Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: 26th January 2010
Other Formats: PC
Sequels, don't you just love 'em? It gives chance for developers to refine their techniques with the engine, further expanding on their game worlds or creating more fluid and dynamic game mechanics. It's the reason why Nathan Drake's second adventure went from being a flawed gem with Drake's Fortune to one of the most ambitious and entertaining rides yet for the PS3. Another game, Assassin's Creed, was met with scepticism and polarity in critical response for its mundane repetitive nature of tasks, however upon laying down the sequel's design, Ubisoft Montreal dually noted down what needed to change, and again, a much more fulfilling experience could be had. It shows studio experience and fan feedback working at its best and it's here that the team at Bioware can be given credit in making Mass Effect 2 everything that Mass Effect could have been, and more.
By no means a bad first effort, Mass Effect was a strong title, albeit slightly let down in a few areas. To name but a few; the dull task of exploring planets with the 'Mako', the stunted cover system, and the long trips at the umbrage of the elevator (which is neatly poked fun at throughout the game). In laying down the sequel, the Mako has been trashed, loading screens have replaced the idle animation of the elevator, and the cover system has been refined into something equal to the quality of triple-A shooters- fluid, dynamic and appealing.
With the original game featuring around 20 cover animation moves for Shepherd, the much more substantial set of 200 for the sequel has meant the cover system feels smooth and well handled. Sliding into cover smartly with the 'A' button is no longer frustrating, whilst the gun play feels forever powerful and easy to get to grips with, the 'over-the-shoulder' system giving suitable power to the action. Heavy weapons are also now an included part of your weapon set, with grenades being replaced, whilst the “tech powers” system is smoothly integrated via a hold of 'RB' required to select the appropriate power (anything from the powerful “Concussive shot” to ammo which can affect the damage of bullets.) It's the expected depth that science fiction can provide such a shooter and Bioware works with it well, all powers also upgradeable through the application of “skill points” which are awarded on completion of missions. Weapons, armour, and the trusty Normandy- with Joker still at the helm- can also be upgraded with tech blueprints that scatter the planets in Mass Effect's rich universe, and will indeed need to be sufficiently researched if you wish to have a successful conclusion to the epic storyline.
Things that were excellent within the first game remain and are still fantastic. Hence, the complex dialogue system is still core to Mass Effect as a whole, lending suitable weight and gravity to the choices that you make throughout, whilst the inclusion of the “interrupt” system that allows the player to alter the progression of a scene in relation to their paragon or renegade standing is brilliantly implemented and cinematic in of itself, even if it is under-used. New characters are introduced and old faces return (you can also import your ME1 character where choices made in the first game are referenced), Bioware again showing skill in delivering a superb cast, each given often tragic, flawed back-stories that lend suitable gravitas to each personality on show- from Grunt's exclusion at the behest of his kind, or Jack's troubling childhood. You will feel for these characters, you will care what happens- Bioware's experience keenly in conjunction.
A more streamlined experience can be had at the hands of Mass Effect 2 than was afforded in the first. In removal of core RPG mechanics- the array of ammo types have been replaced with a sole ammunition, in addition to the newly-redesigned health system, which goes for a more modern game design approach with a re-generating health bar, in removal of ME's “medi-gel” option (here only used to revive squad members), the game as a whole feels much more forgiving and accomplished than the first, although I'm sure many RPG fans will disagree! I was also surprised at how well implemented the new 'mining' addition was handled, which allows the Normandy to gather minerals from planet surfaces- requiring the user to scan the planet with the cursor until waves on the oscilloscope flux, thus releasing probes in order to collect the aforementioned minerals. Disregarding the negativity scaled at its inclusion, I felt that it had its room within the game and was a simple and necessary distraction.
Dripping with cinematic dexterity, Bioware have done their best to lift the action quota in the sequel. The film-like surface, with added camera angles in dialogue adding tension and weight to the gargantuan and absorbing narrative- this being the second in the planned trilogy- that sees Shepherd recruited by the mysterious “Cerberus” network, tasked with halting the plans of the brutal “Collectors”. The richly developed and intriguing characters (the mysterious “Illusive Man” a particular highlight) keenly lent a hand with the impressive voice acting on show (with a reported 25,000 lines of dialogue, no less). No less deserving of its plaudits is the beautifully crafted and eloquent orchestral score, composed by Jack Wall, infusing the action on display with suitable backing- continually triumphant in matching the required tone.
Yes, Mass Effect 2 is one of the games of the year, released in the first month of said year. It has refined and succeeded the first with passing colours, delivering a truly remarkable experience. The rich philosophy and insanely detailed universe is still there for all to consume in the reams of “codex” pages, whilst the story is sublime in setting up its conclusion. Bring on the third, I can't wait.