Review by coleipoo

"Merges the best elements of the original with streamlined features."

The original Mass Effect, released in late 2007, offered a uniquely fun experience for all types of gamers. Set in the near future, the game follows the story of Commander Shepard and his/her adventures in saving the Milky Way galaxy. Mass Effect was escapism at its best; the immersive science fiction story and setting, coupled with some of the deepest characterization seen in a video game with fast paced action, fused together to create the ultimate role playing game. Developer Bioware is famous for its immersive storylines and fantastic writing; Mass Effect had some of the greatest dialogue of any video game ever made.

Mass Effect 2 throws the player right into the action after the events of the first game, and continues the epic storyline with even better writing and immersion. ME2 tries its best to improve every aspect of the original, and for the most part it succeeds. ME2 was stricken with what I call the "Halo disease", but its effects do not hurt the game in anyway whatsoever. The "Halo disease", as I refer to it, is simply a standardization of a video game to appeal to as many people as possible. Things like recharging health, common in Call of Duty and Halo games, linear game progress in those same titles, and a sort of hand-holding to help the player achieve objectives are introduced in ME2. Normally when these things are introduced to a game or game series, they tend to take away the game's sense of originality. This isn't the case with ME2; most of the changes to make the game more streamlined actually work for the better.

Gameplay

Less an RPG and more a third person shooter than the first title, ME2 still keeps the immersive story and characterization of the original. Think of ME2 as a great shooter, but a better story teller. The combat system can be seen as an intense version of rock, paper, and scissors. Enemies have barriers, shields, and armor, with certain weapon types and special psychic powers (called biotics) doing different damage to each. For example, enemy armor is strong against machine gun and shotgun fire, but weak against sniper rifle and heavy pistol damage. Shields and barriers and health are susceptible to shotgun and submachine gun fire and biotic powers respectfully. This creates a need to create a balanced squad; you want two allies who have abilities and talents that you can utilize alongside your own. And with 10 unique party members to choose from, you have many options.
ME2 consists of land battles and land and space exploration.

Land battles and land exploration makes up most of the game, while space exploration is used to complete side quests and mining for valuable resources to use to upgrade your team's abilities.

One of the main criticisms of the original game was the tediousness of space exploration and resource gathering. ME2 attempts to fix some of these problems and succeeds, but in doing so, creates some problems on its own. Resource gathering has a point now in ME2, while it was mostly useless in the original. ME2 introduced a purpose to it, and a useful purpose it is, as it directly affects your power in combat. But as the game progresses, resource gathering becomes more and more tedious to perform. Planets become stripped of their valuable metals and elements and upgrades become more expensive to create. It becomes a long process to afford even simple upgrades near the end of the game.

Gameplay wise, ME2 is a clear cut improvement over the original. The more streamlined combat system is much more fun, while at the same time it keeps the non-linear methods to defeating enemies. You can use any of the many powers, or the environment, or even your smooth talking to defeat enemies and overcome situations.

Story

By far the strongest aspect of ME2 is the story. The ride from the beginning to the end never lets up. The story consists mostly of a team building effort to confront a new, emerging evil in the galaxy. Hundreds of human colonies across the universe are disappearing, and it is up to Commander Shepard to create a team to stop the chaos. The story takes place soon after the original, and ME2 utilizes a very interesting gameplay mechanic that has been seldom used in video games in the past.

Players can import their original game saves from ME1 when they first start ME2. All of the player's choices in the original game are consequences in the second game. Kill an innocent person in the original game? Maybe one of his family members will hunt you down. Show sympathy when dealing with a criminal? Your decision may come back to haunt you as that criminal is now running a crime syndicate. All of your decisions, good or bad, are transferred over to ME2 to create a totally unique game experience. This mechanic has been used before, usually in RPG's like the Suikoden or Disgaea series, but never to this extend. This is a smart move by Bioware, has they have created dozens of different ways to play their game, increasing its replay value tenfold.

Graphics/Sound

The original Mass Effect featured beautiful graphics and wholly original concept art, and ME2 improves upon it in every way. The graphics are updated to scale wonderfully with 1080p televisions, and simple touches such as a film grain effect and high definition lighting create a visual masterpiece. The biotic and weapon effects are particularly cool to look at.

The soundtrack to the original Mass Effect was homage to all science fiction movies, and ME2 is no different. Alien sounds and synthesizers create a stark contrast to some of the orchestral scores, but meld together to create one addictive soundtrack. Sound effects are superb; we don't know what laser guns will really sound like in the future, but we can hope they sound like they do in ME2. The sound element that sticks out the most is the voice acting. ME2 features some of the greatest voice acting ever in a video game. With talents such as Martin Sheen and Seth Green voicing some characters, the production values of this title are through the roof.

Replayability

ME2 presents the player with numerous options to complete tasks. Players can either play as the good cop (Paragon) or the bad cop (Renegade), and certain situations benefit from either option. This presents the player with at least two players to see all the content available. But the replay factor is boosted even further, as every action you take has an effect on the ending you obtain. You can complete your mission have everyone survive. Mess up once, and you can have all of your squad mates, including Shepard, die. ME2 features the most consequential story system ever made in a video game, and makes you think before you act.

Final Verdict:

Just about as perfect as a video game can get. It has all the elements of a great shooter with a deep story that only the best RPG's can wish to create. You can make the game as long or as short as you want it, with a range of about 15-50 hours in a single play through. It's a thrill ride, but a smart one at that. ME2 reads like a great book, unfolds like an excellent science fiction movie, and plays like a simply fun video game. Multiple playthroughs are recommended, as you will be able to import your save from ME2 to ME3 when it comes out. It is recommended that you play through the original game first, which can be found for about $20 on the Xbox 360 and PC. Not only does it make the experience more enjoyable, but you might understand the story a little better, and some events will become more personal to you. A true pinnacle in storytelling and immersive gameplay, ME2 will not disappoint.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 02/02/10

Game Release: Mass Effect 2 (US, 01/26/10)


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