Monday, June 14, 2010

Mass Effect 2 Review

I originally wrote this in April for a chance to go to E3, but seeing as today is Monday and E3 festivities already kicked off starting last night, that didn't happen. However, I may get a chance to do something even more exclusive and once I get more information I'll share

Mass Effect 2 Review

Developer: Bioware

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Genre: Role-Playing Game

ESRB Rating: M for Mature

Platforms: Xbox 360, PC

Mass Effect was one of the decade’s best science fiction games. It combined RPG elements found in classic Bioware games like Baldur’s Gate with an epic space opera setting that created a galaxy of its own. Mass Effect 2 takes all the best parts of the first game and improves on the rest, taking the criticism and feedback and turning into a game that feels right and personal.

“Commander Shepard. Captain of the Normandy. The first human Spectre. Savior of the Citadel.”

Story is the well-built backbone of Bioware games and Mass Effect 2 takes no exception to the rule. I would strongly suggest playing Mass Effect 1 before playing its sequel, as it does a great job of introducing characters and setting the scene for the events in Mass Effect 2. Additionally, it will greatly enhance the personalized feel that Mass Effect 2 delivers as you get to see the results of your actions and choices from the first game. However, if you haven’t played the original, Mass Effect 2 is still a game worth playing. The opening level gives players who didn’t import a character from the first game the ability to choose the back-story for how the game will take place, giving newcomers a way to jump right into the action while still pleasing the players already familiar with the series.

Mass Effect 2 starts off with a bang, literally. The Normandy is blown to bits and our hero Commander Shepard is killed in action while trying to save his crew. However, thanks to a big budget, new technology, and modern medicine, Shepard is brought back to life by the pro-human group Cerberus, the same organization that played a small role in the first Mass Effect game. Under the guidance of its chain-smoking leader, The Illusive Man, Shepard is tasked with putting together a rag-tag team of mercenaries, scientists, assassins, and convicts to investigate the disappearance of entire human colonies across the galaxy. Shepard discovers evidence of an insect-like race known as the Collectors, but there may be a more dangerous threat that looms in the shadows. Along the journey you will meet and help new party members, including the monk-like Asari Samara and the genetically engineered Cerberus lieutenant Miranda. You will also find old friends such as Dr. Liara T’Soni or Urdnot Wrex, if you didn’t kill him on Virmire in Mass Effect 1. By the end of your trek across the galaxy, you will have recruited up to 10 party members, each with a mission that needs your help. All of your teammates bring something different to the mission and they all have distinct personalities that can not only clash with each other but adds to the natural feeling of the narrative. As Commander Shepard, it’s up to you to save the galaxy and hopefully come back alive, again.

“I’ll relinquish one bullet. Where do you want it?”

Mass Effect 2 brings combat to the forefront and sets a much darker tone to the story than in the previous game. Action feels authentic and looks visceral, making the game appear more like a shooter than an RPG. Weapons range from standard pistols all the way up to heavy weapons that can clear a room of enemies in a single shot. Cover is easier to slide into and feels much more reactive, allowing you take on many enemies at a time across the battlefield. Your teammates are smarter and more agile; they can hurdle over objects and cover you as you move towards your objective. Thermal clips can now be found near the bodies of fallen enemies, which give a continued use of weapons without the fear of overheating. Shields and health automatically regenerate after a certain amount of time, favoring the player to try different combat tactics without running low on health packs.

“I’ve had enough of your disingenuous assertions.”

Refinement and streamlining are ideas Bioware really took to heart with Mass Effect 2. The six classes from the first game are back but each follows a much more logical path with regards to gameplay, skills sets, and weapons. The Soldier class focuses on weapon and ammo types, where as the Engineer relies on tech skills and robotic mastery. If you are importing a saved game from Mass Effect 1, the opening sequence gives purpose to the ability to choose a new class and change character appearance. A majority of the skills found in the first game return but have a more specialized role. For example, rather than have cryo ammo as an item that can be used with each weapon, it is now a skill that becomes stronger as you progress through the game. The charm and intimidate skills are now integrated into your paragon or renegade status, opening up new dialogue options as you gain points into either side of the morality spectrum, a staple of Bioware games. A new element added to conversation system is the ability to trigger cut-scene interrupts. These appear as small icons in the lower corners of the screen, and cause Commander Shepard to take immediate action mid-sentence. This can result in healing a wounded hostage (a paragon action) or pushing an unsavory mercenary through a skyscraper window. Hacking returns in the form of a concentration-type mini-game, and is no longer dependent on a skill set. You will no longer find yourself bogged down with dozens of different brands of the same gun. The inventory has been retooled to use upgrades that are available through a research terminal on your ship. Upgrades are found throughout missions and can be researched using resources extracted from scanned planets across the galaxy. These upgrades can modify your existing weapons, armor, and skills, allowing you to deal more damage, run faster, carry extra ammo, and more. Armor is also now customizable. No more running around in a pink and white space suit, unless that’s something you want to do.

“I have detected an anomaly.”

From the instant you start Mass Effect 2, environments are varied and fantastic. No two locations are alike. As Commander Shepard, you and your ragtag crew will visit seedy clubs, decrepit vessels, barren wastelands, and vivid space stations. Each location is filled with a range of characters to interact with, and this only drives the desire to learn more about the galaxy. The game codex allows the player to take exploration a step further, offering details about planets, races, ships, technology, and history within the Mass Effect universe. There are over 60 space systems in Mass Effect 2, with each having up to nine planets. However, not all are able to be explored. The Mako, Mass Effect 1’s land-roving vehicle is absent from this chapter in the Mass Effect trilogy. Instead, you are taken directly to your destination on select planets via the Normandy’s shuttle. This gets you into the action quick, rather than navigating your way through the planet’s treacherous inclines.

“Do you know the elcor artist Forta? He’s sublime.”

The sweeping vistas and cityscapes found in Mass Effect 2 are truly magnificent. Environments feel real and the cinematic elements only add to the grand scale of the game. Facial features and animations on humans are more defined, and alien textures give the genuine feeling that a Solarian very well could exist. Deep rich coloring and offset lighting give emotion to moments that will impact you for the entire game.

Mass Effect 2 is a shining gem in the sea of action games. It combines combat, story, exploration, and art direction in ways that make me look forward to the future of gaming. While it’s not a perfect game, it comes close, giving the player the ability to make it feel like your own. After your first play-through, you’ll want to play again just to see what else you can find. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Mass Effect 3.

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