Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Dates: January 26, 2010 (Xbox 360, PC); January 18, 2011 (PS3)
How do you classify a game like Mass Effect 2? Is it a cover based shooter? Is it an RPG? Yes would be an acceptable answer for both but a more important question is “who cares?” because this is a superb game regardless of petty classifications.
Mass Effect 2 follows Mass Effect 1 and it opens with a dramatic bang. Not to spoil it, but it gives the player a drive to play the story and also gives you a smart way to reallocate your character’s class and physical look. Commander Shepard, who is your female or male avatar, gets a slick spaceship and is tasked by questionable authority to track down the fatal threat to the galaxy. Finding a suitable crew, each with vital specializations, and that are more than willing to help your cause is also on the to-do list. It is a grim premise to save the entire galaxy from a threat so it is a good thing the story is very well told.
Every character has a personality, and even though Shepard is monotone almost 100% of the time, all lines are delivered impeccably by even the smallest of characters. Your crew members are all deep and unique and each of the dozen or so (with some as DLC) have a loyalty mission. These missions are easily the best part of the game as the short story told in these objectives gives insight to each crew member and gives you time to bond with them. This bonding time makes you care about these beings, be it human, Turian, or any other bizarre space race, so when the inevitable suicide mission rolls about the game’s climax, you want them to survive. You’ll gain relationships, both romantic and platonic, with all the crew members (unless you go out of your way to piss them off) further feeding your need to want everyone to survive.
Interacting with aliens and humans is a highlight of the experience here. In every conversation, a small wheel will pop up on the bottom of the screen. This wheel will display options for what you’d want to say to the person in front of you. Everything ranging to asking questions, to complimenting someone, to being a complete and total dick is present here for the choosing. Conversations work incredibly well because of this, giving you choices to shape your Shepard by adding to your paragon (good guy) and renegade (a space asshole or badass) meters. Special moments will even pop up when talking, an L2 or an R2, and if hit, and you will press them because they’re so damn irresistible, something either heroic or badass will occur, depending on the option. The renegade options are guilty pleasures as you can kick dudes out of windows. If that doesn’t sound awesome, check your pulse.
When you are not being a chatty Cathy, there are aliens to be shot, and you have the weapons and biotics for them. Feeling a lot more like an actual cover-based shooter here is welcome because the action is fast and there is a lot of gunplay. While you still can pause the action (although a hot button can be assigned for three powers) for biotics like an RPG, the action is more Gears of War (sans the chainsaw and gore), especially on lower difficulties. Shooting will get you out of trouble more often than not and since the guns feels like a polished and fun to blast, you’ll be entertained when not in conversation mode. Cover works well most of the time but there are some moments where it’ll get a little janky. Sometimes you’ll awkwardly hump the wall or worse, unstick, leaving yourself vulnerable or aiming can get a little bonkers when in certain places. It’s definitely not a deal breaker, but Mass Effect 3 needs to iron these less-than-favorable aspects (and according to the Game Informer cover story, they’re working on it) to make this feel up there with the best.
Not much texture pop-in plagues Mass Effect 2, but the game isn’t the most technically sound. Loads are frequent and long, the game stutters when loading a codex entry or most other things, and the game can lose some frames when the action is a bit hectic. This easily the biggest problem in the game because it ruins immersion. Walking around is all fun until you realize you have to load another minute or two to do the same in the next area. Once the area is loaded, it isn’t a huge problem but your disbelief is frequently suspended in your wait for the next planet to load.
So far, outside of the in-depth conversation options, Mass Effect 2 doesn’t sound like an RPG. That point is debatable, but most of that has been streamlined. Powers are upgraded by simple skill points so it isn’t convoluted. Armor is done by an easy interface in your quarters and since there are not a bunch of armor types, it isn’t a hassle. Mining and upgrades are linked together because mining gives you access to new gun, ship, biotics, and all other upgrades. Mining isn’t amazing, as you just scan a planet and press a button where the seismograph spikes, but it is addicting because that new gun upgrade is just 5000 Iridium away and that upgrade could be useful. Slightly boring side missions are also revealed by mining so it isn’t forced on you, just encouraged.
Mass Effect 2 sucks hours out of your day but in the best way possible. It took me about 35 hours to see everything but it really felt like a dozen because I just kept going. Its deep conversation system (with great voice acting), coupled a great universe to explore, amazing, unforgettable characters, and with solid shooting makes this game something everyone should get absorbed by. Since choices and aspects feed into Mass Effect 3, this is truly your story. Your choices. Your Shepard. While there are some technical issues, they don’t even come close to ruining what many aspects this game does so well. Knowing what I did here and wondering how it will all go down in Mass Effect 3 makes me want to rush forward in time and play it. If a game like Mass Effect 2 can generate that kind of hype without a big official announcement of a sequel, that is a telltale sign of a great game.
+Good shooting with fast action
+Choices here affect ME3
+Conversation is fun
+ Good story and story telling
+Loyalty missions make you care about crew
-Some environments are a tad bland
-Shepard can be awkward in cover and combat sometimes
-Loading… loading… loading….
-Some stutters and glitching
Final Score: 9/10
Platform Differences: The 360 is on 2 discs and all the DLC is for purchase on the Marketplace. It is cheaper though, since it came out a whole year earlier. The PS3 version has all the DLC (except Arrival) and the full game on one disc, but it probably is a bit more expensive and the PS3 version is running on a more advanced engine (the Mass Effect 3 engine to be specific). All the DLC is worth playing so pick your poison.