Fashionably late to the PS3 party but better than ever
My Commander Shepard didn't take any crap. My Shepard worked with Cerberus for her own motives. My Shepard is a woman. My Shepard stayed faithful to Liara. My Shepard hates the Batarians. My Shepard didn't leave anyone behind. My Shepard kicked aliens fools out of windows. My Shepard.
This is the power of Mass Effect 2. It's the best example of developing and owning a videogame character, of becoming that heroic persona you always wanted to be, and shaping a story and the galaxy in your name.
Standing around and yapping has never been more compelling
For PS3 owners the wait to experience this thrilling ride is over and I can say, after playing both the Xbox 360 and PC builds beforehand, that this is the definitive product, the elite collectors edition that you should own, roll around in the mud with and eventually marry. Why? Because it really is as good as the score suggests.
The compensation for the 12 month delay and the absence of the original Mass Effect on the platform is the inclusion of Genesis. This narrated comic book retells the narrative of the first game before you're thrust, phoenix-like into the main game.
It can't quite match the experience of the original 40-hour RPG, but this 15-minute sequence does its best to birth that feeling of ownership over your Shepard. You'll make several critical choices that will affect your Mass Effect 2 playthrough and several others that may yet appear in the multiplatform Mass Effect 3 later this year.
Once you've been briefed on the whole "Reapers coming to destroy the galaxy" you're recruited by a mysterious individual called the Illusive Man. His human supremacy group Cerberus puts you in charge of investigating the disappearance of human colonies, and what threat The Reapers and their new buddies The Collectors are up to.
Even in this brief opening the decision to trust Cerberus is entirely up to you. Being a dick or an acquiescent fairy won't impact the story that much, but it will affect how other people treat you. Choosing one dialogue option over another nets you Renegade or Paragon points and these open up different ways to talk to people.
That kind of choice extends into every encounter as you recruit a sci-fi Dirty Dozen to eliminate the threat facing humanity. You can treat these rough diamonds as cannon fodder or delve into deep and rewarding relationships with them - it's your choice.
By recruiting each member in this fashion it builds a sense of partnership throughout your crew. This doesn't mean that I came over all lovey-dovey for each and every member of my team - far from it. I found the genetically-built sexpot Miranda to be an elitist snob, former Alliance Marine Jacob a dullard and weirdo tattoo girl Jack just too... weird and tattoo-y.
It's not a coincidence that those characters are human either. Even though the majority of the cast are alien they've been drawn and crafted with such care that they exude an oddly sympathetic humanity. Ironically this means most of the human characters lack the same colour or detail leaving the more dramatic sub-plots to the aliens.
By spending your time as an interplanetary JobCentre Plus you naturally get the chance to envelope yourself in the Mass Effect lore. The universe of content that Bioware have created could seem generic at first glance - a clean, hermetically-sealed sci-fi mash-up that hits stereotypes and archetypes which feel familiar. But that familiarity makes everything about the world believable and it worked an unnatural magic keeping me hooked for over 50 hours.
A refined combat system makes violent encounters as thrilling as any shooter
Throughout this process of recruitment subsequent sci-fi space opera are plenty of action set-pieces that take the breath away - showing that Mass Effect 2 ain't all about chin-wagging and smooching. From the cinematic treat of watching the Normandy reveal to popping off heads with the refined combat system. It may not be Vanquish but fighting back mercenaries on a planet ravaged by a dying sun - and having to keep to the shadows to avoid incineration - is every bit as thrilling as Platinum's shooter.
Some of the best moments come in the middle of dialogue too. The Paragon or Renegade moments, triggered by pressing LT or RT when prompted onscreen, serve to turn Shepard from a standard protagonist into your bad-ass saviour. There's plenty of opportunity for a CSI-sunglasses moment after you cut short a mouthy alien with a shot to the head.
Even though the story and the galaxy created could fall into sci-fi cliche with familiar plot-lines and characters, Bioware succeed thanks to classy writing and cool locations. Whether you're speaking to Aria in Omega's throbbing nightclub, observing the metropolis of Ilium or creeping through a Collector ship, every moment is crafted with expert attention and detail.
This isn't to say that the character development or environments play second fiddle to the main plot. For better or for worse the team-members you recruit form the most compelling part of Mass Effect 2. Though it never affects the overall experience, the main story is the weakest part, never quite hitting the dramatic strides of the first game until the end.
That singular bum note is overridden by the symphonic majesty of Mass Effect 2's denouement. The suicide run that you've been recruiting for, that's made you invest in each and every character you've taken onboard doesn't disappoint. The feeling of urgency and the perilous risk taken by each member of your crew is impossible to ignore. These are not some red-shirted goons you can send into battle with nary a second thought. They are your friends, comrades, brothers-in-arms and perhaps, if you play your cards right sunshine, your lover.
It makes those final few hours a breathless mix of nervous fear and exhilarating drama. The decisions you make during those final moments begin to eat away at you and I have to admit that I physically got up and walked away at one point, torn between sending someone to certain death A or certain death B. There's no other videogame that's given me quite the same sense of responsibility and emotional connection.
For PS3 owners this package is enhanced through a graphical upgrade which, yes fanboys, looks superior to the Xbox 360 version and on a par with the PC release. The inclusion of the paid DLC is a better talking point and if you buy the game new you'll also get a Cerberus code to redeem through the PlayStation Network. This gives you all the content released so far for the game and the three DLC side-missions add over six hours of extra content.
Both Lair of the Shadow Broker and Overlord have compelling and interesting storylines with the former allowing you to extend your relationship with Liara and the latter adding a thrilling rogue A.I. battle. Stolen Memory takes a different approach and the blend of investigation, heist and final boss battle is a damn good mix.
I'm disappointed that you can only snog one of these dudes. Shocking oversight
It's these additions rather than an upgraded graphics engine which makes the PS3 version the definitive product. Sure, there are still imperfections but moaning about the mining mini-game or the lack of inventory management feels, just like Richard Walker put in his review 12 months ago, like pointing at Cindy Crawford's mole in disgust.
MASS EFFECT 2 VERDICT
There’s no doubt in my mind that this is one of the best games ever made and an entertainment experience that should be unreservedly celebrated. Whether this is your first time in the Mass Effect universe or the third version of the game you’ll own, Mass Effect 2 is completely and utterly essential.