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Posted by moonhead on Feb 23, 2010
Mass Effect 2 / Xbox 360 / EA

Mass Effect 2 / Xbox 360 / EA

Commander Shepard is back at last.

It seems like an eternity since we played the first part in Bioware’s massive space opera but at last Mass Effect 2 is here. And like our review (which has obviously taken a while as we first had to buy it and then play it through to completion) it  has been well worth the wait.

Obviously I do not want to give to much of the story away but you still play as Commander Shepard and you are still in charge of the Normandy and her crew. Shepard is once again trying to save humanity and the entire galaxy from the ‘Reapers’, a biotic alien species that every few thousand years appears and kills all organic lifeforms. This time out you will mainly be fighting the ‘Reapers’ new allies ‘The Collectors’ a strange insect like race who are making whole human colonies disappear from various planets. To do this Shepard must first investigate and then recruit a new squad made up of the universe’s various lowlife, drop-outs and hard cases, there may even be one or two old faces from the first game joining you.

If you played the first game and kept your saved game you will get to keep your old version of Shepard and start the game with extra credits and part of either your Paragon or Renegade bar filled as well as some extra experience points to divide among your skill set. Your old saved game will also have some impact on the story and the various meetings of old faces from the first game. Don’t worry though if you did not play the first game or have lost or deleted your old game save, (like me) you will not miss anything as you will just be asked a few extra questions in the dialogue sections.

Bioware have always been good at writing interesting and well-developed characters that you care about, but they have really upped their game in this department in ME2. Each member of your crew has their own back story and side mission to complete in order for you to gain their loyalty.  Completing each characters side quest opens up a special combat move that they and Shepard can use. It’s a clever dynamic that forces you to get to know each member of your squad more intimately than you did in the first game. The dialogue and voice acting is, as expected, all top quality which also helps the characterisation and grow a real love or dislike for each member of your crew. Everybody will have their favourites but mine are Grunt the Krogan warrior and the Salarian scientist Mordin. Especially Mordin who is a fantastically scatty character and his re-interpretation of  a ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’ song “I am the very model of a scientist Salarian” indeed. And of course like last time you can romance the ladies of the ship culminating in a night of passion although after the first games courting of controversy things have been toned down significantly.

Gameplay wise Bioware have taken on board all the various fan complaints and made adjustments accordingly. The universe is much larger this time round with much more variety in both planets and the side quests on the planets. The combat has been streamlined and the cover system reworked, making for a more visceral and proper shooter experience. Also gone is the Makko all terrain vehicle from the first game, more on this later though. A great deal of the more heavy RPG elements have been toned down with less skills to upgrade and an auto upgrade function for both you and your squad. The weapons and armour have also been overhauled,with you just upgrading the 5 weapons and armour you start the game with. And not having to look for and buy a multitude of different weapons for you and all of your team. Another new feature means you can also upgrade your ship with resources you gather by scanning planets and firing probes at the surface.  For one of the games more humorous moments be sure to probe a certain planet not too far away from Earth! Give it a little thought and you will figure out which one.

The only other real new addition to the gameplay are the conversation interruptions which only come up occasionally but add new interactivity to the dialogue. The conversations work in exactly the same as in the first game with the dialogue wheel giving you several options to further the conversation some good, (paragon) some bad (renegade). The new interruptions come in to play in some scenes where the conversation seems to be going nowhere or when the conversation is happening between other characters than yourself. A Paragon or Renegade symbol or both will pop up prompting you to pull either trigger. Upon pressing this you will interrupt the on-screen action with an automated action, like shooting a round from your gun or grabbing hold of the person and threatening violence. It’s a very good system and its a shame that it is a little underused in the game. Overall though just like the first game the dialogue sections are every bit as enthralling and dramatic as the action sequences.

Graphically the game is a slight improvement over the first game with things looking sharper and moving smoother. Although I would recommend turning off the film grain option in the options menu, it was meant to give the game a more cinematic effect but instead makes it look less defined and  slightly foggy. Other than though the visuals are great. The facial animation system is worth a special mention as it conveys all the emotion and drama needed during the dialogue scenes although it is still does not quite measure up to Uncharted 2. As mentioned before all the voice acting is right up there with the very best to be found and the musical score is excellent with a suitably epic and movie-like sound track driving the game on.

Mass Effect 2 is without a doubt a hefty quality gaming package but it is not without its problems. Most of them are little niggles mainly caused by Bioware’s streamlining of the RPG elements. There is no real monetary system any more, sure you earn credits for each mission you undertake. But each shop you come across only has 4 things to sell and once they are sold out they are never restocked. More importantly however you cannot sell your bounty to the shops. This means that you never earn enough money to buy a lot of the more expensive items. Also, although the new combat system works excellently, the new system of just upgrading the weapons you start with have affected the tactical depth of the gameplay. Simply put, there is no skill in picking the right weapons or team for each mission.

Now onto my main bugbear and back to Bioware’s removal of the Makko all terrain vehicle. Yes it steered like a duck in mud and the planets it visited were all the same but it was the main way of gathering mineral resources and it added a little variety to the missions. The mineral resources had very little baring in the first game but in the second they are desperately needed to carry out all the ship, weapon and armour upgrades.

To gather these you must as previously aforementioned scan the planets and fire probes at the surface. This may sound fine in theory but put into practice it is one the most banal game mechanics I have ever been forced to endure. My first play through weighed in at around 45 hours and I would say 5 of them hours would have taken up by the tedium of planet scanning, even with the scanner upgrade it becomes so boring that you end up not scanning most planets.

In all though this is as good an RPG on the Xbox as you are going to find and little niggles aside this really is a truly fantastic game. In fact the word epic barely does this huge space opera justice. Even after 45 hours I am still finding new stuff on my second play through. In fact having talked to Drew about his time spent with it we have both had very different but joyous experiences on our first play-through’s, which just about says it all really. If you own an Xbox this is a must have essential game. And none of the little niggles drag it down but be warned Bioware I am expecting a bit more next time round, now just hurry up and get the third game out.

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3 Responses to “Mass Effect 2 / Xbox 360 / EA”

  1. drew10 says:

    I have found a way to speed up the resource scanning although it is not quite as accurate and you may miss some, it certainly beats the normal way.

    Hold the stick and pad in your left hand and sweep the cross-hair up and down whilst rapidly flicking the left trigger with you right hand. It sounds a little tricky but it works. If you follow the grid up and down you will see the scanner change dramatically when a large deposit is nearby then you can scan normally before launching a probe.

    This really is a pain in the arse and I hope it is done away with in the third game. Or perhaps just a mixture of the first games driving sections and something like this but about 5 times faster.

  2. billy n says:

    good article dazza

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