Posted on April 22, 2010 by GRIM
Available at Amazon.com
Another sequel and another one with a lot to live up to. Mass Effect 2 was, somewhat, overshadowed by the release of the hotly anticipated Dragon Age: Origins. While ME2 is a solid sequel much as with my review of Bioshock 2 I felt a sense of mild disappointment – not that this stopped me playing it all the way through quite rapidly. ME2 is a solid game and is, in my opinion, superior to the more lauded and praised Dragon Age, perhaps due to the fact that Science Fiction is a more free and wide-ranging genre without the similar sort of strictures and expectations – even demands – that the fantasy genre has.
The game opens with a hell of a kicker, the Normandy investigating missing vessels and encountering an enormous and deadly vessels that cuts clean through her defenses and destroys the ship, including – apparently – killing Shepherd, the main character. Given that you’ve just imported your old game details that’s a bit of a fright. Fortunately, that’s not the end of it.
When you awaken you find yourself scarred and apparently rebuilt by high end cybernetic and biological technology, shockingly this resurrection has happened at the hands of Cerberus, a pro-human terrorist organization that you fought against in the first game. You’re plunged right into action with the Cerberus facility under attack from subverted robots. Once that problem is dealt with and you’ve shaken the dust off your skills the story proper begins.
Cerberus has resurrected you to look into raids on outlying human colonies by The Collectors, more agents of the Reapers, as the Geth had been, but – strangely – biologically oriented. Human forces are failing to address the issue and the galaxy is still reeling from their previous war with the Geth and the revelation of the Reapers so Cerberus has decided to go ahead with their own, secret war and investigation while the authorities cover up the existence of The Reapers and try to piece galactic society back together.
The Normandy 2, an uprated copy of the Normandy, is unveiled – put together by Cerberus – and you take on a crew of misfits, terrorists and old friends to investigate and thwart The Collectors and to gather intelligence on The Reapers, all the while interfering in the path of key figures and key societies throughout the Galaxy.
Gameplay is broadly the same as in Mass Effect but it has been dumbed down considerably when it comes to inventory, weapon management and customization. Hunting for minerals is no longer accomplished by driving over the surface in the Mako (I seem to have been alone in liking this, though most worlds were blank, uninteresting slates) and this has been replaced by a MORE tedious scanning game of hot/cold. One last addition is the inclusion of special, heavy weapons though I found that I wasn’t using them very often.
Mass Effect 2 still has the atmosphere of a late 70s, early 80s, semi-serious (plausible rather than hard-SF) world and this is seen throughout the artwork and graphics as well as in the text background on the various species. There is still an unfortunate tendency to make most of the aliens into distorted humans but there are a few genuinely alien species that break that up.
The dialogue is the winner here for creating atmosphere, each character feels like they do have their own personality and your interactions are meaningful and interesting. The tangled webs of romance, jealousy and friendship draw you in to caring about the characters and even feeling like a heel for leading one girl on and then choosing another.
This is a clean, optimistic future for the most part but the people within it remain grubby and keep it interesting, preventing it from becoming a blank and uninteresting utopia. A skillful balance.
The graphics are very good when it comes to the character models with natural movement and good detail. A slight improvement on the original Mass Effect. The outdoor sequences on planets are particularly well done but there is a distinct lack of the ‘human touch’ to many of the internal sequences. While this aids atmosphere and calls back to the period upon which the images appear to be based, it can come across as ‘cheap’ in terms of the graphics, too simplistic, too blank.
ME2 is an honorable entry into the sequence but it largely feels like a stepping stone to Mass Effect 3, coming next year. The carrying of decisions from one installment to the next is excellent and makes you fret – even more so – about every decision and every conversation point, making you buy into the narrative much more than you otherwise might. Even so, the slight dumbing down and the replacement of the driving/searching sections with a boring minigame are severe strikes against it. Hopefully ME3 will get things exactly right and make an excellent game into a perfect game.
Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough