reviews\ Jan 24, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Mass Effect 2 - 360 - Review

It’s finally here and, boy oh boy, BioWare delivered a fantastic title that not only bends the genre, but raises that bar. Mass Effect 2 is everything that long-time fans have yearned for. It’s a perfect melting pot of role-playing prominence, non-stop shooting action, exquisite dialogue, gorgeous visuals , and, among all else, pitch perfect storytelling.

Two years later after Mass Effect 1, Mass Effect 2 begins with a dark and sinister future for the entire galaxy. A new alien species has been introduced by the name of The Collectors and they are harvesting humans across the galaxy for the Reapers. It’s up to Shepard and his/her (depending on the player’s choice of sex) group of ragtag squadmates that are willing to join the suicidal mission.

Mass Effect 2 screenshots
Yo, I’m back from the dead. Guess who’s next on my hit list.

It would be an understatement to say that the new squadmates are a diverse bunch. From the sociopath in Suspect Zero to the religious drell (a new alien species introduced) assassin Thane, Mass Effect 2 is much more about character development than the original was. Each character has one side-quest geared towards their backstory. These missions are essential to gain their loyalty and, while you are at it, gain more experience.  Having 11 teammates that differ from one another, it’s often difficult to choose who should go on the battlefield and who should stay on the base.

The only issue is, when on the Normandy, these teammates don’t do much but stand or sit in one area – BioWare needs to give them free reign to walk around and interact with one another. Many of the best moments are when the teammates are shouting at each other or discussing their opinions. All the squadmates will become even more lifelike once they can walk about on their own free will.

Mass Effect 2 screenshots
I’m going to sit here and smoke the same cigarette while Shepard saves the galaxy.

While we are speaking about experience, leveling up in Mass Effect 2 is less about creating a super-soldier and more about balancing the team with a varied group of tech, biotics, and soldiers. Reaching level 30 in Mass Effect 2 is the equivalent of reaching level 50-60 in Mass Effect 1. It’s time consuming and players need to be dedicated to grinding to reach that point; especially since finding and accepting side-quests isn’t so easy anymore. Players are forced to visit every planet to find an anomaly. Once they find the anomaly, they are allowed to land on the planet. These distress calls are unique as they ask the player to dig further into the game, but at the same time, it’s a much more hardcore approach to finding missions to embark on.

What BioWare was able to accomplish with Mass Effect 2 is that they were able to help establish connections with the new squadmates while exploring the realities of what happened to the old crew from Mass Effect 1. Allowing players to visit Wrex, Kaiden, Ashley, Liara and others from Mass Effect 1 (depending on the choices that were made) was incredibly beneficial to creating an attachment to the sequel . It’s almost a guarantee that players won’t want to put down the controller as they continue to investigate what has happened in the past two years that their Shepard has been in a coma.

Mass Effect 2 screenshots
“My favorite ‘you don’t have a choice’ choice.”

As for the gravity of the storyline, yes, it is the equivalent of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was to A New Hope. The ante has been raised as the Reapers are ready to fulfill their destiny to farm and harvest all organics; and they are doing so by using The Collectors, bipedal organics that were thought to be a myth.  The Collectors are a breath of fresh air from the cybernetic Geth that made up the majority of the enemies encountered in Mass Effect 1. While their tactics are easy to overcome, The Collectors can take to flight and, often, lose control of their bodies to their overseer of sorts named Harbinger. BioWare does take liberty at hiding a lot of information on Harbinger and his role within The Collectors – especially since players never meet the foe face-to-face – but that was to be expected as the conclusion of Mass Effect 2 leaves players desiring for more.

The action of Mass Effect 2 continued to deliver clever missions and it’s because how BioWare approached them. In one mission, players are stalking prey with Samara, the new asari. On another, players are fighting a Thresher Maw with Grunt, the new krogan on the team. On these critical missions to gain loyalty, players are given the opportunity to choose many outcomes. Usually the choices revolved around the fate of an individual that the squadmates are hunting down or looking for. At the end Mass Effect 2, players are given even more choices that, ultimately, will decide their future in Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect 2 screenshots
Dear Tali, please show us your face – Signed, Adoring fans.

The third-person combat has been improved to the point that naysayers of the original will surely join the bandwagon this time around. The missions, and how they are set up, were intense and often had enemies flanking Shepard and the team. Each enemy type has different AI and patterns that the players have to prevail over such as the new enemy type Scion that throws out shockwaves every 15 seconds or so.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the role-playing elements are heavily refined and streamlined. Leveling up is fairly easy and should present no complications to newcomers to the genre. Players are able to learn new powers from their comrades in arms, along with mastering another weapon type about halfway through the game. In addition, players must buy weapon and ship upgrades from stores or unlock them through locked bypasses or security terminals. After they have the research, Mordin, the new salarian squadmate, can provide the upgrade to the squad after the player is able to mine enough resources from planets across the galaxy. In general, the mining was an addicting feature of Mass Effect 2 that should easily occupy 2-3 hours of a player’s time.

Mass Effect 2 screenshots
“Ever had ramen? It’s a delicacy back at Earth.”

The humor and comedic moments in Mass Effect 2 have been ramped up. Whether it’s dancing with club-goers at After Life or talking circles around the dimwitted vorcha, Mass Effect 2 hits the funny bone more often than not. When fans of the original encounter their first conversation with the new krogan squad member, they could possibly be laughing so hard that they cry. Or even later on in the game, after finishing the krogan’s mission, there’s comedy to be found with the fist pump and jig he performs. On top of all this, Mass Effect 2 even has space hamsters. That’s right, space hamsters!

Mass Effect 2 is much more than a game. It’s an ominous sci-fi-mystery-action-epic that continues to provide thrilling moments around every bend. Never letting up for even a moment – well, unless you consider the hot and sexy romances – Mass Effect 2 is a fast-paced role-playing shooter that lasts, on average, more than 20 hours and offers multiple playthroughs with a large cast of critical choices to make for the fate of mankind.

Gameplay: 9.5
Controlling a mystery character for about 10 minutes was a wonderful surprise near the end of the title.

Graphics: 8.5
There were times that the cinematics would have a black overlay on the bottom of the screen and characters would clip through walls. There was also the normal long loading times and Unreal Engine 3 texture popping issues.

Sound: 10
Head and toe above the rest of the genre, Mass Effect 2 proves to be nirvana to the ears.

Difficulty: Easy

Concept: 9
Removing concepts from Mass Effect 1 such as vehicle segments may have been a smart decision, especially if they couldn’t properly implement it, but I am sure a few fans will surely miss what has been excluded. The addition of importing their characters from Mass Effect 1, surveying planets manually, navigating the galaxy map manually and much more should make up for the exclusion.

Overall: 9.5
Mass Effect 2 is everything what people have wanted for the past two-and-a-half years and more. If Mass Effect 2 is truly the equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back, let’s hope Mass Effect 3 doesn’t translate into Return of the Jedi.


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