Mass Effect 2 was one of our favourite games of 2010. The news that the series was making the leap across that console divide was welcomed by swathes of excited PlayStation 3 owners who had been quietly envious of the Xbox 360 and PC gamers who had been raving about the adventures of Commander Shepard ever since BioWare first let you build him (or her) in 2007.
Obviously the storyline remains identical to earlier versions. You play as Commander Shepard, a human in a diverse galaxy populated by many various races. The rough plot synopsis of the first Mass Effect game, missing to PlayStation 3-only owners is summed up via an interactive comic, after the “prologue” action sequence, which serves the important points but skims over some of the more intricate subtleties which may have stuck with some who played through the epic beginnings of this saga.
In this second visit to the Mass Effect universe you must assemble a team of mercenaries and interested parties before embarking on a grand heroic mission to save the galaxy. This end game is repeatedly referred to as a suicide mission so you should prepare yourself for tough decisions and decisive branching in the way the game plays out. Unless you’re either very lucky or very well studied and careful, there will be casualties along the way.
In Mass Effect 2 you form emotional attachments thanks to the hours you spend with the supporting cast. The hundreds of lines of dialogue and the many hours of combat and exploration you spend with them will leave you with a genuine emotional bond which is played upon at many points in the game but especially so during the final act.
The emotion, the compelling narrative, the engaging system of branching dialogue and the character depth and development that you really shape with your choices are all still there in this PlayStation 3 version. The success of this release should be assured, those points are what Mass Effect has always been about and the complex dialogue branching and encompassing universe are still, a year after its initial release on the Xbox 360 and PC, better than anything else out there.
So, to the differences between this and previous versions. The PlayStation 3 game boots up into a lengthy install which is unavoidable so expect to be staring at that progress bar for around thirty minutes when you first slip the disc into your machine. Sony fans are well used to this process by now and while it is a little tedious, it is not a huge drawback, especially as it should lead to improved load times and better overall performance.
If you choose to immediately input the cerberus code that comes in the retail box (it unlocks various extra game content and acts as the incentive to buy new at retail rather than go pre-owned) you will have another wait while you download and install 676MB of new content.
Once all of your installing and upgrading is done you can enter the game properly, select your initial gameplay options and dive into the opening cinematic and action sequences. Visually, things seem a little superior the Xbox 360 version with improvements to lighting, textures and models. It might not look as crisp as the PC game running on a high-spec machine and there are some issues with bad or non-existent anti-aliasing in the shadows (something which is becoming a trademark of PS3 games) but it’s certainly not far away.
The interactive comic which delivers the backstory allows you to make the key decisions that came during gameplay in the first Mass Effect so that even this expedient history of the series becomes your own. In this way you can begin your journey through this sequel with knowledge of what led to this point and with a sense of involvement in the preceding events. Once that is out of the way you’ll be put into the meat of the game, essentially recruiting a team and solving the galaxy’s problems like a smarter-dressed Captain Kirk with better guns and biotic powers.
The action sequences are exceptional. Even though each mission follows the same general structure (usually to fight your way through an area to a key plot point) the levels are built intelligently and the cover and shooting mechanics are competent enough that the combat is a joy. Add in the ability to direct your squad-mates separately and time the use of tech or biotic powers so you can shape the way the team attacks (or defends) and you will realise the depth that is available in the action oriented scenes.
Mass Effect 2 is a quality action shooter but that’s not all it is. The RPG elements may have been honed and tuned from the first so that they can be almost unnoticeable if you wish but they are still there and they still make a difference. You select a character class at the beginning of the game and that choice makes a huge difference to how you develop your character and how you play the game.
So, perhaps we could describe Mass Effect 2 as an action RPG. Even that is woefully underselling the game though. It’s almost impossible to adequately define just what this game is. So much of it is based around the drama of events. Much of that drama is born out of the dialogue and the events which your dialogue choices lead to. So, is it an interactive drama? That gives adequate credit to the scripting, direction and voice acting, which is all exceptionally good, but would seem to gloss over the quality of the gameplay aspects. Mass Effect 2 is a cover-based, action shooter. It’s also a (fairly shallow, admittedly) squad-based RPG and an engaging, intelligent drama but above all it’s a unique experience which envelopes you and drags you into its world.
Mass Effect 2 is a confident continuation of BioWare’s unmatched, epic space opera. It rectifies almost all the issues that were present in the original while adding new systems and refining old ones to make something that is as close to a perfect sequel as we’ve ever seen. The PlayStation 3 version, running on the new game engine that the third game is destined to use, improves the visuals and reduces loading times and pop-in/fade-in that was present (although not a huge distraction) in the 360 version. It’s fair to say that, even with the very occasional frame rate drops during heavy action sequences, this version is the best available for consoles.
The inclusion of the previously downloadable content on the disc means that there are another several hours of gameplay there, along with many more hours of reading if you allow yourself to become engrossed in the gargantuan Codex that catalogues everything about the galaxy as you progress.
- One of the best games of 2010, now even better.
- Updated game engine is noticeably better for textures.
- Scripting and narrative are still unmatched.
- Combat is a pleasure.
- Most small irks from previous versions have been smoothed out.
- Dialogue can still be slightly stilted due to the wealth of options available.
- The final boss is a bit of a cliche.
So this latest release is still one of the best games in recent history, with a few visual improvements, a load of extra post-release content and all the refinement that twelve months at market can encourage. A year ago we urged all Xbox 360 owners to experience this game and now we have no hesitation in encouraging PlayStation 3 owners to do the same. BioWare may just have done something incredible: Mass Effect 2 is a genuine contender for Game of the Year 2010 and for the same title in 2011.