Mass Effect 2 continues the adventures of the James Kirk-esque Commander Shepard in the late 22nd century, where humans have developed interstellar space travel and now share a spot on the galactic political stage with several other species. Though Mass Effect 1 is and will likely always be exclusive to the XBox 360 and PC, there is an interactive comic at the beginning of ME2 that brings PS3 players up to speed.
At the beginning of ME2, Shepard’s starship, the Normandy, is attacked by the Collectors, a hive-minded insect-like race. Though Shepard is able to evacuate the crew, he is killed. Well, sorta. Flash forward a few years, and Shepard is resurrected by Cerberus, a human-rights organization with terrorist tendencies. At this point, you have the option to use the default male or female Shepard or create your own character. I always prefer to create my own Shepard, but to each their own. You will also select Shepard’s combat style to suit your tastes, i.e., weapons, biotics, engineering, or a combination of different styles. The various combat styles will determine what weapons and biotic abilities your Shepard can use. For example, a soldier can use assault rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles and will rely less on offensive biotic ability whereas a biotic will rely less on weapons and more on physical abilities (very similar to magic in other RPGs).
After surviving an assault on the research facility where he/she was resurrected (which also serves as a gameplay tutorial), Shepard meets Cerberus’ leader, The Illusive Man (a chain-smoking Martin Sheen), who immediately puts Shepard to work.
After an initial mission, the galaxy is opened for Shepard and his crew to explore in the all-new Cerberus-designed Normandy. From there, you can explore at your leisure. There is a main story path, revolving around Shepard assembling a crew to strike back at the Collectors, and there are several side missions. The side missions are optional, but they allow you to gain valuable experience to level up Shepard and his crew and increase their respective abilities, which will make the story missions easier. Most of the side missions are brief. The PS3 version also includes downloadable missions 360 owners had to purchase individually except for the newest mission, which was just released March 29th. Most are available at the outset, although “Lair of the Shadow Broker” is not. Once you assemble your crew and spend some time speaking with them, you will earn the opportunity to undertake “loyalty” missions for each character. These missions flesh
out each character’s background, unlock additional abilities and a new costume and increase that character’s odds of surviving the final mission. Though ME2 allows you to choose the order in which you complete the story and side missions, there is a point of no return about 80 percent of the way into the game where, if you do not go almost immediately to the main story missions, you risk losing some or all of the Normandy’s crew.
ME2 plays much more action-heavy than its predecessor. With a heavy emphasis on run ‘n’ gun and firing/reloading from cover, ME2 plays very similar to Gears of War and Transformers: War for Cybertron and is a significant departure from the RPG feel of the original. The fire/cover/reload mechanic can get slightly repetitive over the 30+ hours you will spend playing, but it never gets annoying and it is necessary to survive the waves of enemies you will face. During combat, Shepard is accompanied by two crew members of your choosing. You can map one of each character’s biotic/ammo powers to the left and right cross keys and pick each character’s weapon. Usually, there is little need to fool with it, since the computer usually does a good job of selecting and using the appropriate weapons and biotics. Though the crew members are AI-controlled, they usually function well and do not get in the way. There is a great deal of diversity in the types of
crew members you can select, and you will invariably develop favorite characters. The only negative aspect of the gameplay is the planet mining, a necessary evil to obtain resources to upgrade the characters and the Normandy. I preferred the Mako missions in ME1, but if you have some music or podcasts (thanks, Mike O’Meara Show and Big O and Dukes), it makes the time pass a little faster.
The graphics are outstanding and bring Bioware’s incredible universe to life. You will travel to dozens of planets, asteroids and spaceships, and each is rendered in great detail. Though some of the side missions are repetitive, the environments are diverse and varied, which is a far cry from ME1, where several planets and environments tended to look similar to one another. The music and sound effects are also outstanding. This is a game begging to be played with an optical cable and home theater.
It is rare that a sequel upstages the original game in every way. It is even rarer when the original game was outstanding. Yet that is what ME2 manages to do. Bioware went too far in the other direction in removing the RPG elements from the original, but ME2 is an outstanding game that will be remembered when people talk about the greatest titles on PS3. The story is phenomenal and will keep you glued to your TV for the 40+ hours it takes to explore every nook and cranny. If you are a fan of action, sci-fi or RPG games and love a great story, you owe it to yourself to pick up ME2 today. Be prepared to spend many late nights on the sofa. — Pedro Moreno
Score: 10/10 Little Goombas