Mass Effect 2 – The PS3 Attitude Review
In 2010, Mass Effect 2 amazed critics and gamers alike with its supposed brilliance. After a series of rumors and denials, the sequel to a trilogy that was once thought to be an Xbox 360 exclusive was announced for the PlayStation 3. Unfortunately, the first Mass Effect was published by Microsoft and that made the game impossible to port over to the PS3. To compensate for this loss, BioWare included a motion comic to bring gamers up to speed on the story. What makes the package even more enticing are the DLC missions included in the Blu-ray and an updated game engine.
Is Mass Effect 2 really as epic as people make it out to be? Is it even worth buying if you never played the first game?
Sometime after the Mass Effect 2 demo hit the PSN, I decided to dabble with the PC version of the first game. To me, it doesn’t make sense to play a sequel to a heavily story driven game without knowing at least something about the previous entry. I played Mass Effect for about 10 hours but then I received ME2 to review. I figured the Mass Effect Genesis comic would cover whatever I missed, so I decided to move on to the second game.
Oddly enough, the Genesis interactive comic is only available through the Cerberus Network, a downloadable add-on that’s included with all new copies of Mass Effect 2. This normally wouldn’t be a problem, but the code I received wasn’t active until the 18th, which was when the game launched in North America. So I waited until it worked to start my game. This seemed like a smart decision since I was under the impression that the comic was integral to the experience. I was quite wrong.
The Mass Effect Genesis comic is about fifteen minutes in length and it very briefly recaps some of the major plot points from Mass Effect. There are a total of six choices that you can make throughout the entire comic that carry over to Mass Effect 2. For example, you get to decide whether some people live or die. Most importantly, you get to choose if you want to romance one of your colleagues – a tough decision to make.
When you start Mass Effect 2 you are given a few options before the game begins. The most important choice is the gender of Commander Shepard, the main character of the game. Even though male Shepard is the dude on the box and in every promotional image , I highly recommend going female. While they ultimately are the same character overall, Jennifer Hale’s performance as Commander Shepard is simply unrivaled. At the very least, give her a try during a second or third playthrough.
After a short playable opening sequence, the Genesis comic will begin (assuming you installed the Cerberus Network download). BioWare does a serviceable job summarizing the events of Mass Effect, but it always feels like you’re missing out on something so much bigger. And it’s true, you are. With just 10 hours of Mass Effect clocked in on the PC, I knew more about the story than the comic could ever dream of describing. While this should be obvious, it’s important to know that Genesis is a severely gimped retelling of the first game. There is such a huge universe to explore in Mass Effect and you’ll be missing out on so much character growth by just jumping into ME2. The experiences of Commander Shepard are directly shaped by the player and this creates a special bond with the character. This is something that is impossible to get out of the comic. With that said, you’ll be fine jumping into the series with this game. It’s not like BioWare made Mass Effect 2 inaccessible to new players, so don’t worry. If anything, the situation is quite the opposite. Just be aware that you won’t fully understand or appreciate many of the references made to the previous title.
After comic sequence, you’re able to fully customize Shepard to your liking. This includes various facial features, hair, and skin color. Other choices are more important, such as your character’s pre-service history and psychological profile. These choices actually influence certain events in the game and can change the way your attributes are handled. For combat, there are six character classes to choose from – Soldier, Adept, Engineer, Vanguard, Sentinel, and Infiltrator. Each class has unique abilities to exploit that drastically change the way the game is played. Soldiers, for instance, are proficient with all weapon and their abilities focus on damage and defense. The Adept class uses the power of biotics as the main way to deal damage and wear enemies down. If you ever wanted to blast enemies away or pull them toward you with just the push of a button, you’ll love being a biotic. The variation in the class system alone is enough of a reason to replay Mass Effect 2 numerous times. I recommend choosing one of the more varied classes instead of going with a Soldier.
The gameplay in Mass Effect 2 provides a mixture of third person shooting and role playing to create one of the most captivating experiences I’ve ever had with a game. The writing is great, the voice acting is phenomenal, and the gameplay mechanics are top notch. What’s great about Mass Effect 2 is that the experience is what you make of it. If you want to skip the dialogue, you can do just that and make lazy choices all throughout. If you want to learn more about the story and the characters, you can expand conversations and get more out of your game. As a result, you’re shaping Shepard and the universe around you to your liking.
While the combat is mainly shooting based with a cover system, there are powers to manipulate. Throughout most of the game you’ll have two party members with you at all times. Controlling your squad is a pretty easy task since the AI takes care of shooting and movement on its own. The player is given the ability to tell squad members where to go, what weapons to equip, and what powers to use at that very moment. For the most part, unless you’re playing on the Insanity difficulty, the AI handles most situations well. It’s usually during more important firefights that you actually need to select skills for them to use to get things done efficiently. Combining biotic powers with your teammates is pretty satisfying since it’s possible to create devastating combos.
