The Mass Effect franchise has been the envy of PS3 owners since the series first started, and up until this point Bioware hadn’t even given the Sony crew a scrap of their masterpiece to fight over. But all that changes from here on, and bloody hell we were seriously missing out.
The universe in which you exist is beautifully alive and colourful beyond any paint palette of science fiction fantasy you’ve ever seen, and you will find yourself totally invested in the adventure only a few hours in. It is important to recognize that while ME2 is an RPG at its core lot of ways, it has a top notch 3rd person shooting coating on top of it all. Even if you don’t normally find RPG’s appealing, ME2 is so masterfully crafted that I dare say it could win anyone over.
The driving force in the plot are the mysterious Reapers, they are an ancient alien race who tear up and consume entire civilisations every 50,000 years or so, and it’s your job to recruit a dream team of elite badass mo-fo’s to put a stop to their evil ways. It sounds typical and cheesey and predictable, but yet you will still care about the story and the characters, a lot. Videogame voodoo? Just maybe.
Without wanting to spoil anything or interfere with your narrative experience, I’ll just say that the sheer depth and quality of the in game universe is staggering. Like properly impressive. After a few hours of getting to grips with the RPG-3rd person set up, and learning to recognize the names and faces, the game will completely engulf you. The immersion is genuinely moving if you let it suck you in and 5 hours in, the ME2 world becomes a beautiful and believable futuristic fantasy.
You play as Commander Shepherd, resurrected and rebuilt by an infamous special organization to lead the counter attack on the almost mythical Reapers before it is too late. This organization is called ‘Cerberus’ and they very kindly rebuild your old ship (with a few modifications and upgrades) and leave you to rocket around the galaxies in order to prepare for the near-impossible Reaper mission. The order in which you do missions is entirely your choice, with a ludicrous amount of side-missions, special missions, and mini trivia missions; you might initially feel overwhelmed by the scope of it all.
The cinematic cut scene for each planet sets the scene wonderfully and the whole atmosphere of the game is intelligent, engaging, and fascinating. Even the loading screens contribute by filling in gaps and illustrating how your awesome ship ejects your pod on to a planet.
The navigation between worlds is creative and intuitive, it allows you to mine uninhabited worlds for much needed minerals (used for research to upgrade weapons, armour etc) and give you even more chances to hone your aggressive/charming XP (called renegade and paragon respectively).
Beneath the traditional and solid 3rd person shooting action lie substantial features like the conversation wheel, which allows you to steer character interaction in so many different directions, giving you the power to come across literally (within reason) how you want to. You can interrogate, flirt, comfort, or taunt and see the consequences of your actions affect the plot in big and small ways. The hundreds of mini decisions that you will have to make all feel important because of the elegance of the multi-routed frame Bioware have created. The variety of the environments across galaxies and planets contain some genuine ‘wow’ moments and boast some credit worthy originality.
Combat is a clever mixture of the third person shooting and futuristic spell-spamming character abilities. With several specialities to choose from, you can select a two man squad for each mission (two characters from your team), balancing out your pick of biotic powers, upgraded ammo, and tech wizardry. You’ll be experimenting with your squad depending on the nature of the mission (e.g. sharpshooter sniper jedi for protect mission). It takes a little getting used to but once you’ve sussed it, it’s exhilarating and rewarding.
Even better, you can fully customize your protagonist (male or female) down to the most obsessive details. Whether it be the gap between their nose and their lips, what colour their hair or skin is, or what kind of shoulder plates to equip for missions, the level of personalisation is astonishing. Oh and the game lets you start a relationship if you play your cards right with your secret crush. There is SO much to do its mind boggling to think it’s all on one disc, and that’s before you even look at DLC.
ME2 has so much to offer from the very start. There are so many things you can do and so many places to explore it can totally absorb your life for 30+ hours easily. Due to the multiple strand narrative, replaying the game more than once is almost a given, simply because players will realize how many alternative paths there are as they make all sorts of interesting decisions. Slept with the wrong alien? Didn’t remember to recruit one of the characters? Buggered up somebody’s personal vendetta? Feel guilty about punching that midget robot?
I would advise you to take the time to read through the in game manual before you start playing, otherwise it might take you a while to pick things up properly. Considering we also get a generous chunk of free DLC with the box and the fact that we get to play it on the new engine to being used in ME3, we’ve got a pretty sweet deal on our hands.
The music blends seamlessly and dramatically into the game universe, providing a powerful edge for the more emotional moments in the plot (depending on your decisions). Visuals don’t disappoint either, with the ME3 engine impressing throughout. The facial animation and voice acting is incredible, it injects humanity into the game and dimensionalizes the characters in ways that very few games can.
I will confess now that I was pleasantly surprised at how incredible this game is and I really struggle to find any noteworthy flaw to criticize it for. My best advice? Buy it. Mass Effect 2 is truly one of gaming’s greatest, and you don’t want to be the one person who missed out on the experience.
Mass Effect 2 was released on January 18th, 2011