Mass Effect 2

Posted on June 23, 2010

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There’s always a special peanut gallery dedicated to the sole purpose of tearing down reviews for comparing a sequel to the first game. While looking at Mass Effect 2 however, that peanut gallery will have to rest their wagging fingers and stiff upper lips, as this sequel evolves the sequel in video games.

You might be saying, “All sequels correlate with the original game, dummy!” Yes, they do, but not like ME2. A typical sequel will be a mixture of tweaked game mechanics, new features, improved graphics, and progressing the story. But sequels never port the main character and  the outcome of the story from the first game created by the player. A typical sequel will have a linear connection from game to game or  jump time forward and use a new main character. ME2’s story is dictated by the decisions you make in ME1. And if you didn’t play ME1, or want to start fresh, that’s cool too as Bioware creates a past for you. 

In short, ME2 bring your unique universe from the first game to the second–which puts this sequel in a class of its own. For those comparing ME2 to ME1, you won’t miss anything Bioware slipped from the sequel (such as roaming planets with the Mako). Blue-blooded RPG fans will miss the customizable loadouts, but ME2’s loadout-lite is enough to get RPG fans by.

There’s a lot going on in ME2. Between playing psychiatrist for squad mates, freelancing your badassery to the galaxy’s underworld, and saving the universe from decimation, Commander Shephard’s day planner is packed. With all the side missions and distractions, you may not be able to tell the difference between Reapers and Collectors by the end of the game. But, that’s okay. ME2 still makes it easy to get drawn into the story. And let’s face it–gamers are desensitized. You may not know the canon cover to cover, but you will feel the weight of the world on Commander Shephard’s shoulders–which is a feather in Bioware’s cap.

For those who don’t give a hoot about story and just want to put pissed off aliens on ice, the  dynamic gameplay incorporates a trifecta of cover-based shooting with Jedi-like powers and squad-based tactics. Cover-based shooting turns into a fireworks display when combined with special powers. Mastering Biotic and Tech powers augments the trigger squeezing. Freeze, fry, toss, slam, and blast baddies to your heart’s desire. And when that gets boring, combine powers to treat enemies like your personal test dummies.

My personal favorite, punching frozen enemies, shatters aliens to little alien bits. Who wouldn’t want to explode an alien ice sculpture with your bare hands? Delightful. Also, Bioware swapped out grenade disks for heavy weapons like a flame thrower and laser. Thank you, Bioware!

In the middle of gunfire, I would have liked to see my AI compadres react a little better. Often, I’d catch a teammate standing on top of cover–getting blasted and not returning fire–rather than covering. They’re guns, for the most part, may as well have been water guns for all they were used. Instead of having a true squad of intergalactic warriors, squad mates are best used manually by the player for their special powers. That’s nice, but we need a little more intelligence behind the AI.

While irrational on the battlefield, teammates came to life during dialogues. Each and every character in the game–even the ship’s AI–has a unique personality that adds a dimension to ME2 that most other games do not even attempt. It’s a testament to how action games do not have to rely solely on blood and guts.

Because Bioware created a universe that reacts to the decisions of the player, every action taken (or rejected) shifts the makeup of the galaxy. Neglected to help an innocent no-name while saving a planet from destruction? Guess what: that dude died because you were chasing bigger game, and his death is going to come full circle on you at some point. It’s a completionists dream come true.

Not only do the little people hang in the balance, your team is at your mercy as well. And for once, even the untouchable PC himself can die–and not the kind of dying where you respawn at a checkpoint. DIE die. Now, who doesn’t want a piece of that action? 

I don’t know if it’s a strength or a weakness, but ME2’s dialogue and branching storylines are more exciting and alive than the fighting. Not that the action isn’t fun and compelling, but ME2 is different breed of action. Shooting things is an overplayed mechanic in video games, so it’s a revelation to see storylines and dialogue getting along with mowing down hundreds of enemies. 

ME2 evolves the gaming experience past mindless shooting. There is a deeper reward behind ME2 than other games almost akin to reading your favorite book. Wait, video games creating emotional responses similar to reading? I must have lost my marbles.

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Posted in: Reviews