The radial dialogue system is perhaps one of the more interesting concepts in the game. During each dialogue sequence, Commander Shepard is given options for what to say and these shape conversations and how certain events play out. Generally there are at least two options to choose from, one that is neutral and one that is a bit aggressive. A good majority of the conversations will include more options, though, and these influence the Paragon and Renegade attributes. Basically, Paragon options are more righteous and can be seen as the “good guy” choices throughout the game. Renegade, on the other hand, is the “bad guy” approach with more violence and aggression.
In most games, there is a very clear line between what is right and what isn’t. You’re either a good or bad and the line is rarely blurred. That isn’t the case in Mass Effect 2. As you progress through the story you will find yourself making difficult decisions that can really change the outcome of the game and Shepard as a person. It’s a mature system that takes itself very seriously and it’s incredibly engaging. There are consequences to your actions or inactions and it really makes each playthrough as unique as you want it to be. It’s pretty neat that you don’t have to take a particular side either since the Paragon and Renegade meters build separately based on your decisions. It’s a realistic approach that you don’t really see in other games and it’s how the character of Shepard truly becomes your own.
Without going into any spoilers, the story in Mass Effect 2 basically revolves around Shepard building a team strong enough to defeat the latest threat to mankind. As you progress through the game you’ll need to recruit team members and upgrade your ship and characters to stand a chance during the final mission. Characters can die based on your actions, even Shepard. It really depends on how you play and how much effort you put into saving the galaxy and your crew. Dealing with consequences that are a direct result of your own abilities as a player is both terrifying and intriguing. During my first playthrough, one of my team members died in action. It was truly a devastating experience that made me feel sad, guilty, confused – human. There are very few games that ever made me feel that way (Suikoden being one of them). I actually cared about my crew and felt like it was my responsibility to bring them back alive. Things don’t always work out the way you’d like, though.
Recruiting members to your team is simple enough, but gaining their loyalty involves an additional step. The loyalty missions are generally pretty fun and most of them involve heavy combat. Since this version of Mass Effect 2 comes with all the DLC on the disc right from the start, I never actually noticed I was playing through any of it until much later. Each additional mission is seamlessly integrated into the game, as are the characters. Just make sure you play through the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. It contains some very memorable moments, and it’s importance is magnified if you played the first game.
Navigating your way through various planets is simple enough. Whenever there is a mission available you’ll know exactly where to go thanks to popup notifications on the map. When you’re not going to places already marked on the map, you can scan random planets for more resources to make the appropriate upgrades to your crew and the ship. Sometimes you’ll even find addition side missions to partake in. The side missions are nothing too fancy but they are a welcome addition nonetheless.
There are very little faults to be found in Mass Effect 2, many of which are very small points in the grand scheme of things. The first of which is the cover system. It’s just too clunky and robotic at times. This can cause a few problems during firefights, but it’s easy to overlook. The streamlined approach to leveling characters can also be seen as too basic, but it gets the job done for the most part. It’s nothing complex or time consuming and this keeps you always in the action and not fiddling through menus. Another sore spot is the frame rate at times, especially during the later parts of the game when the action is more intense. The frame drops don’t make the game playable, but they are noticeable. For the most part, the game runs well on the PS3. It should be noted that there is a 4GB mandatory install that takes less than 30 minutes to complete.
My first throughout lasted 35 hours and I wanted more. The end game content left me pretty unsatisfied since I seemed to have done every obvious task. Thankfully, there is an option to start the game over with your stats carried over from your first through. This will give you even more bonuses as a result. As with the first title for the PC and 360, data from Mass Effect 2 can be imported to Mass Effect 3. Just make sure you don’t get the worse ending possible since you can’t continue Shepard’s adventure if the character died in action.
There is a lot of eye candy in Mass Effect 2. Character models look phenomenal, environments are unique and interesting to explore, and there’s always something new to see. It’s really a sensory overload of awesome. The amount of polish added throughout the entire game is amazing, especially considering the scope of the title. At the end of this review you’ll find a plethora of screenshots I captured myself from my playthrough of the game. Be sure to check those out.
The music in ME2 is once again composed by the legendary video game composer, Jack Wall. The soundtrack is really in a league of its own with its constant barrage of epicness. It’s definitely one of the top video game soundtracks released in quite some time. Shortly after completing the game, I purchased the music from Amazon just so I could take the Mass Effect 2 experience with me everywhere I go. I love being able to revisit a game through its music and Mass Effect 2’s soundtrack is as memorable as the game itself. It’s worth noting that Christopher Lennertz composed the music for the Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. Don’t think that there is any unevenness with the quality of music as a result, because that would just be untrue. In fact, Lair of the Shadow Broken features some of the best music in the entire game.
Mass Effect 2 is a brilliant game that deserves every bit of praise it received over the last year. With an engaging story shaped by your actions, tons of replay value, amazing character designs, and awesome gameplay mechanics, there’s just so much to experience in this game. The best part? You’ll never want to stop playing. It’s just a shame that you can’t play through the entire series from start to end on the PS3. Regardless, Mass Effect 2 still manages to hold its own as a superb stand alone title that I couldn’t recommend more. BioWare crafted what is undoubtedly one of the finest games ever made. It’s personal, it’s epic, and it’s a remarkable achievement for gaming. Truly a masterpiece that will never be forgotten – a must have for any gamer.