Mass Effect 2ESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Single player story mode
HDTV - 720p native resolution
In-game Dolby Digital Audio
My hands shake, I have sweat on my brow and my breathing is short and rapid. That is how I would describe opening the packaging for Bioware’s latest offering; Mass Effect 2. For me this sequel to the original, and the return one of my more favorite video game characters, Commander Shepard, is exciting given how much I enjoyed the first Mass Effect.
I feel I must offer some context as to why I my pulse raced in anticipation of playing Mass Effect 2. The original Mass Effect has proven to be one of the richest gaming experiences I have had the pleasure to enjoy. I was consumed by the story, the gameplay, the sights, sounds and the development of the characters. Metaphorically, playing Mass Effect is like piloting a fighter jet; a lot of instruction and ground work in preparation of mastering the controls before you strap yourself in for the ride of you life. To say I had set the bar pretty high for Bioware’s sequel would be a gross understatement. Little did I know that Mass Effect 2 would rocket me to new heights in video gaming.
I felt that a 720p native resolution was odd for the Xbox 360 and that it was a substandard offering from from the traditional 1080p that a lot of tech heads prefer. It doesn’t matter here though as the visuals in Mass Effect 2 are breathtaking. The vastness of space as seen through the roof panels in the cock-pit of the Normandy are stunning. The vistas, the characters, the environments have all been painstakingly created and rendered and present a visual crispness that I haven’t seen since Uncharted 2. This is evidenced by the need for Mass Effect 2 to come on two discs. The need for more than one disc is due to the size of the world that unfolds and the textures, special effects, and skilful attention to detail that is used to bring everything to life. I have to say that you really need to see this game in motion as the still shots, as good as they are, just don’t do the graphic engine justice. Bottomline, this is a good looking game
The soundtrack, dialogue, and sound effects found in Mass Effect 2 are crafted to enhance the overall gameplay. One of my favourite moments is the Normandy passing through a Mass Relay as it traverses to another star system and the accompanying whoosh and thump as it achieves its’ trajectory. The voice characterizations are fitting, and I was pleased to hear all the familiar voices from the first Mass Effect as well as some new ones. The dialogue is exceptional and logical as dictated by the story’s script. Finally, the sound effects have also been finely crafted to support the environment and are muted when appropriate and rise to a crescendo when the action is fierce. All in all the game does a great job of using the 360’s audio chip to the max and I don’t think there is much people will complain about here.
When playing a title for the first time I am always looking for something new, something that goes against the “been there, done that” feeling. From the gameplay to the graphics, to the sound to the story, show me something I haven’t seen or experienced before. To my delight Mass Effect 2 is the reincarnation of the original Mass Effect both literally and figuratively. From the game’s central character, Commander Shepard, to the gameplay mechanics, everything about the game is reborn. Having said that, I should have prefaced my remarks by stating that I did import my character from Mass Effect to play Mass Effect 2. Never before has a developer offered us gamers the option of importing a character from a previous game to such critical effect. The result is nothing short of innovative. All of the choices I made when playing the original Mass Effect have a bearing on how the storyline in Mass Effect 2 unfolds. The traits Shepard developed in the first game dictate how he/she will be played and how he/she will interact with the other characters in the game. This option was key for me as I began to play Mass Effect 2. I had come to consider Shepard as an old friend so I was grateful that the choices I had made in the first game carried over to Mass Effect 2; from saving Wrex on Virmire, to choosing not to romance Ashely, all of them fit in my personal sense of ethics. Character customization is an option for both the new character and the imported character. I chose to keep my character just as he was in Mass Effect. The scope of customization is limitless and it is conceivable that you could tweak Shepard’s look to your heart’s content, but be aware, once the choice is made the choices last for the duration of the play through.
Should you have not played the original Mass Effect, have no fear, as the game offers up the same amount of customization options. The only difference here is that those decisions you may have made in the origina, which could affect the play in this second instalment, are now played out with the game assuming what those decisions were in the past. You may feel a bit lost now and then, but it won’t be anything that makes you lose interest. The game has to assume some sort of decision was made in order to continue telling the narrative in Mass Effect 2.
* SPOILER ALERT* In this outing Shepard and the crew of the Normandy are fighting the Collectors, a race of interstellar baddies bent on invading unsuspecting colonies too nefarious end. But, just as in Mass Effect, Shepard is conflicted by his sense of duty to the controversial and feared organization Cerberus, who is responsible for his rebirth. Shepard is destined to revisit some old friends to gain new allies to his cause during this new adventure. Shepard regularly reacts to the questionable motives of the head of Cerberus, the “Illusive Man.” How Shepard reacts and the moral choices you make shape the outcome of Mass Effect 2’s story.
The storyline and the characters of Mass Effect were my main focus in the game. I was enthralled with the RPG element of it. So it was important for me that the character interactions in Mass Effect 2 play a major role. These strong characters, and my interactions with them, form the meat of this game and make it a compelling experience. Interacting with Urdot Wrex, another one of my favourite characters from the original Mass Effect, proved to be a blast. Morality also plays a major factor in what option(s) are available to you and how they will be rewarded as the story unfolds.
One of the major improvements to Mass Effect 2 over its predecessor is that it is finally a true shooter in such that the elements for the shooting combat are much improved and help make this sequel a much more enjoyable experience. Long gone is the wonky aiming of the original Mass Effect where headshots were a fluke. Mass Effect 2’s weapons offer more precise “down-the-sights-aiming” that is needed in a heated gun battle. The weapons in Mass Effect 2 just “feel right.” Your gun’s abilities and traits can be upgraded (and much more easily than in the first game) by mining for minerals on planets you explore throughout the galaxy. By using these minerals to conduct experimental research within your ship's lab your improved biotic abilities and weapons for both Shephard and his/her allies can be mapped to the controller for ready access, allowing you a more strategic approach when faced with baddies. I also found as I played through the game’s story that your teammates become less dependent on you telling them what to do and where to go and how to do it. Their AI routine seems to have been improved and they are less of a hindrance this time around.
The term “open world” has been used repeatedly when describing game releases of late. Mass Effect 2 is an “open universe” game more than Mass Effect could have ever hoped to be. There are many worlds throughout the galaxy that Shepard must venture to and fro in his effort to save humanity from certain annihilation. A new and improved Normandy piloted by Joker is at his beck-and-call, but there is no more bouncing over a new world’s surface in the passenger compartment of the Mako. The Mako has been replaced by a shuttle that is dispatched from the Normandy transporting Shepard and his teammates to the surface. Prospecting in the Mako has been replaced by the more efficient, albeit tiresome, method of scanning the worlds and firing a series of probes. These probes, along with fuel, must be purchased at the fuel depots located at the hub of each star system. Fuel management and mining planets from afar are nice additions, but for me it really didn’t make for a “must have” element to the game. I actually hope that they bring back the Mako for Mass Effect 3.
It should take you around 30 hours or so to play through Mass Effect 2 if you are in a rush, but should you really sit back and enjoy the experience you can make the game last a little longer. Personally, I currently have logged over 40 hours in the game I have relished every minute of it. In short being a heavily story-driven adventure game, Mass Effect 2 is also a simple shooter. Depending on what special skills you chose for Shepard at the start of the game, you'll have a host of fun weapons to make dispose of the various baddies with during adrenaline fuelled gun fights while enjoying the improvement to the gameplay.
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