Game Reviews
MassEffect2 2010-01-29 13-27-26-28
Mass Effect 2 Review

The shooter genre has recently been boasting some of the most cinematic games of the generation with the likes of Uncharted 2, Modern Warfare 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4. When we last saw Mass Effect, it was still a nuts and bolts RPG  more so than it was a 3rd person shooter. This time around, Bioware has managed to tighten its space faring franchise to the point where the line between Halo and Final Fantasy is transparent. Letting no complaint from the first game go unchecked, the developer has made strives to either improve or replace everything that any fan of the first could have made quibbles of.

At the start of the game you will have the opportunity to import your old ME1 save and character. This will provide a number of bonuses like extra money and skills and will allow you to bypass the first few levels of your character’s progression. It will also give you a list of your choices and a summary of the state of affairs you left the first game in. Small things like the people you spoke to and how you treated them come into effect after this process. Some basic things are however universal. No matter what you did in the first game you will now be under the employ of Cerberus, a pro-human overlord corporation with that all but echoes the Team Rocket mantra with its Google type omnipresence. Human settlements on the outskirts of the galaxy are disappearing one by one, and no one is motivated enough to figure out why. Your exploits have been pretty much sealed by efforts by the Council and Alliance, and your two year unannounced absence isn’t particularly helping your argument of a secret Reaper plot. Abandoned by everyone but the ‘Illusive Man’ and his Cerberus employees, you’re set on the trail of eight powerful allies spread all across the galaxy.

Being a part of Cerberus has its advantages though. The upgraded Normandy SR2 is a great deal larger than the first ship. In scifi-nerd scale it’s a jump comparable to the Millennium Falcon to the Enterprise. Traversing it us seamless for the most part. Elevator load times are practically nonexistent. One instance where you wish the sprint last longer is due to the increase in size. Getting all the way from the pilot’s chair to the galaxy map will take a whole 20 seconds! Minor grumbles, but you’d think Shepard would have the stamina to run for more than fifteen feet if he’s not wearing armor.

A few things will become quickly apparent when you first start playing the game. One of those being that the game looks amazing. Running at a steady 60fps on even a mid-range graphics card, the game manages a high framerate to wow-factor ratio at each of its pivotal scenes. Not taking a backseat is the aiming and targeting reticule. Rather than being a vague circle like in the first game, you’re given a standard crosshair that your weapons stick to religiously. No hit over the range hit boxes this time. You have to aim for flesh, or at least circuit boards in some cases. You also have an ammo system that encourages you to rely more on your secondary skills rather than blast your way through like the first game. You’re bound to run out of ammo for one gun at some point in the game, so it allows you to get accustom to each one. It may be annoying at first, but to shooter fans it’s a welcome change and hardcore role-players will get used to it eventually.

In order to effective in this game you will need to have a somewhat decent background of shooters. Knowing how to pick your targets and how to position your team will pay off for you, but playing the game like a straight shooter or an RPG won’t get you anywhere. Taking cover and aiming at your targets is no longer clunky, and it supplements the Biotic and Tech powers perfectly. At the start of the game you will be wishing that you’d opted for a Soldier class as you would have access to more weapons and all around better combat skills. Towards the end you’ll be making use of every last one of your skills with ease and precision.

In the first game you merely got  a check mark indicating your status on a successful mission. Now, you are treated to a whole screen summarizing your exploits and accomplishments after success. You’ll find out what items you found, money, weapons, updates on your stats and team members, as well as what impact your actions had on the story and world. This makes it simple and reduces backtracking to get back to the Normandy at the end of each mission.

The Mako has been completely discarded in favor of a transport shuttle. The reasoning behind this is due in part to the increased size of the Normandy SR2, but the main cause is the fan complaints over the Mako missions in the first game. You aren’t capable of piloting this shuttle in any way, but using the probe and planet scanner you can find suitable areas to land and mine resources. After a while, mining a planet becomes tedious, but you have an every populated supply of resources with which to upgrade your equipment, ship and skill set.

If you played the original Mass Effect, then you are familiar with the hassle of items and omnigel management of equipment and weapons. Cycling to see which weapon is obsolete and which one isn’t – Phasic round IV or II, etc. Some will be pleased to know that this concept is gone completely. Armor is handled by upgrades to your standard N7 suit. This allows you the freedom to get more creative, choosing whether to focus your armor on shield regeneration, maximum health, and how much ammo you can carry. Weapons cannot be customized at all and cannot be purchased, only found. The benefit to this is that when you find one gun, every member of your team has access to it. Depending on your class you may have access to different ammo rounds (cryo, incendiary, warp, shredder, etc.) but beyond that you’ll never have to fumble around to equip your guns with specific rounds. Another improvement is that you no longer have unusable weapons equipped to your back all the time. Switching weapons is easier without a Sniper and Assault rifle equipped when you’re a Vanguard. During one mission in the game you are presented with the option of picking up a new weapon proficiency, so adding an Assault Rifle or Shotgun to your class is another prayer answered in this sequel.

