Review by HailToTheGun

"The perfect assimilation of roleplaying and shooting set Mass Effect 2 in a whole other galaxy of gaming."

Humanity‘s Savior Has Been Reborn…

A threat looms in the outer galaxy as the Geth still roam in small numbers and an even larger problem waits in the nothingness of deep space. On a routine mission to flush out the remaining Geth, the Normandy comes under attack by an unknown vessel. Those that manage to survive the attack find safety in the escape pods, but Commander Shephard is left behind as the ship is barraged with terrible and destructive firepower. Alone, drifting in space, and out of oxygen, Shepard suffocates as his body falls into the orbit of a nearby planet. Two years later…Shepard is reborn.

The opening cinematic of Mass Effect 2 is simply breathtaking. The intensity of the evacuation scene and the desperation in Shepard's struggle to save his crew is mesmerizing. It's also the perfect introduction to a game that rarely lets up on the action and continues to provide amazing sequence one after another.

Third-Person Shooter Refined…

Perhaps the biggest and most noticeable change between Mass Effect 2 and its predecessor is the way combat is handled. The user interface and heads-up display has seen a noticeable overhaul, and for the better. Party members can now be directly controlled and positioned on the fly, allowing for some great opportunity for tactical playing. Using the left and right on the D-pad, the player gives the order for the respective party member to move to the designated spot. Up commands both party members to focus fire on whichever enemy you're aiming at, and down will call them back to regroup around you. As far as actual combat goes, the left and right on the D-pad will also command that respective party member to use his or her assigned ability if your crosshair is currently over an enemy.

The ability wheel from the previous game returns in similar fashion, allowing you to pause combat and plot out specifically which abilities are to be used, and on whom. As Shephard, you are able assign three abilities to quick access whereas party members can only be assigned one. This makes for a bit of strategic planning ahead of time, as not all abilities are effective on all types of enemies. The gunplay has seen a significant improvement, as well: firing a weapon feels much more satisfying now and it appears as though Bioware has taken a page from Epic Games' popular Gears of War series when it comes to the cover system. It feels very reminiscent of that pop-and-shoot type of gameplay that Gears made accessible.

Shephard is given access to multiple weapons right from the start of the game depending on the type of character class that is chosen, or imported from the first game. You'll gain the use of additional types of weapons as you progress through the game, but the necessity to level up weapon use as in the first game has been removed. Party members can only carry two types of weapons based on their class, although many characters seem to overlap in weapon types, so depending on your party makeup you may have both AI characters using the same exact weapons. This puts a slight downer on the variety, especially if you, yourself, are also using those same weapons.

Many enemies will also have various types of protective forces in their defense, and weapon types vary on their effectiveness on these barriers. This can sometimes become a little too frustrating when an enemy has two or three different types of shields, each of them weak to different weapons. Holding the X button, in addition to being able to reload by simply pressing it, will allow you to quick switch back to the last weapon you were using, but sometimes you'll have to open up the weapon wheel to switch in the midst of combat. It's no more time consuming than if you were to open up the abilities wheel, it just feels a bit needless at times having to switch between various weapons just to bypass a shield. It should be noted, however, that certain abilities can also be used to quickly dispose of an enemy's shield. All of this ties back into the strategic planning of party members.

Saving the Universe One Planet At a Time…

The progression in Mass Effect 2 is no different than your standard Bioware game; you set off from your starting point to recruit a handful of specially-selected fighters for your cause, and then you proceed to the ending. To expect otherwise after so many years would be silly. However, there is a limit to how much or how far that formula can go. In Bioware's other recent epic, Dragon Age: Origins, the recruitments were disguised within the actual plot of the game. You were sent off to gain the assistance of the foreign nations, and along the way you gained party members. In Mass Effect 2, almost the entirety of the game's plot revolves simply around going out and recruiting specific individuals. Along the way several actual-story related missions will pop up and you'll be forced into them, often against your own desires, but for the most part you'll be spending a great deal of time just finding your party.

As frustrating as that may be, the characters themselves more than make up for the annoyance it is to get them. The cast is so diverse and eccentric that you'll have a hard time finding anyone who isn't even in the slightest bit interesting and engaging to talk to. Each character also has his or her own loyalty mission which generally requires you to fight through a heavily-armed area to kill someone for him or her in order to gain their loyalty (and as a result, unlock a special ability and new outfit). Some loyalty missions are actually quite different, however; one such requires you to gain the attention of a renegade Asari by creating a stir inside a local bar, while another has you stalking someone in the rafters. The missions are not only beneficial for combat, but they're also terrific ways to learn more about and understand your crew.

