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Mass Effect returns
Mass Effect 2 is the sequel to Xbox 360's flagship IP of 2007. Famous for their story driven RPG's and hailed for their treatment of the Star Wars franchise, Bioware's Mass Effect was the first in a planned trilogy of epic adventures in which the player takes control of Commander Shepherd (Male or Female) as they traverse the galaxy searching for a rogue member of the Spectres, a group of overseers tasked with policing the planet. The game was received well by critics and players allthough quickly gained mild infamy for its many bugs and quirks. A strange mix of RPG and 3rd person shooter, Mass Effect was an often muddled experience which nonetheless possessed a brilliant story and sky high production values.
Now the sequel has arrived to address all the problems of the original, expand the story and deliver one of the most rewarding experiences on Xbox 360.
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Heres the shocker, shortly into Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepherd is dead. But dont go crying into your biotics just yet because its not long before he's revived and rebuilt, Robocop style, to fight for pro-human group Cerberus. Shepherds adventures soon continue apace as he fights an evil organisation known as the Collectors. Along the way he recruits a fresh squad, encounters some old faces (Garrus is back!) and aquires a shiny new Normandy to fly around in (the moment when the camera glides over its pristine hull is a highlight of the game).
Bioware are known for there deep and complex storylines, they have perfected a character driven narrative that has been copied by many other games of this ilk. The template consists of an overeaching story arc surrounded by freeform mission objectives and punctuated by muti-tiered character interaction. The story is relatively linear but mssions and objectives can be tackled at the players discretion in the lead up to the final confrontations. There is an element of space exploration like in the previous game, although it isn't as ponderous. Planets can be explored and harvested (via a simple scanning gameplay mechanic) and extra side missions can be undertaken, but there is nothing as laborious as finding a key on a planet full of space monkeys (a lowlight of the original game).
The best new feature of the story is the ability to transfer your save from the original game. All the important decisions, as well as your final character designation (yes, renegade/paragon is back for Mass Effect 2) can be carried over to greatly influence events of the sequel. This feature is nothing short of genius and is something that other games should take note of.
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One of the main gripes with the original Mass Effect was the combat system. When engaging an enemy, instead of simply pointing and shooting, the player had to choose from a vast menu of powers and items in order to engage successfully with a target. This became frustrating quick and sullied the overall experience of the game. That system remains but it has seen an overhaul. In place is a more generic over the shoulder shooter system similar to that of Metal Gear Solid 4 or the Ghost Recon series. There are still powers and tactics but they are more streamlined and easily accessible. Once again the different classes offer different strengths and weaknesses and the variety is welcome.
The simplicity also extends to the weapons and inventory. again this system has paired down the originals fussy swapping and changing of equipment in favour of fewer weapons and a quick and easy loadout.
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Mass Effect 2, like its predecessor, is a beautiful game. Those perturbed by the distinctly homely looks of Bioware's last game Dragon Age Origins, can rest easy, Mass Effect 2 is a return to form.
Everything is just so polished, from the splendour of the intergalactic vistas to the battle scars on Shepherds face, the attention to detail is often astonishing. The Krogan once again showcases how Bioware's character design and rendering is without peer and the motion capture and facial animation is near flawless. The cinematic sequences now include player interaction and mid-scene dialogue choices that further immerse you in the action and this is all handled with effortless gloss and style. There are some graphical quirks though, some delayed fade in and minor pop up but this will most likely be fixed in a future patch. Otherwise the Mass Effect series has further proved that it is a pioneer for the cinematic gaming experience.
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As mentioned before, the game supports a save game transfer feature that allows you to import your character from the first game, along with all his decisions and events, to use in the sequel. It is highly recommended that you do this as it solidifies the sense of a continuing story and instantly familiarises the player with proceedings. It would be interesting if other games could adopt this approach, imagine if a Bioshock sequel saw the player overwhelmed with guilt for all those harvested little sisters. Although, it is also worth starting with a blank slate as Mass Effect 2 is a huge game with lots to offer those willing to explore and complete side quests and when you import a character there is a nagging feeling that you should get the main story finished.
Like the first game, Mass Effect 2 has many story threads that link to the main narrative and it is up to the player how they choose to progress the story, this essentially means that no one playthrough is the same. Added to this is the many moral choices offered during the course of Shepherds adventure, its worth playing through this 30 hour game twice, maybe even 3 times to experience the full story.
As mentioned before there are different classes and they are versatile enough to determine the style of a playthrough. The Vanguard class is the most entertaining, with its OTT powers and brute force. It makes for a fun adventure when you can warp across the map and smash into an enemy with your bare fists.
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Bring on Mass Effect 3...
Mass Effect 2 has delivered on the promise of the original game and then some. Its yet another benchmark in videogame storytelling and its a perfect example of how that story can be married successfully to solid gameplay mechanics.
The combat system feels fresh despite its generic origins (Bioware were aiming for the Call Of Duty crowd) , fresh faces in the cast bring variety and arent just re-hashes of previous characters (the genetically modified Miranda is a damn sight more engaging than the dull Ashley). The story is epic, perfectly told and there's a solid set-up for the trilogy closer.
And what of part 3? Well, Bioware always envisioned Shepherd's story as a trilogy of games and on this evidence (and the 2,000,000 sales of the sequel so far) they are gunning for one hell of a conclusion.
A deep look at Mass Effect 2 in this collection of reviews and previews.