Customization is most definitely encouraged. While you won’t be able to adjust the armor your team wears, you can manage the color scheme and design of your own. You also have a few choices for what you will appear like casually on your ship. There aren’t a lot of options in either, but there are enough so that it fits in with the feel of personalization additions to the game.

The majority of your time will be spent between tracking down your old crew members from the first game (who survived) and finding your new ones. You may be surprised to see just how different everyone has become and how some have managed to stay the same. Although the amount of time that’s gone by isn’t too long, you’ll see just how things have managed to change when given the chance to visit old areas from the first game. The Citadel for example has become completely streamlined. It’s divided into a series of levels that house various shops and locales. None of the aimless wandering from the first game. However, it seems more confined than anything. The only glimpse of the same areas you will have is when visiting the Presidium, which you’ll be confined to a single balcony.

At any given moment there are a dozen of people you can talk to or ways of progressing one of the hundreds of side missions Mass Effect 2 has to offer. Like the first game, your dialogue tree has a lot of diversity and ways to expand the codex and gain Paragon/Renegade points, but now there are context sensitive triggers that can be activated to end a conversation and jump start a fight, or persuade an unruly business owner to sell you items at cost. You’re as motivated to talk as your are to shoot, however at some times you can more in the mood to do one more than the other. The game seems to have a good balance of which missions you want to shoot through and which you’d rather move forward by asking for information. Although at some junctions it may be difficult to determine at first.

Loyalty is a big part of the game and integral if you’re going to succeed in your final mission. For each of the eleven characters you will amass for your team there is a story related mission tying into their objective or their past. Completing this mission encourages characters to trust you, unlocks special skills and adds an alternative costume option for them. Trust me when I say that you want your team to be loyal to you before you engage in the final mission.

I really have to make sure to stress the improvement in music and sound design. For me, the first game’s soundtrack was fitting at times, but others it really sounded like a broken fax machine. Some pieces are directly orchestral, while some bare the same style as the first. Fortunately, I hadn’t come across a tune that caused me to check the ink levels on my laserjet, but that thought was ever present in my mind. Weapons and enemy sounds are well crafted, making for believable encounters and firefights.

The A-class cast is well utilized throughout the game. With as much dialogue as there is not much of it is repeated. You rarely hear the same humans twice in one room, but some of the aliens do blend together. That’s not racism, it’s just the same voice actor. Only playing the game from both genders perspective allows you to understand the differences between the interactions. I can only imagine the word that went into keeping all the dialogue straight.

To me, the story in the first game didn’t really capture me all that much. It was the world and characters that captivated and interested me. The overarching story of the Reapers and the end of the world was a unique twist, but there wasn’t any menace to it despite how many characters reacted in fear. As Grunt pointed out in saying “You destroyed the most bad ass thing in the galaxy, now it’s just us,” it’s that feeling that always limits how dangerous the the threat is, be it Covenant, Locust or Geth. If I can take a small team and beat them to the brink of existence then I’m not afraid of them. Point being, the threat of the Collectors as personal as your rivalry with Saren from the first game, and it ultimately pans out to a loose footed confrontation with the legacy of the Prothean race. It’s not bad, but Bioware has done a much better job at making the characters and the overall world more engrossing than its main plot, which really stems to a handful of actual missions in itself. I don’t think I’ve explored much of the side missions or galaxy and I clocked in at around 25hrs my first play through.

That said the finale in the sequel was better on every level than the one in the first game. Utilizing your entire team for a win or die scenario that will keep you focused on the task at hand despite hectic and crazy shitstorm surrounding you is a feat to marvel at. Every choice leading up to the final moment made for your success or failure. At first, that notion can be daunting, but when you’re in the middle of it it becomes reassuring. Your team completely loyal to you, your ship at maximum capacity, your skills finely tuned – you really get the sense of what you’ve been doing for the past day means something – at least to the video game.

When you eventually see what ending you and your crew have to face, you’ll be motivated to delve right back into it, correcting mistakes, taking new actions, and seeing what else you can do to affect the outcome. More than anything, I feel a little awkward at the potential for Mass Effect 3. Having to replay both games just to make sure all my actions and success carries over to that. A challenge, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. There’s still more than enough content left in the game to keep anyone busy. Mass Effect 2 is easily Bioware’s most ambitious and spectacular game to date. It takes the best from the first and fine tunes it for the sequel. Although it may take a bit more getting used to for some, once that initial step is taken, the improvements become abundantly clear. See you in another two years Commander Shepard.

3 comments
Bart
Bart

good review. i think this game deserves to win goty

Phaethon
Phaethon

I was a bit more emotionally invested this time around, but for the main plot it wasn't that involved.

samuel
samuel

I think I still prefer ME1 better storywise but I agree this one was epic.

Trackbacks