A few years ago BioWare opened my eyes to what RPGs could really be like with the first Mass Effect, a game that wasn’t hard to love. It created a massive universe with humans as the babies of the species still needing to prove themselves among a broad group of alien races that were all fleshed out with histories, cultures, and lives of their own. Putting our best foot forward with a military man named Shepard, he hunted the galaxy in the search to better integrate our species into this vast universe, fighting off a major, life-altering threat in the process. With the release of the greatly improved second game in the series Shepard is back, proving that it takes much more than death to keep him from standing at the helm of another larger than life adventure.
Following an epic battle to save the Citadel at the end of Mass Effect, the Normandy deserves a little pleasant “tra la la” time out in space. Instead, the crew is spending their time searching space for the reason behind why other ships are going missing. Thinking it to be a simple mission, things quickly travel up the intensity scale when a giant ship comes out of nowhere and attacks them. With the hull being torn apart around them, Shepard orders the evacuation of the crew, staying behind to help Joker escape, who he eventually manages to get to an escape pod. Cementing themselves as the major baddy of the game, the Collectors deal their final blow by blowing up the Normandy (I know, right! They have to be BA if they can cause giant explosions in space! I’m the only one laughing, aren’t I?… Oh well). Oh yeah, and Shepard gets spaced. But don’t worry! Cerberus (a pro human “terrorist” (?) group) goes all Doctor Frankenstein, bringing Shepard back from the dead to fight for them in their attempts to defeat the Collectors, thus keeping them from kidnapping more humans in the process.
Let me just put this out there right now: this game is awesome. It opens with some scenes of Star Trek (the new film, not that old stuff) / Battlestar Galactica (also the new stuff) proportions, making it quite clear that they are upping the ante this time around in concern to cinematics and all other aspects. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard for me to complain about the first game because I love it so much, but it is possible to do. This one? Not so much. For starters, world exploration in the mako is gone and I’m far from mourning its loss (though if you do you can go stare at it longingly at the Normandy crash site). And though I am slightly sad that the random side missions have been replaced by fewer party-member-based missions, they are much stronger than what came before and lack the annoying repetition. And even the simpler things have improved, such as hacking / bypassing doors and safes and the load screens.
The design elements have gotten much better as well. The overall look of the game is more interesting thanks to a wider range of lighting, alluding to the darker tone of the game, which becomes apparent in both the cutscenes and gameplay. Speaking of the gameplay, I prefer the simplified RPG elements and stronger gunplay, which is aided by the superior cover system that is easier to move in and out of. And lets face it, though I wish there was a wider range of guns and armor to choose from, it’s much better not lugging around up to 150 items in hammerspace.
Overall this game is amazing on all fronts with only a few things that I could have done without. Probing planets for elements becomes a little tedious, but isn’t too bad if spread out throughout the game and not left until the end. And there were only a few glitchy moments in the game; but let’s admit it, it was hilarious listening to Miranda’s voice going into man octaves when shouting things in the heat of battle. Now that I mention it, I don’t think that happened in my second playthrough… Maybe I should have slept more while playing this…
On the whole Mass Effect 2 is a fantastic game delving back into the immersive universe set up by the prior game, adding some new characters with great stories of their own (minus Zaeed), but the familiar faces are just as welcome. If you haven’t played the first game yet you can still enjoy this game, but it is a much deeper and overall more awesome experience if you have a save file to import. Best of all, it has an extremely high replay value (make sure to play as a Renegade and press those triggers!). And though it may only be February, I seriously doubt any other game I play in 2010 will dethrone this as the best of the year on my list.
Final Grade: 10
PS – If you haven’t checked it out yet and would like to hear more of what I have to say along with Zac’s opinion of the game, then follow the link here to a Q and A we put together. Enjoy!