MASS EFFECT 2

Mass Effect is one of my favorite games of all time. The sci-fi futuristic space opera blew me away. Between the excellent story, great gameplay, moral dilemmas, and deep universe on par with the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek, Mass Effect had it all for sci-fi geeks like myself. Understandably, Mass Effect 2 has quite a bit to live up to in my eyes. Happily, I can say Mass Effect 2 delivers on a large scale and in a great way. However-being one who is not easily pleased-there are a few minor decisions Bioware made that left me wanting more. And, while it’s maybe not quite fair to compare ME2 to ME1, I just simply have to.

Bioware has always been known for their strong story-telling, moral decsions, and great character relationships. ME1 nailed these perfectly and ME2 follows suit. Two years have elapsed since you saved the galaxy the first time and once again your heroics are needed. Entire human colonies are disappearing and it’s up to you to find out why. For reasons I won’t disclose here, you are no longer working under the Council’s guidance. This time you are working for the unthinkable. Cerberus. That’s right. The same alien-hating, seedy organization that tried to kill you in ME1. Under the leadership of the Illusive Man, Cerberus gives you their full resources to face this new terror in the galaxy. The majority of the main story requires you to assemble a team of criminals, assassins, bounty hunters and other shady characters from across the galaxy. The beauty of the story-telling in ME2 revolves around the characters you recruit. Over the course of the game, your relationship with each character grows-if you want it to. Eventually, each character has a “special quest” you can help them with. Almost everyone of these quests is top notch and the moral decisions you must make in the process will stay with you. You’ll question yourself if you made the right decision even after you feel that you did. After collecting this rogue’s gallery of characters, you’ll embark on a suicide mission to save the human race. While the main story arc in ME2 is very good, it ends rather quickly IMO and never fully lives up to the story in ME1. Perhaps this is in part to the fact that ME2 doesn’t have a Saren or Sovereign. While there are many new enemy types, a fleshed-out main villain is sorely lacking in ME2. Don’t be alarmed though. ME2’s story is still one of the best in video game history. It just doesn’t live up to Bioware’s own masterpiece of ME1.

Gameplay is one area where ME2 completely excels over the previous entry. Many changes have happened and they are for the better. While you still have a health meter, now it renews on it’s own while in cover. Gone are the overheating weapons. In is ammo. That’s right. You now need ammo clips (called heat sinks) to fire all your weapons. Ammo conservation was a non-issue on Normal mode. However, when playing Insanity mode, finding ammo is difficult, bringing back memories of early Resident Evil games. It definitely adds to the tension. Newly added weapons include sub-machine guns and heavy weapons. The heavy weapons use their own specific heat sinks and really bring the pain. They’ll do everything from freeze, fry, and nuke your enemies in a very satisfying way. As far as biotic powers go, new abilities surface like pull and shockwave. Combining firepower and biotic power is really an awesome feeling. Better squad command arrives in ME2 as well. Having more control over your squad mates when things get hairy is a blessing. You are now able to hot key three of your abilities, as well as your squad mates abilities. This allows you to almost always avoid the RB screen, which pauses the game to bring up your power wheel screen (much like in ME1). While I prefer the RB power wheel screen to pause the action and pick out my targets systematically, many will find the new hot key system as a warm welcome, letting the action flow even more freely. Also, the duck and cover system has been improved on too. Now, it’s more ergonomically correct. Those who enjoyed the cover system in Gears of War will feel right at home with ME2.

Of note is the RPG side of ME2. Much of it has been streamlined (or dumbed down as I  like to put it). Initially, RPG fans may be disappointed when they pull up the Squad screen to see only four or five areas to level up. This is deceiving in some regards. You still level up your powers like in ME1, but you’ll find no place to upgrade your weapons on the Squad screen. Instead, you upgrade weapons by finding weapon research on your missions. In order to access and apply this research, you must use resources that you find from planets. Gone is the Mako. Many people will be happy about this. IMO the Mako was a necessary evil. It was fun to explore, yet after a while the Mako driving became tedious on some planets. Instead, ME2 introduces the “probe system”. From space, you scan planets and a graph spikes, letting you know you have located a rare element. Press the right trigger and you launch a probe, securing the resource. There are four different resources to procure, each used to upgrade either weapons, armor, health, or medi-gel. Many will find planet scanning very tedious, viewing it as the “new Mako”. Personally, I didn’t mind planet scanning too much. Again, any RPG has tedious events that must be done in order to advance your character to his or her true potential. Talking about streamlining, ME2 has completely done away with Inventory. This was a major complaint from the first game. However, Bioware took it a little too far. By the time you complete ME2, you will only have around three of each type of weapon and only two or three armor suits to wear. However, you can add upgrades to your suit, which shows up on your character, even in cut scenes. You can even change the color of your armor, which is a nice touch. Another change is the level cap. ME1 had a cap of 60. ME2 halves this to 30. Again, the RPG elements in ME2 are put to the back, with an emphasis on action and story. Many true RPG fans may be a little disappointed and it feels that Bioware was definitely trying to gain a new audience by putting primary concern on action in this second installment.

