Review by thecrobar

"One of the best games this generation."

Mass Effect 2
The first Mass Effect is widely considered to be one of the best games of this generation. It had a fast-paced story that kept you on your toes with lots of interesting characters and locales, and it really worked to create a universe as much as it did a main story. It also used the interesting Paragon and Renegade system of morality: both sides got things done, just with different methods. Bioware seeks to up the ante of the original game with Mass Effect 2, taking much of the first game and streamlining it into a new experience.

The story picks up two years after the original game. After an attack on the Normandy, Commander Shepard (you), dies. For a little while. Cerberus, a shadowy group that seeks to advance the goals of the human race “through any means necessary”, has rebuilt you. Human colonies have been disappearing into thin air, and it's up to humanity's greatest hero to find out what's going on. You won't be alone though- along for the ride are up to 12 companions. You'll start the game with nothing but a couple of Cerberus Operatives and build your team from there, adding in numerous aliens and past friends as you venture through the galaxy. The ultimate goal of the game is to complete the suicide mission, a final mission in which anyone of them can die. The main idea behind the story is the build up to that point: you'll need to make sure your crew is focused on the mission and your ship is upgraded well enough to survive. Most of the game's missions focus around doing just that.

The game is handled much differently from the first one. The central plot carries less weight then the first one did, and it feels odd to be fighting on a smaller scale this time around. The plot itself is also much shorter- there are really only five or so main missions that you need to complete. Instead, the game focuses more on the characters and your squad this time around. A lot of time will be spent gathering team members and interacting with them, as well as completing the various goals that they have. The characters have been greatly expanded since the original game, which is a good thing. They're mess less archetypal this time around, which is a good thing since you'll be spending so much time talking with them.

The game's presentation is among the best in gaming. Gone are the awkward bits of pop-in that plagued the first game. The graphics haven't taken much of a leap since the first game, but the fact that they managed to fix the vast majority if the issues with them makes it stand out a lot more than the original. This has carried over into the visual design as well. The endless expanses of gray and red are gone, and each of the game's areas is actually designed well enough to stand on its own. The colors are vibrant, and the game does well at avoiding the stigma of gray and brown that are so noteworthy among games of this generation.

The sound design is well polished. While the music as a whole isn't that unique or interesting, there are a few standout songs that are simply marvelous and deserve to stand next to some of the best in gaming. Many of the individual character themes, as well as the theme song that plays during the opening, stand out. The voices in the game are mostly very good...but there are a few stinkers. It's not so much that there are a collection of bad voices, but every person who has played the game seems to have at least one voice that they can't stand.

The gameplay is Mass Effect 2 remains largely the same as the original. As Commander Shepard it is up to you to save the galaxy from anything that threatens it. You can do this however you see fit through the game's alignment system, which allows you to choose the more peaceful and diplomatic Paragon option or the violent and cynical Renegade option. Both lines have their own consequences, but both can get the job done. The alignment system is really the heart of Mass Effect, and if you aren't looking for a game that's heavy on story and dialogue then there's no use in even playing it.

The combat in ME2 is for the most part much improved. Combat is noticeably more visceral and solid and is a lot less floaty than in the first game making extensive use of cover mechanics. The largest change is that the game now makes use of ammo. Ammo is the same for all weapons (except for heavy weapons, which have their own special ammo), but is used at a different rate depending on the gun you pick. It works, but it doesn't balance the combat and wasn't really necessary in the first place. One of the perks in the first game was being able to use whatever gun you wanted at any time, and that is missing in ME2.

Combat has also been streamlined. In addition to regular gun fire, there are psychic-like biotic abilities and techie moves that allow you to hack into robotic enemies. This is where the combat is worse than the original: there are a lot less powers in ME2, and they're also a lot less useful. Powers only work on certain kinds of shields, and abilities are often useless thanks to enemy shields. If you want to play as a character focused around powers, higher difficulties are near impossible since almost every enemy is immune to your attacks.

The biggest difference, and perhaps the most contentious for fans, is that the games seemed designed to be played differently. Mass Effect 1 was a highly customizable experience: each class had it's own strengths and weaknesses along with different weapon specializations. Each play of the game felt unique and fresh. In Mass Effect 2 that isn't the case, and with the streamlined combat system you're going to end up using the same strategies in one play of the game as you did in another. That being said, Mass Effect 2 has a lot more content then the first game. The countless (and pointless) side-quests of the first game have been passed over for longer, more involved quests in the second.

If you asked me to pick a favorite between the two then I honestly couldn't do it. Both games have their strengths, but it seems that virtually no one loves one of them and hates the other. The biggest issue a person might have with Mass Effect 2 is not playing the first game. If you haven't done that (Why haven't you? It's one of the best games to come out in the last few years) then you should skip Mass Effect 2 until you have. The story is central to the game, and so much is going to be lost on you if you haven't played the original that's it's pointless to even try to move on to the sequel without doing so first. Unless you like reading long and utterly uninteresting bits from the in-game encyclopedia, which is about as fun as it sounds, then skip ME2 until you've played the first game. Otherwise Mass Effect 2 is a no-brainer. It has an excellent plot, top-notch graphics and sound, and a streamlined combat system.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/16/10

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

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