Mass Effect 2 Review
Game: Mass Effect 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available on: Xbox 360 and PC (reviewed on Xbox 360)
The original Mass Effect (released in November 2007) was a really good game, there is no doubt about that. It gained much critical praise and it wasn’t hard to see why, it combined solid gameplay with a top notch sci-fi story. It was a highly enjoyable action RPG but there was something missing, that little extra ingredient that elevated it to the upper echelon of that particular genre. It suffered from numerous technical issues and under close scrutiny some gameplay elements didn’t seem as solid as they first appeared to be. Fast forward to the present day, we now have Mass Effect 2 and it arrives hoping to the right the wrongs of its predecessor. So, is Mass Effect 2 out of this world or is it just lost in space? Read on for the full review.
WARNING: This review contains some minor spoilers about the opening of the game.
STORY: Mass Effect 2 begins shortly after the events of the original game, the year is 2183 and Commander Shepard along with his crew members are aboard the Normandy hunting down the threat of the remaining Geth. Out of nowhere though, the Normandy is attacked by an unknown entity which results in the ship being heavily damaged. The majority of the crew manage to escape amongst the chaos that ensues but Shepard stays behind so he can get Joker (the Normandy’s helmsman) to safety. Shepard, eventually, manages to get Joker to the safety of an escape pod but amidst the Normandy falling apart Shepard’s suit gets punctured. As a result of this, he drifts off into space and is presumed dead.
Sometime later though, his body is found by Cerberus, an extremist pro-human organisation, and they fund a project (known as Lazarus) to bring the Commander back to life. Two years pass and Shepard awakens in a Cerberus space station, his skills are tested immediately as the facility is attacked by hacked security mechs. He is joined by Cerberus agents Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor, who after an intense shoot-out manage to escape to safety with Shepard himself. The Commander is escorted to the Cerberus headquarters where he is introduced to the “head” of the organisation, the Illusive Man. This mysterious man explains to Shepard that he was revived for one reason, to save humanity. He reveals that an unknown force out there is attacking human colonies across the galaxy and the inhabitants are mysteriously disappearing. Shepard, aware of the organisations extremist pro-human views, is reluctant at first but eventually accepts the mission. Now what follows this brief introduction is something that I wouldn’t want to ruin for anyone out there so I will stop there but believe me when I say you are in for a treat.
The opening section sets up the game perfectly and gives you that “this is going to be something special” feeling, something that only the best of best manage to do. BioWare used the foundations they set up with the original Mass Effect and then added to it with stunning effect. They created a similar immersive world/story with their Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series but with those games they already had the backing of hugely popular and established franchise. The lore and history of the Star Wars universe was already there, it just needed to be transitioned over correctly. Now, I can imagine this was no easy task but in developing Mass Effect 2 (and the original) they had to create everything from scratch. A new world and a new story; taking that into consideration it gives me great pleasure to say that with Mass Effect 2 BioWare have surpassed anything they have done previously. The structure and pacing of the narrative is pure perfection, it is like a majestic space opera is unfolding right before your own eyes. The fact that the direction of story changes depending on choices you make throughout the game (more on that aspect later), is just another jewel in the crown of this fantastic tale. It is a given that you will get more out of the story of Mass Effect 2 if you completed its predecessor (especially if you start with a completed save) but even on its own it stands up as something rather special. If you, like myself, thought we had been given the best in terms of narrative/story that gaming has to offer with Uncharted 2 then think again because Mass Effect 2 just takes it to a whole new level. From start to finish it feels like you are Commander Shepard and you are a part of this epic sci-fi world.
To truly have a great story though you need to have some memorable characters, Mass Effect 2 has plenty of those up its sleeves. As Shepard you travel the length and breadth of the galaxy recruiting crew members to go on a mission to eliminate a threat only the crazy or brave would be willing to agree to. It is perhaps fitting then that throughout your travels you will encounter characters, both alien and human, who are just a joy to interact with. Even the bit part characters you encounter, from the small rounded Volus to the fast talking Salarian, they all add to the overall experience. Then you have the aforementioned crew members, every single one of them are an absolute joy to interact with. You learn about their past and you get to know what makes each of them tick, it is just astounding how much depth each of these characters have. You have the crazy biotic who is haunted by her past and on the other end of the spectrum, a Krogan warrior who yearns to be accepted. You would forgive BioWare if these characters were walking clichés because the rest of the story is just so good but thankfully that is not the case here. The characters and even the different locations throughout the galaxy are utterly fantastic, brimming with their own unique personality.
SOUND: The soundtrack for Mass Effect 2 is just fantastic, infact I can’t really fault it at all. The music that accompanies the gameplay is just perfect. Your ears will be treated to everything from mellow emotional tracks to rousing, uplifting beats. What I enjoyed the most though were the dramatic sweeping orchestral sounds that accompanied the fantastic set piece battles, they really put you in the moment.
Aside from the music, the voice acting in the game is just all kinds of brilliant. The team at BioWare used 90 different voice actors and each one of them was put to use perfectly. Shepard, depending on the gender, is voiced by Mark Meer or Jennifer Hale (reprising their roles from the original) and both deliver their lines with verve and purpose. The rest of the cast includes such famous names as Martin Sheen, Carrie-Ann Moss, Michael Dorn, Yvonne Strahovski, Keith David, Adam Baldwin and Seth Green. I will leave you to find out who voices who but without a shadow of a doubt, all these guys and gals deliver fantastic performances. Even the bit part characters are voiced very professionally and must be applauded as it helps make the world of Mass Effect 2 that much more real.
