Mass Effect 2
The Story: A New Threat
After a dramatic intro to the game, Mass Effect 2 drops you back into BioWare’s universe two years after the fateful battle at the Citadel. Human colonists in the terminus systems are being abducted by an alien race known as the Collectors, and no one seems to know why or how to stop them. Cerberus, a shady entity with a pro-human agenda, seems to be the only group willing to do anything about the Collectors. Its leader, known only as the Illusive Man, hires Shephard and provides him/her (your choice) with a new and improved version of the Normandy, believing Shephard is the only person who can assemble a team capable of dealing with this new threat.
As Shephard, you must recruit the best of the best, whether human or Asari, biotic or soldier, in hopes that the collective skills of the crew you assemble will give you a chance against an enemy that outnumbers you and has much greater technology. Along the way, you will run across your old friends and enemies, along with several new characters who make the story truly come to life. The voice acting in this game is absolutely top notch, with sequences that will rival any movie being made in Hollywood. Add to that a plot that completely changes everything you thought you know about the universe created in the first game, and you have what is easily one of the most engaging storylines in gaming.
While it is impossible to talk too much about the story without spoiling it, one thing I can say is to pay attention to the decisions you make. Not only will they affect the game itself, they can affect the loyalty of your crew, and you will need all of their loyalty to make it though the end of the game in tact.
After all, in case you did not know this, it is possible for you to beat the game and yet still have Shephard die.
The Gameplay: BioWare Listened
As good as the firstMass Effect was, there were some things that drove gamers absolutely crazy. A poor inventory system, quirky combat controls that looked like a shooter but really did not play like one, cookie cutter side missions with the same buildings and caves over and over and those darn elevators tended to drive even the most ardent fan of the game insane. BioBare had said going into Mass Effect 2 they were going to improve all of those things, and they delivered in that promise.
- Inventory: There basically isn’t an inventory system in the sequel. As opposed to having multiple weapons of a particular type and all the various upgrades, you find various items you can research to improve your weapons, armor and even the Normandy itself. What this means is you are never having to decide what useful item you were going to have to turn to omni-gel just so you could carry more stuff.
- Combat: Mass Effect 2 plays much more like a third person shooter with RPG elements, as opposed to its predecessor which did the reverse. Gone are the feels of the die rolls; there is much more emphasis on aim and headshots in this game. At the same time, you have a much better squad command system and the ability to map three biotic/tech powers to buttons on the controller on top of your standard time pausing target selection process. The game also forces you to rely on cover; you are usually outnumbered and outgunned, and if you try to run headlong into battle, you will not last very long.
- Side Missions: There is no such thing as a cookie cutter mission in this game. Every side mission takes on its own life, with unique settings and additions to the storyline. Some side missions actually unlock others as you beat them, giving the missions a depth that was never really there in the first game. I never felt like I was just going through the motions of the side quests in this game. On the contrary, I quite enjoyed them.
- Elevators/Load Screens: The first time I entered an elevator in the Normandy, I could not help but mockingly brace myself for what was coming. Instead of spending forever in the elevator just spinning the camera around to waste time, I was rather pleasantly surprised to see myself zooming out to a schematic of the ship, giving me an overview of where the elevator was taking me. Other load screens are handled in this same style, showing anything from your shuttle departing from the Normandy to land on a planet to whatever path the planet side transportation you are using is taking. Its a nice touch that never lasts as long or gets as frustrating as the first game’s load screens.
While BioWare has made signification changes to the gameplay, the best element may be a slight refinement to what was already one of the series’ most distinctive features: the conversation system. Conversations flow much more naturally in Mass Effect 2, with characters actually moving around and reacting logically to the flow of the dialogue as opposed to just standing there as you talk. Little touches, like a character standing up to pace a bit before answering or moving closer or further from you as you converse, make the dialogue seem more real.
No discussion of the conversation system would be complete without discussing ME2’s interrupt feature. During conversations, you will often be given the chance to interrupt the character in either a positive or negative way. Paragon interrupts, activated by hitting the left trigger when prompted, will result in positive actions, such as giving medi-gel to an infected Batarian or helping someone focus. Renegade interrupts, activated with the right trigger, lead to more negative results: shooting someone’s bodyguards, head butting a Krogan, etc. This feature draws you into the game even more, making you pay extra attention to the conversations in the game, often wondering what would have happened if you had chosen to use an interrupt, or if you hadn’t.
And then there is the character import system. BioWare obviously wanted to reward those who had played the first game, and while it may have seemed the company down played this feature, you will be amazed at what a difference it can make. You will run across several characters who were influenced by your actions in the first game, giving fans a chance to truly see the difference they have made.
Mass Effect showed how cinematic an action/RPG can be. Mass Effect 2 improved heavily on its predecessor, making this an almost flawless game.
The Verdict: Not Hyped Enough
As I just mentioned, Mass Effect 2 is an almost perfect game. There are some issues with the cover system where you will find yourself suddenly vulnerable to attack, an odd choice to have you fly manually between solar systems not containing Mass Effect relays and some game glitches including but not limited to a complete loss of sound in the game that keep it from being perfect.
In the end, however, I found these few negative points just really did not bother me. BioWare has built an absolute masterpiece of a game that manages to more than live up to its hype. Every character is multi-dimensional, even Subject Zero, who could easily have been just the archetype bad girl. Players of the first game will love the references to characters and events in it. Even more impressive than that is the the fact BioWare did with this game what I thought would be next to impossible: creating an ending even more epic than the first.
Every now and then a game comes along that forever changes your perspective on just what is possible in this medium we enjoy. Mass Effect 2 is that kind of game. I cannot stress enough just how much of a joy it is to play, and though I have beaten it, I am already planning my next playthough. An early favorite for 2010’s Game of the Year, Mass Effect 2 gets a 5 out of 5.
[starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]