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Mass Effect 2 Review

Review; Jan. 27, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Kyle James Hovanec
Video games finally have their Empire Strikes Back

Mass Effect 2 is sequel that takes nearly everything that didn’t work about its prequel and fixes it. It’s a sequel that not only builds upon the framework set by the original, but makes the first relevant by enriching it with what was already a large and robust universe made even bigger. This is one of the first video games I’ve ever played in which the number 2 in the title is truly justified. This is an integral part to the Mass Effect storyline, and regardless of your opinion of the story, it is undeniable that the world and game play has been upgraded for the better.

Mass Effect 2 Screenshots
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Mass Effect 2 takes place a few months after the original, picking up with Commander Shepard and crew exploring a region of the galaxy to hunt the down the remaining Geth that survived after the climax at the Citadel. It’s one of the most dramatic and gripping openings you’ll ever see in a video game. Fast forward two years later, and you’re back in action. Your crew has split up, you’re looking for answers, under new employment, and facing a new threat even more dangerous than the Geth. Mass Effect 2 hits the ground running, and soon, you’ll be have a new crew (with some familiar faces from the first title) and thrust into a mission to recruit the galaxy’s most dangerous warriors in a race against time to form a team strong enough to fight back against the Collectors, a race of aliens recruited by the Reapers to invade and kidnap human colonists. Not only does Commander Shepard have to worry about the safety of his crew, but he must solve the mystery of the Collectors -- and, thus, get more back story of the Protheans as well. Like the first game, one of the greatest joys is exploring the galaxy and interacting with the diverse alien species. There are plenty more planets to explore and more interactivity among both central and side characters.

Each of the characters are well written and thought out. Whether it’s a returning character from the first game or a newcomer, each character has his or her own motives and needs to be addressed. Each also has his or her own loyalty mission, which, upon completion, gains each character new abilities -- as well as a look into his or her back story. It was a joy to learn more and more about the people Shepard deals with -- you begin to care about them a great deal. While one character may appear to be a hardened soldier, he may reveal a troubled past with his estranged son. Another may appear to be a raging psychopath, but will reveal a tragic and sad past. Each character has such an in-depth background, you’ll go out of your way to accomplish each loyalty mission, and you will feel terrible if tragedy strikes any of them.

The famous dialog option of most Bioware games is here, but with an upgrade. Some conversations will briefly give the option of hitting the left or right triggers to do a “paragon” or “renegade” action. These actions range from stopping a team mate from killing someone to shooting someone before he finishes his sentence. It adds yet another layer of options and helps enhance the sense of morality you only got a taste of in the first Mass Effect. Your actions and dialog choices have an even bigger impact on your interaction with characters this time, and it’s intriguing to see your teammates give you the cold shoulder if you’re acting like a jerk or become more personal if you’ve been a good and benevolent leader. Of course, you can still do everything in between and walk the fine line between hero and anti-hero. If you can think it, you can do it. Everyone’s Shepard will be different.

Mass Effect 2 takes the third-person shooter perspective from the first title and fixed all of the problems. No longer do you have to worry about taking cover in time as your character will snap to cover much more responsively. The aiming is much more responsive as well, with any class you choose being able to handle gun play efficiently. Combine this with your biotic powers, and combat is an actual joy rather than a minor annoyance as it was in the first game. You still can’t individually control your team mates -- at least on the Xbox version -- but the slick combat makes up for this fact.

Mass Effect 2 Screenshots
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No RPG would be complete without side quests, and Mass Effect 2 has an abundance of them. Fixing one of the major flaws from the first title, the sequel allows you to have a variety of side quests options that go beyond simple shoot-'em-ups. Some require you to retrieve an object; some ask you to navigate a crumbling ship, and some require you to make your way across a lava-filled world. With the addition of DLC missions, side quests, and the constantly updating Cerberus Network* (with some ripped from the headlines of parody news updates), the amount of content to explore is astounding.

As well made as Mass Effect 2 is, it is not a perfect game. The actual exploration of any and all planets is no longer an option -- you simply scan each of them for minerals, and sometimes you'll happen to discover an anomaly that allows you to start a mini-side quest, but those are few and far between and also far too brief. Even though exploring planets was occasionally boring in the first game, it was more engaging than simply scanning each planet. The sequel should have built on the exploration of the first and made planetary exploration more exciting, but instead it simplified it to the point of being a waste of time and utterly uninteresting. 

Second, while the third-person game play is well done, more situations should have gone beyond simple shooting. With such a diverse galaxy to explore, some other options beyond shooting and talking would have been nice. More weapon variety and modifications would have been welcome as well. The first game may have had a mess of an inventory system, but it was something which could have easily been fixed. Instead, customization is all but absent, and in its place, we get stock weapons which cannot be modified. Some would argue that this is streamlined game play. I call it lazy game play.

Despite the flaws, the strengths are undeniable; Mass Effect is an amazing experience. Sci fi, shooter, and RPG fans should find plenty here to like, and with your data carrying over from the first game, Mass Effect 2 is the sequel that completes a satisfying second act and should lead the way to an action-packed conclusion with Mass Effect 3 this fall. This is sci fi and video games at near storytelling and game play perfection. Regardless of the platform, play Mass Effect 2.

*The Cerberus Network for Xbox 360 is no longer online and active, but the entire collection of its posts can be read online.

Comments

Review Score
9.6

Mature

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

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