Gotta collect 'em all!

*Play tested using Male Vanguard*

IT WAS always going to be a hard sell. What Mass Effect 2 ultimately suffers from is the weight of expectation coupled with the second-in-the-trilogy-syndrome. That isn’t to say it’s a bad game, or even a good game, or even a fantastic game. It’s freakin’ awesome, but you can’t help but to see the limitations present.

Mass Effect 2 picks up where the original left off (albeit two years forward), with the reapers bearing down on sentient space and the council still not believing you. Enter the reprehensible Cerberus group, the only ones who will give Shepard a ship and saved his oily hide after an ‘unfortunate incident’. Headed by the “Illusive Man” (voiced by Martin Sheen), he sends our hero out to stop a bunch of new enemies who have allegedly been working with the reapers to abduct entire human colonies on the fringes of space. From there, you traipse the galaxy finding new team mates to help you, and you know the rest.

Characterisation has always been a main selling point of Mass Effect, heck, of any Bioware RPG, and  old and new characters combine to make the aforementioned traipsing one of the better adventures in recent years.

Salarian scientist who sings Rodgers and Hammerstein? Check. Justifiably bitter experiment with tattoos? Check.  Krogan going through adolescence? Check. Sentient Geth? Check. There’ll also be old friends to liven things up, and for the most part it’s a really good mix of characters and plot arcs.  The voicing of these characters, as with most Bioware RPGs remains top-notch too.

Just rollin', in my spaceship, why them reapers got to be hatin'?

It’s hard to pick out particular stand-outs, because they’re all particularly well done. Although a few of Shepard’s lines fall flat, you have to forgive Mark Meer (the voice of Shepard) for that given the sheer volume of work he has to do. Altogether, when the screws are really on and the cast is forced to inflect emotion, they do it really well. There’s nothing like hearing an overtalkative Salarian become inward and depressed over their involvement of the genophage. It’s also really good to hear an Aussie voice, in the guise of Yvonne Strahovski (playing Miranda Lawson). It’s even more awesome that she’s been in an episode of Double the Fist.

They’ll actually make you empathise for their characters, and want to go and do their side quests. Their side quests of course usually being in the vein of ‘go somewhere, kill a bunch of dudes, and relive memories). You’ll also want to in order to ensure they’ll ‘survive the final mission’ by being loyal to you. I’m not entirely sure what loyalty has to do with personal survival, but hey, whatever.

Combat is something that’s a real focus here, as some of the annoyances from the first game have been eliminated. For one thing, you can actually direct individual team members on the field of battle, which you can use to flank your opponents. There’s also no overheating of weapons, which means you can shoot away all day. Altogether, the experience has the combat tightness of a third person shooter, except you can use biotic powers.

Boy, are they fun!

Due to the new take on combat, using biotic powers seems all the more awesome now. There’s nothing more satisfying than pulling a rocket trooper who had been hiding behind a wall up into the air, waiting until he’s overhead and giving him both barrels of your shotgun. Oh yes. You’ll still be using your guns most of the time, but using biotics is a lot simpler due to a kinder reload time and more fun because well, it’s awesome.

Combat has generally improved, although it’s still hard to move in and out of cover. There will be moments when you could’ve sworn you were in cover only to have your head conduct a face-to-face meeting with a rocket.

Altogether, it’s a more intimate experience than the first Mass Effect.

Whereas the first game felt like a space-faring epic, this somehow feels a much more personal and darker experience. You’re working with/for a morally questionable group to do what the council won’t allow you to do. The dramatic arcs are a lot more sweeping, from dealing with the consequences of genocide to the ethics of genetic engineering, it just feels a lot more....moody.

That isn’t to say the series has gone all OC/Spiderman 3/ Emo on you, but there is a slightly murkier tinge to the whole affair.

The environments too, reflect this shift in mood. While the game is still achingly beautiful, you’ll find darkly lit corridors on Citadel, darker ambience at clubs and even on the Normandy seems to be less sterile.

As devotees of the first game would know, there are just too many facets for me to write about, and I have mainly focused on the improvements from the first game. Invariably though, this game feels like sitting around waiting for something to happen. We’re not directly dealing with the threat from the first game, and Mass Effect 2 suffers from being the second in a trilogy.

Add in a very generic boss, and by then end of the game there isn’t a feeling that you’ve saved the universe. You’ve saved one species (directly), and nobody knew you were doing it. Perhaps Bioware were trying to make a point about the nature of heroism, but if I work my butt off for 30-odd hours, spanning the galaxy in an epic journey, there should be a bigger payoff.

That isn’t to say this game isn’t positively awesome, because it is. It improves on the first game in many ways, but Bioware just haven’t overcome the feeling there are bigger and better things to come from Mass Effect 3. It’s impossible if you’ve played the first game to remove the experience from Mass Effect 2. If judged on its own, it’s a damned fine game and even one of the better games in recent years.

The Anti-Cookie approves of this space-traipsing.

- James McGrath


4.5/5 - Damned, damned good game. Can't help being the second in a trilogy though.


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