MASS EFFECT 2 (XBOX 360)
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay Mass Effect 2 is that-a day after completing it-I’m sitting here thinking about members of my crew that did not make it through the game’s harrowing final mission. I’m missing those characters and trying to think what I could have done to get them through the last stage of our journey together. Mass Effect 2 is a fantastic game that improves in every way over the original (which given how good ME1 is, might be a better compliment than my opener…shoot topped myself).
ME2 continues the story of Commander Shepherd, and by “continue” I mean that quite literally. While you can start anew, the game gives you the option to import your last ME1 save off your hard drive and, with it, all the choices and ramifications of your decisions in the last game. If a character died in ME1, you won’t see it in the sequel. However, if you made a different choice, and the character lived, don’t be surprised to see familiar faces from your old crew pop up as you journey through the galaxy. I’m sitting on my couch playing a game in 2010 and decisions I made back in 2007 when I played Mass Effect are effecting my gameplay. In 2013 the same process will happen with Mass Effect 3. This customization of story creates replay value not only for ME2 but for all the games in the series. Choices have consequences in this world.
“Universe” rather, because that’s what BioWare has developed here. This universe is so deep and so interesting that it can stand along Star Trek and Star Wars. Those are the only comparable fictional scifi universes that have the depth, complexity, and history of Mass Effect’s. It’s only a matter of time before this property is turned into a TV or movie franchise and with Avatar giving Hollywood scifi fever, it won’t be long.
While some familiar faces from ME will be joining you again, you’ll spend the majority of the game recruiting and gaining the loyalty of a brand new crew for the game’s mission. The characters are diverse and memorable. You spend a lot of time talking in BioWare games, but it’s a tribute to how well the dialogue and story are written that it never feels like a chore to check in with a crewmate and learn more about their past. Vastly improved are the physical movements of the characters during conversations. They don’t merely stand and talk mechanically. Characters gesture, they move around, slump against nearby objects, and interact with the surroundings in a way that makes the conversation much more realistic.
Gameplay is much more like shooter than the first game. There’s nothing at all wrong with this as sometimes you felt like a spectator during the combat in ME1. It’s easy to control the actions of your squadmates or you can trust the AI to handle them and focus on Shepherd’s actions. There’s less customization and RPG elements evident in the combat. You’ll only earn XP for completing missions, but the achievements are such that you feel rewarded for exploring the different combat options and progressing your weapons and skills. Mass Effect didn’t have many flaws, but BioWare addressed all of them. Repetitive side missions? Gone and replaced by a good variety of rabbit trails to chase. The graphics are updated and look extremely sharp. The biggest complaint by far was the number of elevators that the first game used to load new areas. There are no elevators. The elevators are gone. Loading screens take their place, but you’ll see an overview of the area you’re in and the progress of the characters to the new section, which is a whole lot better than awkwardly staring and your squad during interminable elevator rides.
While fantastic, the game is not perfect. There has to be a better way to harvest minerals (which you’ll need to upgrade the ship, weapons, and character skills) than slowly scanning planets and launching probes. I finished my playthrough in 39 hours and somehow the game felt short to me. I wanted to land on all of those planets and I’m so convinced by the game’s universal depth that I can’t believe there aren’t adventures waiting down there for me to have. My complaints, though, are quibbles. Mass Effect 2 has laid down an early gauntlet for Game of the Year. It’s an addictive, engrossing gaming experience that no gamer can pass up.