james debate
james debate

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Developed by Bioware
Published by Electronic Arts
Genre Action RPG
Platform Xbox 360, PC
Release date(s) Out Now

You may be wondering why I have not come good on my promise to post new material in the past few days, well this is the reason. I have been very busy testing out the subject of my first review since returning to the net, a test which is now complete. I don't know where all that time went, but frankly it was worth it, because in Mass Effect 2 we have what will undoubtedly be one of the best games this year. Read more to find out.

mass effect 2

The first Mass Effect was a wonderful, if flawed, adventure. The morality system and dialogue trees allowed for a frankly revolutionary amount of customisation over the direction of your character and the game world in general. Based on your decisions, people would live or die, planets would be destroyed, and the story would twist in entirely different directions, resulting in a drastically different conclusion with each playthrough. It helped that the story and the game world were so convincingly portrayed, and Bioware remain simply the best writers in the videogame business.

However the gameplay felt rough around the edges at times, and with the vast amounts of dialogue and story it often felt more like an interactive movie than a game.

With Mass Effect 2, Bioware have attempted to up the ante. The presentation is even slicker, and the graphics even more luscious than its predecessor, an impressive feat when you consider that the original Mass Effect is still one of the prettiest games around.

The excellent morality system and branching storyline also return, this time following your character as he or she attempts to assemble a "dirty dozen" type squad of elite badasses in order to save the galaxy. There are memorable new faces and plenty of old ones returning, and for sure if you like a game with story and atmosphere, you won't find any other game which rivals Mass Effect 2 in this regard.

But the real clincher is that you can import your character from the first Mass Effect, retaining the details of any major story changing decisions you made in that game. This means that there are essentially multiple start points from which you can begin this game, and each of these decisions you made in the first game will have noticeable effects on the story in this game. Add this to the fact that you have even more decision making points in Mass Effect 2 and I don't think I have to tell you that there is a simply staggering number of directions in which this game can take you. One could play through the combination of these two games many many times and each time have a unique experience, a quite astonishing feat when you think about it.

These story based aspects have even been improved upon for this sequel. The first game was notable for very impressively written character development and an unusual depth with regard to character interaction. The sequel goes even further, with characters so believable and complex that you can't help but grow attached to them. There is a very tangible sense "team", boosted by a new "loyalty" dynamic that makes the team building process feel very personalised and satisfying. There are, again, multiple endings to this game. In the final mission anyone of your team mates can die, and your main character can even die in the final setpiece. This very real threat of death lends an incredible amount of suspense that you don't get in many games as you seek out the best of many different endings. There simply has never been such a fantastically cinematic and gripping game before, right down to the smallest detail.

More impressive, however, is the overall of the gameplay that Mass Effect 2 has seen. In the first game the shooting mechanics were a little rough around the edges and unpolished, this time around it's much more substantive and complex, and just "feels" right, with better physics and a better weight to it all.

In addition, the first Mass Effect promised DLC (downloadable content) and a constantly expanding game world. This never came to pass, which resulted in great embarrassment for Bioware, but it looks like they're out to make amends this time around. Already there are multiple substantive pieces of DLC available for download, from various new types of armor, new characters and missions, and there is a promise of more, much much larger, pieces of DLC to come in the coming weeks and months, meaning that this game could well last you a long long time, at least until Mass Effect 3 comes out.

Speaking of armor. This game does not see you constantly changing to more advanced armor as you progress through the game. Instead you have just the one suit of armor (and a few special downloadable suits of armor) which you can upgrade using resources you find. This is actually a positive development, as it affords you a great deal of customisation over the function of the suit, but more importantly, the appearance. You can design your armor to look exactly as you want, from the color right down to the shape of different components. It's very nifty addition that further allows you to craft this game to be exactly the experience you want.

This game is very hard to fault. The somewhat boring vehicle sections have been done away with, and replaced by an even more boring resource scanning minigame. This is one of the game's few missteps, as there is honestly no redeeming factor for this part of the game, based entirely upon moving a cursor back and forth across an image of a planet until you detect resources. You don't have to do this part of the game, but in doing so you are able to upgrade your weapons and your ship, and achieve a better ending.

Further more, this game is still very heavy on cutscenes and dialogue, which I personally love, but I can see that a lot of people won't. If story and cutscenes are not something you like in videogames, you're going to want to avoid this one.

But these points do not detract from what is an utterly fantastic game, if you don't mind the cutscenes, and an experience unlike many others offered in the videogame medium. This will undoubtedly be one of the games of the year, with only the upcoming Red Dead Redemption looking like it can even come close (assuming Half Life 2: episode 3 eludes us once again this year).

Well written story
Deeply customisable story and character

Scanning for resources
Waiting for the next instalment of DLC

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