2's, each ability now has 6 levels to invest points in, with the final 3 for each abilit being either/or choices that let you tailor the ability to your play style. For example, you can reduce your power cooldown time, or choose to boost the damage dealt instead.

Some games fall victim to the rut, and end up as little more than overpriced dlc or map packs. With Mass Effect 3, it seems Bioware took the time it didn't need to spend tweaking the game play and spent it polishing the game's cinematic qualities. The stellar voice acting cast is back, the score is beautiful without overtaking the cutscenes, the dialogue is well written, and the prologue cinematics hammer home not only the scale of the Reaper invasion, but the sheer overwhelming odds you'll be facing this time around. If the demo is a true indication of the full game, then it'll have all the look and feel of a blockbuster film - exactly what we'd expect from the franchise at this point.

"You'll have to go through me to get to Ea-- oh, the Reapers are on Earth already? Well, crap."

The multiplayer is altogether new to the Mass Effect universe. Combining the familiarity of "horde mode" survival with the abilities and customization of the various Mass Effect classes and alien races, you'll need to work together with your squad mates in order to defeat enemies, complete objectives, and keep each other alive. The characters you create won't be full Mass Effect characters like Shepard; you'll only have access to five skill trees to upgrade (three abilities and two passive.) You also also have access to two weapons, so both the ability and weapon wheel are disabled, and the LB and RB buttons are now used just for your abilities.

Completing waves and objectives earns you experience and credits; credits can be used to purchase "packs" between matches. A basic pack, for 5,000 credits, gets you 5 items with the chance of a rare item, while the better pack at 20,000 credits gives you more of each item as well as guaranteeing at least one rare item. Commons include medi-gel and ammo supplies you can use instantly in survival mode, while uncommon items include new playable characters, weapons, and weapons upgrades. It's an odd way to unlock things, almost like buying packs of baseball cards hoping for the one you really want, but it's at least a nice change of pace from the way most FPS's handle unlocking weapons.

Mass Effect - where "diversity in the workplace" means "you get to play as a Krogan in this one."

Unfortunately, the downside of online co-op is that it's online, and that means you're sometimes at the mercy of the internet gods to place you with three strangers, and hope they aren't useless. There doesn't seem to be a way to join a game in progress, and I haven't seen a vacated lobby spot get filled, so having people rage quit (even from the lobby) quickly puts you at a disadvantage. You also need to wait for all players to "ready," not just a majority, and there's no time limit before the game starts, so you may end up sitting there for minutes waiting for someone half a world away to press the A button.

That said, once you get in, you'll see all sorts of team tactics open up: Infiltrators using a cloak to flank enemies, people sniping from a distance to thin out the crowd, and Krogans rushing in to deliver absolutely crushing melee attacks. Sticking close together is key, especially on higher difficulties, as you can press A near a downed teammate to revive them and keep them in the fight (down players also revive if the wave is completed.) It's not clear from the demo how these multiplayer characters will fit into the campiagn, but it's likely they'll be available to be sent on errands, Assassins Creed style, to take care of tasks on Shepard's behalf.

Long story short, if the demo is any indication, Mass Effect 3 is shaping up to be one of the best games released this year - which will come as a surprise to pretty much no one.