When I first heard that Mass Effect was going to be a trilogy I thought, “Well, that sounds cool and using my character from the previous title was one of my favorite parts of .//Hack. Maybe I’ll reserve it.” Some time in 2008 we all saw the first trailer for Mass Effect 2, learned that Shepard was dead and some Geth was wearing his armor. This didn’t sit well with me. Later at E3 ’09 we saw the more epic trailer for Mass Effect 2, showing off the darker, more cinematic look Mass Effect had taken. I’m glad I reserved my copy because this game blew my expectations away.
Set two years after the previous game, players once again find themselves controlling Commander Shepard – former Alliance Marine, Specter, and, depending on your choices, either galactic savior or tenacious renegade with his own Agenda. I refuse to spoil the game’s epic opening, regardless of people being able to guess it from the trailers, because it is definitely a jaw dropper. Shepard has joined “Cerberus,” a radical, pro-Human organization that you may have heard of before if you explored around in the first game or read Mass Effect: Ascension. The leader of the group, the “Illusive Man,” informs you of a new threat: The Collectors – an enigmatic and mysterious species from beyond the known galaxy who have been abducting entire human colonies in the lawless Terminus Systems. You embark on your journey, along the way recruiting your new team and upgrading your ship to survive what many call a suicide mission.
Seems a tad weird to start with the bad, but this game has so much good going for it, the flaws must be laid out in the open.
First of all, players better get used to being patient and exercising their trigger fingers. Upgrades for weapons, armor, your ship, and any Biotic Powers must now be researched with resources you mine from unpopulated worlds. This is done by holding down the left trigger and moving a slow cursor around each planet, scanning for resources. As fun as it is to laugh at the fact that you’re probing Uranus, the monotony will very soon rear its hideous head and laugh back as you spend hours searching for just enough Palladium to upgrade your guns. Also, you are going to hate going back to hubs in space for fuel and probes, though an upgrade is available to increase capacity.
With regards to the handful of players who enjoyed the Mako tank missions in the first game, you’ll be a bit bummed to hear that you no longer get to explore every uncharted world. While some worlds have areas the Normandy’s new drop shuttle can take you for quests, these paths are often very linear. (However, upcoming DLC from the Cerberus Network includes the “Hammerhead,” a sort of hover tank that should replace the Mako. Hopefully this will bring back those uncharted explorations, combined with more missions to go with them.)
Another sadly bland feature is the hacking segments. While these are much more entertaining and forgiving than the “Simon Says” button presses of the first game, they still feel repetitive and are sometimes so easy you find yourself wondering why you can’t just open every door or turn on every computer.
I should also mention here that if you go on Mordin’s (the Salarian Scientist) loyalty quest, bring sunglasses as at the climax is a scene that can be very hazardous to those of you with epilepsy.
Lastly, there’s the issue of “clipping” – where objects in scenes glitch through or into other objects. While not a big problem, attentive players will note it happens very frequently.
These flaws are all pretty small, and you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to (other than a few doors). Now it is time to look at the things that stand out among the rest of the win this game is made out of.
Remember the first game’s combat? Basically run straight at the bad guys mashing the right trigger, take cover and sit for nearly a minute to heal or wait for the Medi-gel to recharge. Combat is now very reminiscent of Gears of War, and the health system is more akin to Halo or Call of Duty. You don’t realize how well these work until you actually play. Cover is no longer optional; it is required if you want to live. Also you now have to reload your weapon and find ammo clips, so every shot actually means something. Your shields and health are more balanced and will keep you alive long enough to dash between the chest-high walls on the battlefield. Biotic powers even had the piss taken out of them, but still being very epic, satisfying ways to take on enemies (“Charge,” the special ability of the Vanguard class, is possibly the best one).
We have all experienced the darker story that was “Empire Strikes Back,” right? Mass Effect 2 feels more emotional and realistic in the lawless Terminus Systems. The first game had the tough choice between losing one of your team mates, maybe even two, depending on your choices. In this game, players who are ill-prepared for the final battle may find that victory comes at a very high price. While I originally thought “Oh, I’ll just make everyone like me and blaze through the end,” I found I was mistaken when I had lost half my team during some epic cinematic. It is even possible for the “Suicide Mission” to end with Shepard biting the space dust, ending the game for you and not allowing you to import Shepard for the third and final sequel. There is also great voice acting and facial animations, conveying very vibrant expressions and detail.
Finally there is the importing of your character. This effectively turns Mass Effect into a single continuous game. Part one is the first chapter of an epic three part story, like the Matrix trilogy. In the first game we get the introductions, learn about what the main threat is, and do some pretty ballsy stuff to prevent it while everyone else doubts our sanity. In part two, stuff has gotten more serious. Now that everyone in the galaxy knows your name, you have become either a prodigal messiah, or Harbinger of War. The enemy is launching more calculated attacks, and it takes a near suicidal mission to stop them. Then there is the third act: the war. All the choices, all the friendships, all the betrayals, it all culminates here. This is the hour where players will, in my own estimation, march along side whatever armies you have rallied and take on the “Reapers” with everything the galaxy has. Mass Effect 2 carries over choices and characters from the first game that actually serve purpose and have their own stories. It isn’t like “Hey Shepard! Remember me? I bumped into you two years ago! Bye!” It’s more like they show up and you are reminded of what you’ve done and are doing. By the end of Mass Effect 2 I think I’ve made some unlikely allies, but lost a potentially powerful one.
Bang for your Buck:
Mass Effect 2 is worth sixty dollars. I could not get the Limited Edition, sadly, but the second game to me has been well worth the money. Fans of the game will be given a great gift, and any Bioware fan will love seeing how choices have evolved from the black or white absolutes in KotOR. RPG fans will find a solid space opera. Also, unlike the first game, there is actual DLC! Thanks to the Cerberus Network (included in new copies of the game and available for download on Xbox LIVE), DLC support for the game is going strong. Already they have added a new character, some new head gear for a Dr. Pepper promotion, and a new world to explore with a twist. A new weapon and set of armor will be released later this week, the already mentioned Hammerhead is coming soon, and Bioware says there’s more to come!
Keeping in line with my Matrix analogy, the tagline for Mass Effect 3 should be “Every beginning has an end” as was the tagline for The Matrix: Revolutions. Bioware has said that ME3 will end the Commander Shepard story arc, but with the money already invested in books and content, I think it’s likely we’ll be seeing more Mass Effect games afterwards. The ending of the game will make old fans and new players alike cringe with excitement and almost cry at the thought of having to wait at least another year or two before seeing even a glimpse of Mass Effect 3.
Mass Effect 2 is available on the Xbox 360 and the PC.
AMMIH Rating: 5/5
Sicky’s Motion Sickness Rating (lower is better): 2/5