Quickie: As a result of the successful synergy of the common flu virus with the cells in my throat, I now have a deep, husky voice guaranteed to make any lady swoon. As if I wasn’t charming enough already. *chuckles*
(This game review was written with the help of fellow gamer, Brian Woon!)
Two years after Commander Shepard repelled invading Reapers bent on the destruction of organic life, a mysterious new enemy has emerged. On the fringes of known space, something is silently abducting entire human colonies. Now Shepard must work with Cerberus, a ruthless organization devoted to human survival at any cost, to stop the most terrifying threat mankind has ever faced.
To even attempt this perilous mission, Shepard must assemble the galaxy’s most elite team and command the most powerful ship ever built. Even then, they say it would be suicide. Commander Shepard intends to prove them wrong.
Improving upon its predecessor by leaps and bounds, Mass Effect 2 is a stellar space opera epic that will enrapture you with its tight gameplay, expansive character interactions and open-ended storyline.
Commander Shepard’s the kind of hero who’s seen it all – a strange race hellbent on destroying all life, the world a hair’s width away from total annihilation, the salvation of all and sundry. Despite all that hard work though, it seems someone is still out there looking to tear the galaxy a new one.
Naturally, Shepard is not expected to be able to save the world once more as a one-man army. Thus, a galaxy-wide search begins for the most skilled individuals to be recruited into a task force under Shepard’s command.
As straight-forward as the story may seem, the open-ended nature of the game allows you to recruit your squad in the order of your choosing, with key missions interspersed at integral moments to move the plot forward. Stumbling across random planets may also give you new side missions to accomplish for bonus experience and loot.
The high point about Mass Effect 2 is that these characters you recruit into your squad are hardly the two-dimensional throwaways you’d find in other squad-based games. Each person has his or her own backstory and personal motivations about why they’re getting involved in the fight with you.
As you progress in the game, you actually gain a deeper insight into each character via long conversations with each of them in between missions. Conversations can turn out as a heated debate about ethics in warfare, a lament about the state of galactic politics, or even a light-hearted chat about the good old days.
The option to pursue romance among your squadmates further adds another layer of interactivity with them. Interestingly, romance is portrayed rather convincingly. It may even elicit a chuckle or two from you – especially where interspecies relationships are involved!
Conversations also play a huge part in the majority of the game, where the responses you provide could have dramatic effects on how the game plays out. For instance, do you allow your squadmate to violently dispatch a former associate, or do you choose to intervene and keep the associate alive?
These ‘good’ and ‘bad’ decisions that you make are represented by the corresponding ‘Paragon’ and ‘Renegade’ scores, which reflect what kind of a person you’ve been throughout your game. These scores also affect what kind of responses you’re allowed to make in future, as well as change certain characters’ perceptions of you as the game progresses.
Interestingly, you will have the option of performing ‘Interrupts’ during certain conversations or action sequences. Like conversations, these contribute to your Paragon or Renegade score depending on the type of Interrupt you’ve performed, but they add a whole new dynamic to specific interactions by virtue of being able to cut in as you see fit.
Although the meat of the gameplay rests in the interactions between Shepard and the other denizens of the galaxy, there will be plenty of occasions where negotiations will break down, leading to all-out battle. If you’ve played the first Mass Effect, you’ll notice that combat has been streamlined to make it more manageable and fluid.
Being an RPG, Mass Effect 2 does have a pause option that you can employ mid-combat to assign orders to your squadmates. For novices to the genre, this feature will prove invaluable as you familiarize yourself to the simple and intuitive interface.
Additionally, you can still select two squadmates to tag along on missions, but each squadmate now only has access to two weapon types and a maximum of three special abilities. While this may seem oddly limiting in the beginning, later on you will begin to appreciate the tactical value of employing the right squad member in the right situation. Having less weapons and special abilities to manipulate also allows you to make decisions faster and allows for more natural combat.
The inventory and upgrades systems have also undergone an overhaul of sorts. The clunky, long lists of potential weapons and upgrades available to each individual squad member are all but a distant memory now.
Inventory is limited to a smaller, much more manageable list of weapons, while upgrades have been made global and are divided into several distinct categories, including upgrades for your ship as well as specialized weapons and tools for certain squad members. Granted, they’re not perfect but the new systems are a vast improvement over Mass Effect’s trying efforts.
In terms of your own weapons and armor, your customization is limited to the weapon types you have on hand. With armor, you’re able to customize your gear at lockers available only in specific areas. You can only equip those types of armor you have purchased from vendors throughout the galaxy, which each armor piece providing a unique benefit or stat boost.
Let’s face it, Mass Effect 2 is a stunning game, presentation-wise. Character facial animations match the appropriate emotions most of the time, while certain scenes have an especially cinematic feel to them due to superb camera angles and background music. Every incident seems to have a score written specifically for it alone, and it does wonders in setting the overall dark, brooding tone of the game.
And enough simply cannot be said about the degree to which you will find yourself emotionally attaching to your fellow squad members. With so many memorable characters voiced to such a degree of realism – the hyperactive super-logical Mordin and the violent ultra-bitchy Jack being my favorites – you will be hard-pressed not to care for any of them come the game’s final conclusion. Not all of your squadmates may survive the climactic ending, and you will certainly come to regret every sacrifice as it is made.
If you still haven’t run out to buy the game at this point, it must be said yet again that Mass Effect 2 is an outstanding experience in its own right. Even divorced from its predecessor, it is a stellar game that excels in nearly every aspect. From the rich, layered story to the intriguing cast of characters and tight gameplay mechanics, this is an RPG unlike any other. Personally, you would do well to get your hands on the first Mass Effect, if only to truly appreciate the sheer scale of awesomeness that Mass Effect 2 embodies.
Pros: Rich backstory and plot, first-class voice acting and dialogue, streamlined combat and inventory management interface.
Cons: Repetitive planet-scanning sections, leaves you hungering for Mass Effect 3.