As far as graphics are concerned, ME2 looks amazing. Many will be happy to know that the graphic “pop-in” from ME1 is virtually gone. Of note is the locations. No two are the same. Remember all the cookie cutter base and ship interiors in ME1? I dare you to find any two wall panels that look the same in ME2. Each side mission in ME2 sets you up in beautiful vistas that you will remember. And the areas you explore in the main campaign are simply awesome to behold. Cinematically, ME2 is far better than it’s predecessor. This is another area that Bioware has simply mastered. It all adds up for one of the most beautifully looking games on the 360.

One of the greatest things I appreciated from ME1 was the brilliant sci-fi soundtrack by Jack Wall. To this day, I still listen to the soundtrack when I’m driving. Happily, the music in ME2 is almost on par. I say that, because while it’s very good, it seemed to be missing in some areas where I expected it, or too quiet in other areas. Again, this is a small gripe. I was very pleased that the “Galaxy Map” music (one of my favorites) from ME1 returns, and in the same spot again. Also, some of the best music from ME1 appears in your personal quarters. Again, a very nice touch. The Codex narrator returns as well. I could listen to codex entries all day long. Voice acting is top-notch. Some of the best in video game history. Many of the actors are big names this time around and everyone pulls off their lines greatly, adding to the realism and personality of the story in ME2.

All in all, Mass Effect 2 is something any sci-fi fan needs to play. In fact, any video game fan owes it to themselves to play this masterpiece. A quick note-the Lazarus Project imports your previous ME1 character perfectly. I remember being so worried about this when Bioware announced it. But you have to see it to believe it. Also, many moral decisions you made in ME1 actually carry over into ME2. You’ll meet people from ME1 as well as some old acquaintances. If you have completed ME1, the definitive way to play ME2 is by importing your character. It’s simply an awesome breakthrough in video gaming technology.

ME2 isn’t without it’s flaws. RPG elements are put on the back burner to some degree which saddens me, the side quests are far too short (most can be completed in under 10 minutes), and the mini-games leave something to be desired (although they are a step up from the “Simon Says” mini-game in ME1). I was mildly disappointed with the length of ME2. I completed it in about 43 hours, roughly 10 hours shorter than my first playthrough of ME1. Much of that time could be attributed to “Mako driving” though. As said before, any complaints I have are very minor. This is a worthy nomination for game of the year. In fact, ME2 has my vote. And it’s only February.

OVERALL RATING:

GAMEPLAY: 10 out of 10

This game is action based and the gameplay is enjoyable. The new weapons, ammo, and biotic powers along with superb squad command all add up to a great experience time and time again.

CONTROLS: 10 out of 10

Bioware added hot keys and it payed off. While the Power/Weapon wheels still exist, the hot keying of your powers and your squad mates powers makes the frantic gunplay as smooth and wonderful as ever.

SOUND: 9 out of 10

The musical score is dynamic and moody, set to the tone of the darker story. However, it doesn’t best ME1’s score. Plus, where is a cool end credits song like the one in ME1? Voice acting is top-notch though. Some of the best around.

GRAPHICS: 9 out of 10

Bioware fixed a lot of problems that plagued the first game. Namely “pop-in”. However, it still happens from time to time. Also, why does Shepherd and other characters sometimes disappear during cinematic scenes? The locations are beautiful and character models are very tight. Some of the best stuff out there.

STORY: 9 out of 10

This is where Bioware always shines. With that said, I was only slightly disappointed with ME2’s story-when compared to ME1. While there were a few jaw-dropping revelations in ME2, none of them came close to the revelations told to you by Vigil while on Ilos in ME1. Still, this is a Bioware game and the story, especially the character relationships and moral decisions you have to make are brilliant.

ACHIEVEMENTS: 10 out of 10

The achievements in ME2 have been simplified to the point of allowing the player to obtain all 1000 points in the first playthrough. This is a good thing, especially with the length of a game like ME2. Some players won’t invest time for a second playthrough. Happily, all those “Play the majority of the game with the human soldier squad member” glitchy achievements are absent in ME2.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5

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