GRAPHICS: This is the area where the original Mass Effect suffered greatly, textures taking too long to load, stuttering frame rates and some really long loading times in general. I’m sure anyone who played the original game will remember the infamous lift sequences! Well you will be glad to know that all these issues have been addressed and Mass Effect 2 benefits greatly from these improvements. There is no sign of texture loading or stuttering frame rates at all, they have been completely eradicated. Loading times have been greatly improved but if you’re playing off the disc then they still can be quite lengthy, so if you have a big enough hard drive I would recommend installing both discs first to enhance your experience.
The graphical detail has also gone up a notch, not only are the character models greatly improved but the locations you visit throughout the game include a lot more detail. Speaking of the locations, the art style of the game is quite frankly stunning. As you travel from place to place in the epic sci-fi world there is one thing you will notice, Mass Effect 2 is a visual treat. Cities and other areas are brought to life with some fantastic use of lighting and shadows. To give you an idea of what BioWare have done, previously Shepard had only 20 cover animations and now in Mass Effect 2 the character has around 200.
GAMEPLAY: Gameplay wise, Bioware have refined the key mechanics to the point of perfection. The way you play Mass Effect 2 depends alot on the class you choose at the beginning of the game. The six classes from the original game return but this time everything is more streamlined and focused. Each class has its own specific abilities, a biotic has Jedi like powers such as pull or throw whereas a tech based character will be able to call upon a combat drone or take control of enemy mechs. Much like the decisions you make throughout the story, the class you choose for your character will effect the overall experience greatly.
Along with the specialist powers your character will have specific weapons at his/her disposal and, once again, these depend on which class you choose at the beginning of the game. For instance if you pick the Vanguard class you start using pistols which you can upgrade (more on that later) but later on in the game you do get access to shotguns and assault rifles, dependant on how you level up of course. The gunplay mechanic is fantastic, much like Uncharted 2 and Gears of War the focus is on cover based shooting. Taking into account those particular games just focused on that one aspect, what Mass Effect 2 does here is astounding as it is pretty much on par with those fantastic titles. Infact the cover based shooting mechanic in Mass Effect 2 would put some genuine third-person shooters to utter shame.
As mentioned earlier, the gameplay in Mass Effect 2 is lot more focused and streamlined compared to the original. This is most apparent in the games new upgrade system which has been implemented with great thought and care. Gone are the clunky and messy menus of the original, what you have now is a much more welcoming interface. All the upgrades basically go through the tech lab of your ship, which you gain access to once you recruit the “mad scientist”. You gain the “funds” to access these upgrades by collecting minerals from across the galaxy. Some of these can be found during missions but to really get your hands on a good amount you have to scan planets. This is another fantastic addition and you can literally lose an hour or two by doing this simple task.
The much revered conversation system also makes a return with a few minor upgrades. Minor as these upgrades might be, they allow the game to take many different directions, in terms of the gameplay and story. One of these changes is the addition of the paragon and renegade QTEs. In the grand scheme of things they seem minor but if you choose to press the right or left trigger during a conversation when prompted, it can have a drastic effect on the upcoming gameplay. Speaking of effects, the conversation system in general plays a much bigger role than before. At times I was actually really hard pressed to make a decision, thinking long and hard about the consequences that one decision could have on proceedings. When a game makes you seriously think about your actions, you know the developers have done something right.
Another thing BioWare have got absolutely spot on is the overall gameplay design, it ranges from brilliant to utterly brilliant! The majority of the missions feel like epic set piece battles and that even applies to the side missions. The original Mass Effect suffered from having some really generic “cookie cutter” side mission that weren’t really fun to play at all. BioWare listened to all the criticisms regarding this aspect and now some of the side missions actually trump the main story missions in terms of quality. Guiding Shepard and his team through one of the many fantastic missions as they use their powers (shockwave ftw!) and weapons to complete their objective is just a pure joy.
Does the game have any faults though?! Well, there is the odd rare occasion where the cover system doesn’t work as intended and it would be great if you could take more than two people from your crew into mission with you but hey I’m just scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Criticizing the very minor faults in Mass Effect 2 would be like complaining about the lingerie of a gorgeous supermodel just before you are about to have hot steamy sex. You have to ask yourself, in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter?!
LONGEVITY: It took me 36 hours to complete Mass Effect 2 on the normal difficulty, with the majority of side missions completed. You can spend countless of hours just going around exploring uncharted systems and scanning planets, so you could add a good few hours to that time if you really wanted to. Once you do finish the game there is the option of a second playthrough with your levelled up character. This is more than just an option though as you will want to experience the brilliance again and see how events unfold through the different decisions you make. Throw in BioWare’s promise of DLC and you have a game that just keeps on giving.
VERDICT: Mass Effect 2 is a game that is immensely hard to fault, all aspects of it are so well created and presented. It manages to fuse together breathtaking third-person action with an epic/cinematic sci-fi story with stunning results. Oblivion? Fallout 3? Nope, Mass Effect 2 is new the king of the action RPG genre and the first game to be awarded with a GodisaGeek.com 10 out of 10. Be careful though, it might just ruin all other games for you!
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