Mass Effect 2 Xbox 360
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: BioWare
All too often over the last few years we've commented on how RPG's have been slow starters. Mass Effect 2 certainly isn't guilty of this however as it begins with an almighty bang. Within the first few moments of the game we see the Normandy, the spacecraft that Commander Shepard was given control of in Mass Effect, being destroyed and almost all of the crew being killed. We won't go into too many details in the hope that you haven't seen too many of the spoilers that are strewn around the Internet. Suffice to say, the game gets off to a cracking start and the level of quality remains pretty constant throughout this second part of the Mass Effect trilogy.
At the beginning of the game you'll get to choose either a male or female Shepard in addition to the more intriguing option of taking your Commander Shepard from your Mass Effect save game. This last option is, without a doubt, the most appealing as you get to see the ramifications, of the important decisions you made in the original Mass Effect, play out. That's not to say that your character will begin at the level you left them in the first game however, but it's very rewarding to see the sequel acknowledge the decisions you've made and react to them accordingly. That said, it's not absolutely essential that you have played the original game to really enjoy what Mass Effect 2 has to offer.
Shepard finds himself (or herself of course) in the employ of an organisation called Cerberus, an organisation that most of the galaxy appears to despise. Cerberus is run by a bizarre individual named The Illusive Man who seems to have more wealth and influence than can possibly be healthy. Initially he wants Shepard to find out why human colonies are disappearing but there is more to The Illusive Man than meets the eye and the character adds a level of intrigue to Mass Effect 2. Whilst a lot of party members from Mass Effect return, they do so only in cameo roles and you'll be forming a party of new members ranging from cold-hearted, and genetically modified Miranda, to arguably the best character in the Mass Effect universe to date, the quick thinking and even quicker talking Salarian doctor, Mordin Solus.
The improvements made to the basic game-play are simply too numerous to list here. Essentially however, it comes down to the shooting being improved dramatically and the RPG elements being streamlined and made more accessible to those who wouldn't normally be interested in an RPG. In fact it's possible for anyone who just wants a quality third-person shooter experience to be completely satisfied with Mass Effect 2 because of how that side of the game has been improved. The action is now much more satisfying and you can give orders to your active party members. You can still pause the action and give out orders but you definitely won't feel the need to do this as much as in the first Mass Effect game, which can only be a good thing. For the most part this is a cover based shooter and on the harder difficulty levels, failing to hide behind cover will lead to Shepard coming to an untimely end. If anything the game is perhaps overly generous in the abundance of locations in which you can take cover so finding cover is rarely problematic. Some might not like the fact that your weapons can actually run out of ammo in Mass Effect 2 but, for the most part (and at least during my play through the game on the normal difficulty setting) ammo is pretty easy to come by during the course of the game.
Mass Effect 2 isn't the hardcore RPG that Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare's last game, was. Mass Effect 2 definitely feels more like a third-person shooter with RPG elements rather an RPG in its own right. This isn't necessarily a bad thing however. There aren't that many character attributes to develop in the game and there's no clumsy inventory to have to deal with so you won't have to constantly switch between different weapons and suits of armour. Upgrades can be researched and applied to your existing armour and weapons allowing to you customise them in a way that suits you. The game has four resources (Palladium, Iridium, Platinum and Element Zero) that can be mined to allow you to carry out these upgrades. Mining planets can be a chore in all honesty but this is countered by the absence of repetitive side missions and the fact that the tedious to control MAKO has been removed. There are side missions in the game but most of them actually feel as though they belong in the game and haven't simply been thrown in to bulk out the play time. The way you interact with the various characters will earn you Paragon and Renegade points as in the original game. What I really appreciate however, is that you can perform Paragon and Renegade actions in some of the game's cut scenes by pulling the left and right trigger respectively. This certainly adds some immersion qualities to the game's cut scenes and is a big improvement on simply having your Paragon and Renegade points tied to conversation choices.
I don't think anyone could argue that the Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect wasn't without its share of technical problems. Long load times, occasional uneven frame rate and ugly texture pop-in were all problems the game had in abundance. It's impressive then to see that BioWare have not only sorted out these problems (the frame rate can dip a little at times but on the whole it's excellent), but have also managed to make Mass Effect 2 a better looking game. I didn't install the game to the HDD and yet the load times still felt much snappier this time around.
Mass Effect 2 is subtitled although the subtitles are not enabled by default. All of the important dialogue in the game is subtitled with the speaker's name being placed alongside the text. All objectives and Codex information etc., is in text and can be recalled at any time. You're notified in text when Paragon or Renegade points have been earned and when new items and upgrades have been acquired. You're also notified in text when party members are in need of healing. At the end of a mission you're given text mission reports and other feedback on what happened which is a nice touch. The game tutorial messages are in text and are much better than they were in Mass Effect. Not all of the speech is subtitled with some peripheral speech and speech made during the heat of battle not being subtitled. The omission for subtitles during a battle is understandable (as the text may get in the way of the action) but it's a shame, particularly if you have Mordin Solus in your party as he's full of humorous comments. I do think that the subtitles could have been placed in a dialogue box or at least on some kind of darkened overlay as on occasion the text can be a little difficult to distinguish from the background graphics. On the whole though, Mass Effect 2 is a game that is accessible for deaf gamers.
Virtually every issue that I had with Mass Effect has been ironed out for this stunning sequel. Mass Effect 2 has a better storyline, stronger characters, no repetitive side-quests, no MAKO and virtually no technical issues to take the shine off the experience. In short, it's a belter of a sequel and makes the wait for the final part in this trilogy almost unbearable. Some might be a little disappointed by the streamlining of the RPG elements but I don't think anyone can deny that the overall game-play experience is much more satisfying as a result of the changes made in this sequel and that's what really counts. It seems ridiculous to be saying right at the start of 2010 that we have a contender for game of the year, but that's exactly what Mass Effect 2 is in addition to being one of the finest games on the Xbox 360.