Mass Effect 2 Review

Mass Effect 2 was released last year in January 2010 for the Xbox 360. Now, a year later Bioware have packaged their “complete” Mass Effect 2 experience with all the DLC onto the PS3.
This SciFi Shooter is among one of the best games I’ve played this generation, however it is not without it’s own faults.

The original Mass Effect did not make it’s way onto the PS3 however, and Mass Effect 2 being part of a trilogy made it even harder to grasp onto this world and “dive in” to the universe.
To rectify this, Bioware and Dark Horse teamed up to give you a concise slice of the original Mass Effect’s story complete with your own decisions in one nice little interactive comic.
As a complete Mass Effect virgin, this comic filled me in on all the goings on in the Mass Effect universe so far. However I took a peek online at some other Mass Effect plot roundups and found that the plot was far deeper than what was explained in the comic, this flaw becomes more and more apparent when going further and further into the game. Events and planets are mentioned in the game that are not even uttered in the Comic.

You play this space opera as Commander Shepard, who at the start of the game choose to be male or female. You also get the delightful option of using the character creator to create your Shepard’s own face. This is a brilliant piece of engineering by Bioware as it’s not too simple, nor is it too complicated such as Demon’s Souls. I’ve seen some amazing creations that used the Mass Effect 2 Character creator, notably a pretty realistic Barack Obama and Michael Jackson. As you finish up your character, you are sent into the thick of Mass Effect 2’s action.

The gameplay elements of Mass Effect 2 are presented to you by first selecting your class, up to 6 are available to you at the start of the game and the play styles of each one differs from the other. Powers such as brute force, with all weapons available to you, some are pure “Biotic” specialists. (Biotics is pretty much the force) And others are tech specialists. The other classes are hybrids of these 3 quintessential play styles. For the “safe” option I chose to play as a Soldier, the brute force of the team with all weapons available to you. As a consequence of this, throughout the game I had to make choices on who to put on my team that has powers and abilities that I don’t.
The combat’s strategy overwhelmed me for a third person shooter mechanic. You can choose where your 2 other squadmates will stand during battle, to hold the line and use their unique powers, which do affect combat greatly as you can damage shields, armour and even float enemies into the air with your squad mates’ powers. This proves useful in the later stages of the game, where hoards of enemies are charging at you unrelentingly. But I usually left the AI to itself for the most part of the game, using them occasionally to get me out of tight spots.

During missions, you encounter little hacking minigames, this little sidetrack makes you link up symbols in a circuit or line up code. This proves to be an effective mechanic as it’s not too time consuming and the amount of times that these things pop up is not that often. Overall it’s an effective sidetrack to the intense shooting of the missions in Mass Effect 2.
When in your ship, the Normandy. You can acquire materials to upgrade your ship, to do this you can go to faraway star systems and planets to probe and scan for materials. While the materials are needed for upgrading your ship and armour or weapon upgrades, the planet scanning itself is not that great, you have to hold L2 morbidly for hours while looking for spikes on a graph of resources. This drags on, and on, and on for way longer than it should have been. I found myself losing hours to this resource scanner to upgrade my ship and powers. Occasionally you find “anomalies” where you land on a planet and shoot a few guys, but that’s about it.  While it’s not redundant to the game’s balance, a slight resource spike or improvement to the amount of items you get while you scan the planets would have made the experience much more pleasant and decreased the amount of tedium associated with planet scanning. This is seriously one of the game’s biggest flaws. The planet scanning aspect was an enjoyable experience to start with, but when I found myself scanning planets for about an hour straight with only slight breaks to stop and refuel or buy more probes I felt as if I had enough of it.

One major element to the Mass Effect 2 experience is choosing the dialogue options for your Shepard, altering your version of the story and changing your relationships with the extremely varied cast. These dialogue options pop up in almost every conversation you take part in within the game. These variables can lead up to massive decisions within the game and sometimes I actually had to think about the choices I faced in detail, with every consequence and benefit in mind while making that decision. This unique interactive element to the game made it extremely interactive. Before I played Mass Effect 2 the only experience that i felt was as interactive as this was last year’s Heavy Rain by Quantic Dream. This is a huge step in terms of doing what games are really great for, an interactive experience that can only be science by video games. Not even books or film can achieve what Mass Effect has- to provide a unique and engaging interactive experience.

The plot and world of Mass Effect 2 is extremely well realised. You spend the majority of Mass Effect 2 recruiting and proving your worth to the team. While doing these tasks, you visit the expansive and well realised planets and worlds, the planets you visit are all bursting with culture, you get a feel for what that planet is really about and what the people there live like. There are little subtle interactions with the people living on the planet that really affect your perceptions on the people living in there and showing the consequences of living in a racially diverse planet. Issues like racism, inter-special relations and much more come up which gives the world a more “gritty” and realistic atmosphere. While the mainline plot is actually quite weak and predictable, it does have it’s moments. I feel that the quintessential Mass Effect experience is dealing with interacting with the environments and worlds rather than the mainline plot to find out why entire colonies had been disappearing. Which In itself is not sub par, don’t get me wrong but I expected a main plot with many more twists and turns.

The DLC missions of Mass Effect 2 bundled in with the game are exceptionally well structured, each with their own unique story arcs, stunning locations and boss fights. In “Lair of the Shadow Broker’s” case, it brings back old characters seen in the original Mass Effect and also acts as a bridge between the events of Mass Effect 2 and the upcoming Mass Effect 3.  There are 2 more, unreleased pieces of DLC which bridge the gap between Mass Effect 2 and 3.

The worlds of Mass Effect 2 are beautifully designed, and of course the graphics come with that amazing experience, the PS3 version runs on an early build of the Mass Effect 3 engine and looks fantastic. With a game like this character models and especially faces have to look as life like as possible.  Me being an avid fan of the TV series “Chuck”, I almost immediately recognized the face of Yvonne Strahovski , but I felt that the graphics were oddly off putting and I was driven into “uncanny valley” as they call it. Other than odd character animations not much was wrong with the graphics, with so many lens flares and amazing science fiction worlds the graphics left me content and just look tantalizing.

The music of Mass Effect was composed by several different composers, however the themes fit perfectly, with cues that are akin to Alien and Blade Runner. The themes are catchy and atmospheric. With Clint Mansell scoring the final entry of the series, it looks like the consistent fantastic music will be a staple of the series.

Mass Effect 2 is a fantastic experience, that contains a multitude of hours for you to pour into it’s amazingly realised world. The flaws in this game are glaring and I hope they will be rectified in Mass Effect 3. The customisation is minimal, with only a few armour options and colours. Hopefully these problems are also rectified. The story in Mass Effect is not one that’s strong, but the world that have been realised are absolutely phenomenal to explore. The sheer amount of culture packed within them are an pleasure to experience, the dialogue options are amazing, making me think on my feet like no other game has before. Mass Effect 2 is a very strong game, and should be played by everyone.

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