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It’s fair to say that Mass Effect 2 is a pretty awesome game. So awesome, in fact, that if the ‘net could burst from an overfilling of positive reviews, this is the game that would have doomed the whole damn thing. Going into the experience I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’d finished the first Mass Effect, and while it was a pretty good game I felt like it lacked in a few areas, not the least of which was a dry-as-dirt first quarter spent wandering the Citadel like a chimp on a banana hunt. So it goes without saying, then, that when I approached the new Mass Effect I was pretty much steeled for a dull introduction to what would eventually be revealed as a pretty good game.
I was wrong. Mass Effect 2’s intro is among the most exciting, gripping, well executed game opener’s I’ve ever seen. If it had been a CG cut scene I’d have been on the edge of my seat, but getting to actually play through that explosive, shocking–the list of adjectives could go on for days–introduction, well…had me on the edge of my seat, fiddling with thumbsticks as I desperately tried to save Commander Shepard and her crew from certain doom.
Perhaps my favorite part of the new game is having the ability to pull my existing character from the first Mass Effect into the new game, with an opportunity to make a few different choices in career and appearance. I opted to change neither, of course, and begrudgingly accepted that I would now start over with my character’s level progression. I was rather surprised and pleased to learn that although I was starting at a “low” level again, this time around my Shepard was actually much more powerful than in the previous game, which in turn made the leveling seem more satisfying than I’d expected it to be. Far from making me feel artificially powered down, instead it seemed more like my Shepard had been down for awhile and just needed a little loosening up.
In Mass Effect 1, I played as close to “neutral” as possible, but ended up with a slight leaning toward Paragon. This time around, I made a role playing choice: death had changed Shepard, and she would be hardcore Renegade. As the game progressed there were, I’ll admit upfront, a handful of choices I made that scored me paragon points, though in the interest of posting no spoilers I won’t tell you which those were. For the remainder of the game, however, I managed to steer pretty closely to the Renegade side, even taking cognizance of Samara’s statement that she might have to kill me once we’d completed the mission; thus, when the opportunity presented itself, I chose to kill her and recruit her evil daughter, Morinth, figuring she wouldn’t kill me unless I opted to sleep with her. Well…maybe not sleep.
ME2’s combat and weapons/upgrades management system is greatly simplified and streamlined compared to its predecessor. Gone are the long hours of sifting through countless iterations of ammo types and levels, or various levels of weapons of every sort. In its place is a slick, easy to use interface with a leaner set of options that, while taking away some of the flexibility of its predecessor, greatly improves the player’s ability to outfit each member of his or her team with the best gear quickly and efficiently. Too, the new combat system is much more TPS (Third Person Shooter), and the player’s ability to aim well really pays off. Headshots are your friend. Except when they’re aimed at your head, of course.
Visually, ME2 is a delight, with a wide variety of different locales all rendered in gorgeous detail. The sci-fi trappings are not just futuristic, but they also look used and lived-in, creating a sense of a galaxy populated by living, breathing people. There are the occasional graphical glitches that seem to be the hallmark of the HD generation, with little bits of pop-in here and there, but for the most part it’s hardly noticeable. It’s also fair to say that you’ll be so engrossed in the story that you probably won’t notice most of the little glitches even when they do happen.
The 5.1 mix is fantastic and really works to enhance the mood of the game. I tend to play in darkness as much as possible, with the surround sound cranked up so as to really immerse me in the experience, and ME2 did not let me down. From environmental sounds to enemies trying to flank me, the audio track is rendered with superb attention to detail and had me completely living in the experience within minutes of powering on the game.
Virtually everything. Mass Effect 2 is a cornucopia of goodness, and I feel comfortable calling it the best game of this generation so far. The artwork, audio, voice acting, writing and gameplay all work together with the precision of a well crafted symphony, sucking the player into the experience in ways that few games ever will.
The fact that the game ended at all comes to mind immediately, but thanks to the DLC the game can go on for a bit longer. If there’s one thing I dislike about the experience, it’s that there hasn’t been enough DLC to keep me happy yet. The other thing I wasn’t fond of is the fact that the lesbian love experience is nonexistent this time around. I played my Shepard as a female and had previously established a relationship with Liara, so I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to continue that.
Would have changed:
Beyond the obvious “no graphical glitches,” which I accept as par for the course in the HD generation, my big gripe really is just with the reduced accessability to the love interest of your choice. There’s plenty of hetero-love to be had, but the fact that the first game allowed gay relationships while the second one doesn’t seems like a step backward, so I’d have carried that element forward. Hopefully it’ll return in Mass Effect 3.
All in all, Mass Effect 2 is a top tier game well worth your time and money, even at full price. By now it’s possible to find it on discount pretty regularly, so don’t let anything stop you: if you own a 360, this is a shouldn’t-miss experience.