That Mass Effect 2 is BioWare's first franchise sequel since Baldur's Gate II ten years ago, really speaks volumes of just how important the series has become for the Canadian developer. The first Mass Effect was an incredible feat - if slightly held back from a technical standpoint - the game's story and characters surpassed any limitations to make it one of Xbox 360's most memorable titles.
Anticipation for Mass Effect's sequel has been at fever pitch, building steadily since its announcement, reaching a raging frenzy of hype leading to the game's release. Well, Mass Effect 2 is finally here now, and if you're a newcomer to the series, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Time for an education.
Miranda (pictured) and Jacob are both Cerberus operatives and the first to join your crew.
The Illusive Man is a shady character who issues you with valuable mission intel. Whether you choose to trust him or not is entirely up to you.
Mass Effect is one of the finest sci-fi RPGs around, marrying cutting edge graphics with a deeply involving story set amid one of the richest universes imaginable. What more do you need to know? Yet while Mass Effect 1 was an unreservedly absorbing and fantastic game, the experience was never quite as refined as it could have been and there were elements that proved somewhat frustrating and a tad repetitive.
What minor issues plagued Mass Effect 1 have either been polished to a blinding mirror-shine or dispensed with entirely for Mass Effect 2. So rather than having to drive the Mako around barren, samey planets on the lookout for minerals and resources, your ship, the Normandy now has a sophisticated scanning system that can detect mineral reserves beneath the planet surface, enabling you to then launch a probe to extract said materials. What this boils down to is a mining mini-game, that has you scouring planets with a radar like scanner, searching for resources to upgrade your ship, your armour, your biotics and your weaponry. While the mining of planets can be a dull, workmanlike but necessary part of the game, it beats driving around for hours in the Mako, getting stuck among irregular rock formations.
Combat too has been given a substantial overhaul making cover, movement and aiming far tighter than before. Mass Effect 2's combat is far closer to replicating the action of any number of third-person shooters, allowing you to strafe, roadie run and slide into or vault over cover with ease. Using certain weapons isn't limited by class any more either, so an inexperienced player won't be subjected to a drunkenly swaying sniper crosshair due to a lack of in-game skill. Weapon upgrades are usually salvaged or bought during exploration, which is far better than having to painstakingly accumulate both skill points and weapon components.
Given the nature of Mass Effect 2's story, it's not all that surprising to discover that this newly revamped combat system takes centre stage, moving the game further away from definition as an RPG. Customisation options have been scaled back for both Shepard and his crew, with interchangeable armours ditched in favour of allowing you to piece together your own bespoke look using a combination of different helmets, chest plates, grieves, gauntlets, colours and textures.
Mass Effect 2 is a much more streamlined beast than its predecessor, stripping away many of ME1's layers of flab, leaving behind a robust and muscular combat mechanic. Great cover shooting action doesn't count for much without a good narrative to flesh out the experience though, which is where Mass Effect 2 really manages to rope you in, with a selection of well-written, superbly voiced dialogue options for you to choose from.
There are numerous human colonies under threat from the malevolent Collectors – Mass Effect 2's central antagonists (or are they?).
ME2's combat and cover system has been greatly improved, although moving in and out of cover is sometimes a little skittish.
Every person's experience of Mass Effect 2's story will vary depending upon a range of factors, such as whether you played the first game or not. A completed ME1 game save can be transferred into ME2, so you can continue with the same Shepard - switching classes if you like - as he assembles a crack team of interstellar reprobates and pariahs to aid him in a fraught suicide mission to prevent a new threat from destroying mankind. You ultimately decide upon your course through the storyline, which converges at a fixed point that can play out in a number of ways. How you get there is up to you, whether you choose to adopt the path of an uncompromising renegade or heroic paragon, or even a schizophrenic mix of the two, is up to you. But there are plenty of opportunities to commit selfless or violent deeds, which now occasionally pop up as prompts on the right and left triggers, allowing you to interrupt an exchange of dialogue with an impromptu action, like punching a woman square in the face (seriously).
But perhaps ME2's greatest strength lies in its menagerie of colourful characters, which include a couple of old faces among the new cast of wayward souls that you'll need to recruit to your cause. Beginning where Mass Effect 1 left off on the Normandy, Shepard eventually finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place, working for the notoriously questionable Cerberus organisation, whose role in ME2's galaxy is unclear. Putting together your merry band of mercs and mentalists provides the crux of the narrative, taking you to all corners of the galaxy to meet a troubled biotic convict, a deeply introspective but deadly Drell assassin, a ruthless gun for hire, a powerful Asari Justicar, a mighty Krogan and a few surprise characters that we won't reveal here.
Each member of your crew has a specialisation and set of powers that can be levelled up and evolved into even more effective abilities following successful completion of quests. Pulling off combos of biotic skills works in much the same way as it did in Mass Effect 1, with the same radial menu on Xbox 360 and discreet selection bar on the PC. Accessing weapon and biotics menus pause the game, enabling you a valuable few seconds to plan a strategy before unleashing a barrage of inferno grenades, barrier warps, combat drones and shield overloads.
Enjoyable combat and compelling story is really only the tip of the Mass Effect 2 iceberg though. The way the game looks and makes you feel are key to what makes the game so unique. There are more than a few moments of sheer jaw dropping brilliance in Mass Effect 2, with visuals that blow away virtually anything we've yet seen on Xbox 360, without question. All that late texture loading and rendering from the first game is completely gone, as has any sign of glitches or bugs, bar incredibly rare instances of clipping that are barely worth even mentioning.
“I warned you about sticking forks in toasters!”
Shepard hanging with his posse. Yesterday.
BioWare has taken great care in smoothing off the rough edges for Mass Effect 2, removing anything even remotely clunky or superfluous from the original, leaving a lean, mean action RPG that's almost impossible to fault. Sometimes you might get stuck trying to duck into cover during a heated battle, only to die in an unrelenting blitzkrieg of laser fire and sometimes you might accidentally move the dialogue wheel to repeat lines (which is frankly your own fault), but to pick holes in something so expertly crafted seems churlish, like pointing at Cindy Crawford's mole in disgust.
Mass Effect 2 stands out as not only one of the best sci-fi action titles around, it's one of the best games ever made, period. Accomplished enough to rub shoulders with the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek in the annals of sci-fi history, Mass Effect 2 is simply put, a work of unquestionable brilliance. Anyone who believes otherwise is a cold-hearted cynic. Regardless of whether you played the first game or not, Mass Effect 2 is completely and utterly indispensable.
MASS EFFECT 2 VERDICT
Mass Effect 2 stands out as not only one of the best sci-fi action titles around, it’s one of the best games ever made, period. Accomplished enough to rub shoulders with the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek in the annals of sci-fi history, Mass Effect 2 is simply put, a work of unquestionable brilliance. Anyone who believes otherwise is a cold-hearted cynic. Regardless of whether you played the first game or not, Mass Effect 2 is completely and utterly indispensable.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Setting foot on the Normandy as Commander once again gives you goosebumps. Oh, and buying a space hamster for Shepard’s cabin.