Review by EX_Hazanshu
Probe Launched, Launching Probe, Probe Away
There is a background character you'll pass by in Mass Effect 2. A Salarian who sells role-playing games. One line of dialogue, he makes fun of older traditional games that make you wait 5 hours to travel somewhere. Thinking about it, I'm picturing a similar character in some future game that gets released next decade. The character will be making fun of RPGs like Mass Effect 2 that make you wait what feels like 5 hours for a stupid one-on-one conversation to end.
The best parts of any game must be weighed against the worst. Most of the story and gameplay of Mass Effect 2 could have and should have been a tightly woven 8-10-hour-ish single player game with great cinematic cutscenes, a class A story, great graphics, and reasonably fun 3rd person shoot-em-up action. Had this hypothetical game been made (but with better enemy A.I, improved combat, and a tighter more linear storytelling system) we would have really been in for a treat. I'd be giving it a 9 or 10.
Instead we are stuck with Knights of the Old Republic Part V: Keep It Slow But Dumb It Down Some More. The next cookie cutter Bioware game has caused the format to finally wear out its welcome with me. It was fun back in the last console generation. But between Dragon Age and ME2, I'm beyond over it. These games are bloated, slow, boring exercises in the developers' massive egos.
Mass Effect 2 can only be called a role playing game in the most crude, basic sense. It is an electronic Choose Your Own Adventure, at best. Leveling up is relatively beyond your control. Rather than collecting weapons and items, you simply scan their designs and everyone can use them. There is no reward in exploring - only tedium and anxiety causing the flow of the game to suffer because the player has to pointlessly feel like he or she missed something important by not checking around this corner or that corner before proceeding. And it is anything but an open world - which to me is a prerequisite to something being called an RPG.
Most of my issues with this game exist in other Bioware games (which I at least used to like). Maybe other Bioware games worked in the past because they moved along much quicker. I'd visit one world, go through the motions, and then I'd be done with it. Do some side-quest missions, talk to one of the crew members, and then move on to the next main story mission. These past games moved a bit smother.
Now we're stuck with, count em, ELEVEN members of your team. All with personal stories that are told through these tedious dialogue encounters so familiar to anyone who has ever played a Bioware game. It's like in KOTOR it was the Han Solo clone, the evil robot, the chick, and some alien. Maybe one more, I can't remember. I can live with that. But ELEVEN?!? Are you kidding me? And a few of them are repeats from your ME1 crew!
There's a reason people win Oscars for Best Actor. ME2 relies heavily on one-on-one dialogue scenes between the main character and another cast member. Talking. Talking. And more talking. No film or television production would ever allow this much dialogue to go on without at least intercutting other visuals. But even if they did, it would be Robert DeNiro talking to Meryl Streep. Not two CGI creations that look about as lifelike as the puppets in the old show Thunderbirds,.
Then there's the story. ME1 had a great story of humans trying to join the U.N. of alien space future. Politics, hidden motives, a cool interstellar spy agency, and an interesting rouge agent as the villain. Now with ME2, all we get are some bug-like aliens called the Collectors (which are just like the Geth but with new makeup), and some mysterious dude behind the curtain who smokes cigarettes and sounds like the psycho killer from the movie Badlands. 90% of the story involves collecting new team members. And some of them are neat and interesting characters - to a point, that is. So you'll do things like visit other worlds and you'll run into these ridiculous cameo appearances from ME1 characters. Most of these encounters are such silly coincidences it makes you laugh out loud. Kind of like those "Anakin built C3PO?" or "Boba Fett was the original Storm Trooper?!?" moments we've laughed at in other sci-fi stories.
But all these unfocussed criticisms aside. What is this game experience really entail? It has amazing graphics, the best original music score I have probably ever heard in a video game (no joke), and a story that -- on paper at least -- is very compelling. But what is the experience actually like?
10% of the time you'll spend watching a loading screen. I am not joking. Just trying to navigate around your own ship and there are 4 sections with long load times to visit each one. Ridiculous. There are even moments that make you want to pull your hair out. For example, when you complete a mission, a summary screen pops up. But it doesn't start loading the next area until you close that screen!!! Why couldn't it have been loading while I was reading the previous screen? Your guess is as good as mine.
About 25% of the time you'll be fighting bad guys. This is mostly fun, but it's pretty easy. The A.I. of the enemies sucks, and you have so many options to destroy anyone quickly. There's one very short, oddball moment in the game I won't spoil too much. It involves playing the gimpy pilot, Joker, for a scene. This scene plays out almost exactly like those Laserdisc games. For a moment I thought I was playing Dragon's Lair or something. Go here, then another "video" loads showing him walk down a ladder, yada yada. Anyone who's knows what I'm talking about will know what I'm talking about here.
About 40% of the time you'll be running around trying to talk to other characters on various worlds that you tediously must travel back and forth between. This is, for the most part the game's biggest weakness. Areas do not look or feel big or real or natural at all. People are standing in the same places, repeating the same 3 lines over and over again. Even when you have to revisit these places weeks later (in the games' timeframe) none of this stuff has changed. It all looks like extras in some cheap off-Broadway production. Like the police station that only two people work at. Or the largest trading floor in the galaxy - yet only two or three people are actually there trading. Mass Effect 2's attempt to create an atmosphere that feels big and rich is such a failure, it cannot be understated. This weakness existed in older Bioware titles for the most part. But the difference was that you only saw it once. You didn't have to go back through the same area 5 times.
And what about the remaining 25% of the many hours you'll spend on this game? This is the worst part there is. Mining for precious resources. In Mass Effect one you discover a planet, push a button "scan" and you'll automatically obtain the materials required to purchase upgrades. Now they make you play the most boring, tedious, lame mini-game ever seen in this console generation. Hence the title of this review.
In conclusion, Bioware has taken their typical cookie-cutter RPG format, stripped out anything that made in an RPG (except for the endless dialogue and incredibly tired "moral choices" aspect that has now become a cheap cliche) and made it a below-average 3rd person action game that takes 5 times longer to complete than it needs to.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Mass Effect 2 (US, 01/26/10)
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