Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review: Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 (2010)
Developer: BioWare Corp.
Platform: Personal Computer
Induction Date: 01/26/2010

That "Cerberus Daily News" is updated daily! Now that's commitment.

The arrival of Mass Effect 2 earlier this year really had me all worked up. First, I had to get the Personal Computer version of the first game because I decided to get the sequel on the PC - a decision that is somewhat questionable post-purchase due to the awful X-Box 360 quality texture works. Then, I made myself play through the first game again thoroughly to make sure that I get all the perks available when I import my original character into the sequel. Since Mass Effect 2 makes a tremendous effort in continuing an unexpected number of story threads from the first game, I am definitely grateful that I played the first game again before jumping right into the sequel. My epic 2 game-journey was definitely worth all the time and efforts I put into them and for those who haven't played number 2, I highly recommend playing the first game again so that you don't miss the many subtle references to the smallest of storyline details from the original that are touched upon by the sequel.

Ingrid Shepard doing what she does best: Shamelessly flirting with a subordinate.

Mass Effect 2 chronicles Commander Shepard's continuing battle against the Reapers and the Geth that takes place soon after the end of the original game but just when are about to be reacquainted with commanding the starship Normandy, you are then taken out of everything that you are familiar with rather suddenly. To me, the plot device that ties the first game and the second game just feels a bit too forced because the sequel's storyline - in the beginning anyway - made such a significant departure from the original just so that it would make sense to both those who have played the first game and also those who are completely new to the franchise. I think that BioWare should cater more to the followers of the series instead of worry themselves about the newcomers. The fact that you can completely re-customize the looks of your character from your imported file is a little ridiculous but it does make sense in the context of not only to what triggers that option, but the continuing adventure that follows it. Even though I am disappointed with the first part of the story in this sequel, the writing for the remainder is top-notch. BioWare made the tale more character focused this time around, making the story more personal amidst all the epic galaxy-wide intrigue that surrounds the game.

Now that's my kind of afterlife. No religions needed!

Mass Effect 2 has made a number of significant gameplay changes compared to the first game. Click here for the review of the first game. Both the action sequences and the role playing elements are simpler to manage this time around. You now have limited ammo - they are easy enough to be refilled mid-battle from fallen enemies - but you don't have to use healing kits anymore. The game now feels similar to your typical modern shooters where your character will automatically regenerate health after staying away from enemy fire for a brief period of time. The game still allows you to pause mid-action to plan out your attacks and the battle is still heavily reliant on the cover system with every action set-pieces providing you with plenty of strategic areas for you to properly barricade your character. Leveling up your characters is less cumbersome too since there are less skills and attributes to choose from - especially with the supporting characters - and the upgrades require an increasing number of points to spend on them. The convoluted item management in the first game has been completely removed here. Armor customizations and upgrades are only available for Command Shepard and you manage inventory before undertaking missions. Though I miss not being able to change the looks of my crew members - they are each given 1 alternate costume that doesn't look much different than their original attire - I certainly do not miss having to browse through a never-ending list of armors, weapons, and accessories I have in my possession before equipping them to everyone individually. Importing your character from the original game will provide you with extra resources for upgrading crew performance and other items from your ship but you still start as a low level character. Speaking of resources, when travelling across the galaxy, there is now a mini game where you actually have to look for points on the surfaces of the planets to extract them. Though this is more involved than merely checking out the planet in the first game, it does get real boring real fast.

The enigmatic Miranda... My Ingrid Shepard really hates her.

The fully voiced character conversations are still the real star of this game, alongside its satisfying character portrayals and memorable relationships and interactions. Almost every instance of your choice during a conversation in the game - whether casual or meaningful - are now rewarded with a Paragon (lawful) and Renegade (unlawful) modifiers. You have to be on your toes constantly and be involved in all of the conversations at all times to ensure proper development of your Shepard. It is sad however to comment that the recruit missions to find members to join your fight and those members' individual missions that become available later into the game are more rewarding than the actual major plot in itself. It doesn't help that this sequel has a cliffhanger ending, unlike the original game. It is good however than you can continue playing the game even after the main plot has been completed and other role playing games should take note of this. With BioWare constantly spewing out one downloadable content after another - with more on the way - the game will probably stay in your hard drive until the final installment finally arrives.

The elevator rides are not fun anymore.

Mass Effect 2 is better than the original but not by much. The game is more polished and it doesn't require constant micro-management of your character stats and items anymore. It is still a bit short with a main storyline that is not that eventful - the climax is glorious but the epilogue is not. Buying the PC version brings more disappointment because BioWare didn't make any efforts to maximize this game's potentials on this platform. Ugly textures from the X-Box 360 version are prevalent throughout the game. It is disgusting to see how beautiful the character faces look but then their bodies are ravaged by muddy textures: the best example of this can be seen on "Subject Zero". To eliminate the texture pop-in issue found in the original game on the X-Box 360, a lot of full motion videos are used in this sequel and they don't look as sharp as the real-time in-game cut scenes. Because things load up so fast on the PC version, the animated loading screens that act as a map to show where your character is situated are cut short: It is so awkward to watch your character go into an elevator, see a very brief animated loading screen, and then your character is already arriving at his or her destination. This loading screen setup is made to work for the console version but not on the PC. Despite all of these problems though, Mass Effect 2 must be played by anyone who loves a little bit of well-written sci-fi, sublime maturity, and clever imagination in their role playing games.

RATING: 4 out of 5

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