Reviewed: February 9, 2011
Released: January 18, 2011
Commander Shepard has returned to save the galaxy again only this time it’s on an unexpected system. PlayStation 3 owners get their first taste of the critically acclaimed franchise with the rather unexpected release of Mass Effect 2. PS3 owners receive a marginally superior version of the already released 360 sequel, while the original firmly remains a 360 exclusive. Since owning my PS3 I’ve noticed that there have been a good number of non-native sequels to the Sony brand, but I can easily say that Mass Effect 2 is one of if not the most impressive of them.|
Following the stellar performance of the original, Mass Effect 2 follows the continuation of Commander Shepard’s “routine mission” to seek out any remaining signs of the galaxy’s greatest threat. For those of you out there who are unfamiliar with the original epic space opera, or it’s events you’re not going to be completely left out of the loop…well sort of left out. The PS3 version offers the most complete package including an interactive back-story comic, “Mass Effect: Genesis”, that does a decent job at giving PS3 owners a taste of previous events complete with some crucial game defining choices. While this does affect your overall story and such as old teammates, it doesn’t really give you a true sense of involvement and immersion.
The story really kicks off after Shepard saves several key members of his crew aboard the Normandy before he/she is tragically sucked into space. Two years pass and Shepard is brought back to life (with a few extra bits) by the not-so loved Cerberus organization. Players can choose to experience this epic adventure as either the customary male lead or shake things up a bit and play as a female Shepard. This will affect the relationship choices and as well as some available story dialogue choices I believe depending on the circumstances.
Whatever you choose I can assure you that you will have a lot more crucial decisions to make as the story progresses though this amazing story that is one of the most emotionally and atmospherically charged that I’ve played in the last few years. Part of this is because of the extremely well written dialogue and with a story as big as this one it’s a major achievement in itself.
The original Mass Effect contained an almost motley crew comprised of the best humans and aliens in their chosen fields. Mass Effect 2 brings back that same squad mood as only Shepard can pick’em. Back are old favorites like Garrus and Tali as well as some dangerous and intriguing recruits such as Jack and Thane Krios. Completing certain loyalty missions make for some interesting conflicts and only those lucky enough will be able to defuse these moments and ultimately secure you tricky trophy.
Mass Effect 2’s gameplay this time around has shifted to a more shooter-based adventure but still retains much of the RPG elements that made the original so amazing. Combat is much same with various notable changes including the removal of the weapons cooling system in favor of ammo based mechanics as well as a more refined aiming system on certain weapons. I’m also a huge fan of the new push button cover system, compared to the awkward R3 toggle from the first release. Players can ever vault waist high cover to quickly move around in combat. Medi-gels have been repurposed as a means to revive downed squad mates thanks to the newly implemented regenerating health bar, which is a very nice change from the previous title.
The weapons selection is however is greatly less customizable, relying more on ammo powers like disrupter and warp ammo. Each of the weapon classes feature a number of weapons that differ in their own way and it may take you several play runs to use them all depending on your career choice. Weapons are not the only thing to receive an upgrade as several new tech and biotic powers have been introduced to the series. Powers like Warp, Fortification and one of my personal favorites, Tactical Cloak all come in handy depending on your ground team make up and your own career choice. It’s fun to be on a team with two Biotics and seeing the effects of a Pull and Slam combo.
For my review run I chose to play as an Infiltrator, which presents a bit of a challenge though not nearly as rough as the biotic and tech career paths. Combining Tech powers such as Tactical Cloak and AI Hacking and Sniper Rifles, Heavy Pistols and Submachine Guns weaponry the Infiltrator career allows the player to effectively take out enemies from a distance and at an optimal advantage point if possible.
While the presentation centers on a shooter core there is a lot more to do in Mass Effect 2a than you first see. To achieve the best possible ending you must complete a series of recruitment and loyalty missions and go out gaining every possible personal, squad and ship upgrade possible. Without these you may not complete the game with all or most of your team alive, including Shepard. If you let any of your team die they will not show up in Mass Effect 3.
Players can and are encouraged to explore your surroundings while on a ground mission as well as visiting every planet in the galaxy to find any and everything that may aid you in your suicide mission. The original featured a very tedious land based resource gathering, but things are much simpler this time around and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own ship. Scanning planets only gains you the ability to collect valuable resources but also to uncover hidden side missions that can get you one step closer to reaching level 30 in your given career.
Mass Effect 2 isn’t just an epic journey; it’s a breathtaking marvel. Utilizing the same engine as the distant sequel, Mass Effect 2 is presented in 720p and did as good of a job if not better than the 360 version of pulling me into the action. The cinematics of Mass Effect really pull the whole experience together with various Hollywood effects worth of feature film from beginning to end. There were times where I was sitting on the edge of my seat and I watched certain cut scenes or escaped from a near fatal moment.
Environments and characters have been given a more polished look, with the exception of one of the DLC missions, which could have used a bit more love. I also ran into short moments of lag here and there that showed up throughout the game during moments of intense action. A good part of Mass Effect 2 takes place inside buildings or other structures such as ships so the detail and lighting play a crucial part in the overall atmosphere, which BioWare pulled off really well. Even the outdoor missions are impressive as there were several I really liked. There is one mission that involves using light beacons to navigate the terrain in low visibility conditions where alien creatures come out of nowhere that I thought was pretty cool and a bit creepy at the same time. I ran into a few graphical glitches such as passing through what should have been a solid object or seeing a few weapons imbedding themselves in each other on Shepard from time to time but nothing game crippling though.
Visuals only go so far, even when they’re of Mass Effect’s caliber. To round out the experience you need great audio, and it has it in spades. The sound effects and atmospheric ambiences are some of the best I’ve head so far this year. The voice cast features some big name screen and voice actors including the very distinguishable voices of Martin Sheen, Yvonne Strahovski, and Tricia Helfer and the ever-funny Seth Green. The score for Mass Effect is amazing and is composed once again by two of the original composers for the first Mass Effect. It sets the mood for the entire game through its energetic high and solemn low points and was worth every bit of its VGA nomination for Best Original Score this year.
The PS3 holds the honor of having the most complete version of Mass Effect 2 in one package for $60 featuring the following items:
Mass Effect 2 for the PlayStation 3 is easily one of the most enjoyable titles/series that I’ve played in my years as a gamer, ranking up there amongst Zelda and Halo as one of my favorite franchises of all time. The developers at BioWare have really set the bar high for action RPG’s and for the gaming world in general. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what BioWare has in store for us come next holiday season as Mass Effect 2 is going to be hard to top. I absolutely recommend picking up Mass Effect 2 for PS3 today. You won’t be disappointed.