Mass Effect 2 Review

   02/02/2010 at 09:31       Phil May       15 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Mass Effect 2, EA Games, Bioware, Commander Shepard, Space Hopper Arse
Commander Zilla Shepard's Log
Normandy 2
Day 2 out of Cerberus HQ


(Reviewer's Warning - If you are resolutely avoiding any spoilers for Mass Effect 2's first few hours, better ship out now)

New ship has that smell about it. Poly-binded carbon, high impact resins - dammit even my cabin smells like the inside of a can of air freshener. Lay in the middle of the floor last night for hours staring up at the ceiling but I think I've slept enough.

There are holes in the new crew. Joker's fighting with the ship's AI, Kelly is more tactile than I'd like - usually when anyone invades my personal space like that, they end up in traction. But she has that cute thing going on with her cupid's bow and eyes like a puppy from the front of a valentine's card.

The Illusive Man assures me that Cerberus is not the all-conquering xenophobic evil organisation it's painted. They put me back together after...after what happened, and they must've messed with my sensibilities. But when the human race is at stake, there's not really a lot of time for wondering about the whys and wherefores of our mission. We've got to stop the collectors. That's all.

Miranda and Jacob sing the company line like automatons, though I sense there are hidden depths in both cases. Jacob is troubled. Family stuff, you can smell it a galaxy away. Miranda? She's genetically engineered to be perfect in every way but no scientist involved in genetics ever got the cocktail 100% right so there are cracks under there, and I'll find them. Cute ass though.

Day 3

Joker was moaning about the lack of shakedown time for the new ship. Important stuff got short-shrift and if we're going up against Collector ships again, we'll have to give this bird a boost. No one's short of opinions on what we need, even the ship's cook gave me a list but I'm pretty sure I can grab a few provisions next time we stop off at the Citadel.

What troubles me more than the small stuff is how I go about filling the holes in the crew. I need Garrus, I need Tali. Dammit, I even miss Kaidan.

But all that's for later. Today we're going into combat for the first time. Being dead should focus me through fear but I feel energised, ready. Feel like I could run through every bulkhead on this ship, dust myself down and come up firing everything in my weapons rack. I actually can't wait.


Day 4

The Illusive Man is entirely focussed on our main mission to wipe out the Collectors at source but this mission's for the crew. I'm taking Jacob and Miranda into combat, and I'm sure that at least one of them won't put a plasma bolt through my back the minute I exit the shuttle. The other? We'll see.

Crouching in cover, listening to gunfire pinging off the scenery around me, there's no doubt that this is where I belong. I have no idea who Archangel is, but he's going down.

Or not. Who could hold off an entire colony of bloodthirsty mercenaries better than Garrus? I should've known.

So we switch sides, and suddenly all that's left of a bunch of testosterone-fuelled space marines are a lot of wet stains on the floor. I've missed this. Two years being vat-grown, tweaked, enhanced and put back together piece by piece and I have missed this.....(to be continued).


In truth, Bioware never really made games for me. KOTOR 1 and 2 bored the tits off me, and Jade Empire's characters were unapproachable, uninteresting. Mass Effect 1 had potential though, mainly let down by a whole truckload of technical annoyances.

Though various RPG purists will bemoan the way Bioware's titles have become increasingly "lite" on the deep machinations and satisfying stats-twiddling that RPG heads love, that makes them all the more appealing to me. I remember times when I could happily devote 10 hours a day for months to a game, but now it's all about the short sharp stuff. Mass Effect 2 performs a high-wire act between the two camps, containing enough RPG elements to ensure it's not a straight-out action title, but containing more than enough action to keep shooter fans happy.

The improvements to the original game are evident as soon as you take proper control for the first time. No tearing, very little annoying texture pop-in. The character models might not be vastly different to the original game, but there are tweaks and improvements in detail.

More essential than the visuals are the improvements to core gameplay elements. Combat is superb, fluid - not the clunky mess in the first game. Swapping between weapons, enhancing your shot power, even diving for cover. So much work has been put into combat sections that you'll actually look forward to them rather than dreading them like you may have in Mass Effect 1. What's more, you don't have all that pissarsing around in the Mako to dread either. Big Trak is gone, hip hip hooray.

Like the first game, the Normandy and your galactic map become your hub. Talking to characters as well as being issued directives by the mysterious Illusive (sic) Man provide you with more missions, side quests and fetch-and-carry tasks than you can shake a stick at.

The game begins with some superb scene-setting stuff - hopefully you've managed to avoid most of the spoilers, so I won't go into any here either suffice to say that events in the first game are directly and constantly referenced, so if you're a bit bonkers and you've skipped straight to this one you'll be better off tracking down a cheap copy of Mass Effect 1 and going through that first.

If you have played the first game, your original Commander Shepard can be imported directly into Mass Effect 2. A few nips, tucks and tweaks later - and if you choose to, a complete change of class and attributes and you can start immersing yourself in Mass Effect 2's deep plot.

At times the game veers from feeling extremely serious and self-important, to feeling a little like Deep Space 9 - ie a science fiction soap opera. At first, playing Shepard feels like playing nursemaid to a disparate bunch of pewling characters who all need a good solid kick up the arse, but once you start to recruit and build up your crew, and find out more about their (often shady) past, you'll be so hooked into the game that you'll end up in that unenviable position of having it seep into your working day and even your dreams, till you're biding your time and counting the hours till you can fire up your 360 again and get back into it.

Mass Effect 2's tech tree is rather excellent, allowing you to research various enhancements to weapons, biotic powers, armour and even the ship's systems. At times the game strays into Elite / Trader territory, as you gather raw resources and minerals while exploring planets, to swell your coffers and eventually spend on upgrades. Galactic credits can also be earned, though sometimes you'll find it extremely difficult to find anything worthwhile to spend them on unless you hunt out some of the seedier weapons dealers and merchants kicking around various locations in the game.

To flesh out Shepard's character a bit more, various choices and branching dialogue have been included offering players the chance to exercise their renegade or paragon sides. The old good vs evil stuff doesn't feel like it will unjustly punish you if you decide to play the maverick and do something that's not strictly "by the book". Of course, giving the player the opportunity to play good cop or bad cop means there's plenty of replay value if you want to see what progress an entirely holier-than-thou or evilly kick-ass Shepard makes through the game.

How you play is ultimately up to you. With my trademark ADD when it comes to games, I'm usually predisposed to thrashing through the main quest of RPGs, ignoring anything that fleshes out the backstory, but in Mass Effect 2 it's extremely easy to get distracted by side missions, particularly those that will help you win favour and loyalty from your crew.

The game's far from perfect though. Despite the demise of the Mako, exploration has been replaced by a nit-comb-like planet scanner and the repetitive task of running a target reticule over a planet's surface to find minerals. First time out you feel like you're panning for gold, but after you've scanned a few more planets the whole exercise feels tedious.

As good as the combat is, you'll know when it's coming because any combat area looks exactly like the most primitive multiplayer level in an old first person shooter. Alien races seem to like leaving concrete barriers around for you to conveniently take cover behind, and of course it doesn't matter where you are, there are always plenty of crates stacked up like someone's either moving in or moving out.

Bioware have announced that they're working on Mass Effect 3, so there's still time for them to further refine the experience, listen to fans and critics alike, and take the series to its logical conclusion. As it stands though, Mass Effect 2 improves more than it breaks, though it's way too early to tell if it's impressive enough to throw its hat into the ring for potential 360 Game of the Year.
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