When you're not fighting for your teammates, you're generally doing side missions gained from habitable planets, or, likely, scanning planets for minerals, which leads me to possibly the game's biggest flaw. In Mass Effect 2, you do not increase the effectiveness of weapons by leveling them up as you did in the first game. Instead, you acquire blueprints throughout the game, either in stores or found during missions, that will allow you to research new technology that improves your weapons, armor, ship capabilities, and sometimes will even allow you to make new weapons. The catch is that all of this researching requires minerals, one of four different types: Element Zero, Iridium, Platinum, and Palladium. You'll acquire some throughout your travels, but to gain even a remotely significant amount required for upgrading, you'll have to scan planets. This is by no means a fun or even somewhat enjoyable task. I might say it's a good improvement over the Mako travel from the first game, but that is not something worth bragging about.

Another gripe is the way the game handles leveling. On one hand, they've reconfigured the way it works so that now your entire party levels up at the same pace. However, the way experience is distributed is tacky and quite frankly insulting. You don't gain individual experience for killing enemies, you no longer gain experience for hacking safes or doors (which has also seen a minor change, but nothing worthy of spending time on), and you don't receive any exp for finding new codex updates. Instead, you only receive exp for completing side quests and major missions, and even then you don't actually receive the exp until the quest or mission is fully completed. At the conclusion of every mission you're given a report of your status which shows what types of minerals had been gathered, a quick summary of your mission, any possible blueprints you may have found, and it distributes the “reward” exp for completion. It feels very stifled, and for a game - and company - that seems to have tremendous diversity and creativity, to neglect something so simple is a shame.

It should also be pointed out that if you have a completed save file from the first Mass Effect, you will be allowed to import it into Mass Effect 2 to carry over all of your story developments. Character design and class is also transferred over but you'r given several opportunities to change both if you wish - what matters most, however, are the decisions you made previously, which will most certainly have a major effect on many aspects of Mass Effect 2. For those starting with a fresh character, you can choose from one of six classes. You'll find most of the same abilities carrying over, though many of them have seen a significant change in effectiveness, some for the good, others for the bad.

A Star-Studded Star Cluster…

As expected, the game boasts an incredible display of visuals vastly improved from its predecessor. The lighting is sleek and effective, facial expressions of characters is at times too realistic (for humans), and the level of detail that has gone into designing every inch of this game is impressive. Every world feels different from the last, a breath of fresh air compared to the first game's cookie-cutter planets. While many missions still loosely follow the same structure, you never feel like you've been through that same hallway before. The game's sound design is also quite impressive. Combat looks and sounds hectic, which adequately gives off the feeling of urgency, and the few space battles in the game are awesome.

And lest we forget the amazing array of voice talent assembled for this game. Sci-fi alum abound, fans of the genre are guaranteed to recognize more than a few names on this list: Tricia Helfer, Carrie Anne Moss, Adam Baldwin, Yvonne Strahovski, Steve Blum, Michael Hogan, an assortment of famed voice actors in minor roles such as Quinton Flynn, Yuri Lowenthal, Fred Tatasciore (who voiced Saren in the first game), and of course the great Martin Sheen as the Illusive Man. We can't neglect to mention Seth Green who returns to reprise his role as Joker, and once more does a remarkable job, as well as the talents of Jennifer Hale and Mark Meer who lend their voices to the female and male versions of Commander Shepard, respectively. If any game had the perfect-fitting voice cast, it would certainly be Mass Effect 2.

And The Verdict Is…

Mass Effect 2 is, without a doubt, a vast improvement over its predecessor. Enhanced combat mechanics, visuals, and a more diverse cast not only set it apart from the first game, but from all games of its type. The perfect assimilation of roleplaying and shooting set Mass Effect 2 in a whole other galaxy of gaming.

Pros: Terrific combat; excellent cast of characters; visuals are impressive and diverse, and the sound is engaging; tremendous amount of diversity

Cons: Scanning planets should never have existed; sloppy exp-distribution; some minor visual hiccups

The Final Verdict: 9.0/10
Just like its commanding officer, Mass Effect 2 once again comes out on top as a game that should not be reckoned with.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/16/10

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

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