Mass Effect 2
Space, the universe, the discovery of worlds where no man has set foot yet. The black nothing above our heads that each night gets filled with stars is the ideal canvas for pure fantasy, daydreams and adventures without limits in time nor space. Combined with BioWare, at the moment probably the best Western RPG developer, and a great predecessor this could only lead to fireworks. And firework Mass Effect 2 has become!
The first Mass Effect made quite an impression, but a few months later some clear points for improvement could be given already. Solid loading times, side missions and worlds that were a bit ill-populated and action that fell short when compared to more specialised opponents: piece of piece criticism that the devs took at heart and solved nicely. Boring planets and the Mako are finished; each mission and environment is now different, added with original content and varied. Only too bad that for commodities (necessary for upgrades) you have to play some sort of minigame where you need to scan planets. At first it’s exciting as you sometimes discover unexpected distress calls or peaks of goods but after a while it becomes plain slow and brain numbing.
A lot more important than those details is of course the less easier things to point out. The feeling that from the first seconds on already you get grabbed by the intelligent story, the fascinating and credible characters and their accompanying lives, motivations and relations, and a tone that reminds of the light-hearted but also darker passages from that other legendary space theme: Star Wars. Games for grown-ups exist and with Heavy Rain and now Mass Effect it gets proven that in all genres there’s place for intelligence and sophisticated gameplay, and constantly less for openly puberical behaviour and unnecessary testosteron.
Unforgettable, and not in the least thanks to the story. Intergalactic hero and primus inter pares of humanity Shepard goes brought back to life after an unfortunate ending of the Normandy by a controversial organisation. Beautifully portrayed by Martin Sheen the Illusive Man sends you on a planetary assignment to find out why entire colonies disappear without leaving a trace. Quickly you end up following the trailer of The Collectors but of course nothing is as it seems!
The ending is only as special as the journey, a journey you take with some very interesting companions. Think of the special Miranda for instance, cold and professional at first but this changes quickly enough. Also Jack is a great character that could have walked straight out of a quality blockbuster movie. And then there’s also Mordin Solus, an alien creature in overdrive, so original in the true sense of the word that we finally once again get a smile on our face while enjoying his scientific explanations and detailed finishing of his personality.
You get to know each friend and foe better throughout the game thanks to the many life-like conversations and side missions. Beautiful how all of this managed to immerse me more than any game before and that’s largely thanks to the quality of dynamics of the dialogues and dito voicing, added of course with the best facial expressions currently possible. Three times hurray for the devs!
These dialogues nicely lead us to the two moral sides you can have your Shepard manifest. During conversations you get a ton of options to lead your conversation partner to, and these choices sometimes give you points on the Renegade or Paragon scale. Both exist next to each other so one doesn’t exclude the other. This is nice as that way you can choose yourself how your personality is: balanced, grey, black or white. The higher you score on one of them, the more options you get to end a conversation in an original way. This way you can sometimes avoid combat or send someone to damnation with one answer or action. Impressive, filmic and also very interesting for those that want to replay the game.
Enough with the talking, there’s also plenty of fighting in Mass Effect 2 and also here the game makes some important steps forward without adjusting the formula too much. Think still of Gears of War but this time a bit faster than in the original Mass Effect, with tighter controls and better feedback, and a good balance between depth and accessibility. Weapons, bionic powers and opponents are varied and during combat you’ll have to tactically deploy your diverse powers, ammo, gear and guns to smoothly progress. Even your teammates – which you can lead and give orders – do their thing without too many issues.
It’s of course still not a full-blood shooter but the combination RPG and third person action nicely works. Again: at no time you feel like leaving the controller and the switching between talking, meddling around in the menus to make new weapons, fly to unknown planets, shop and do research for that new piece of armor or that unique upgrade and shooting all kinds of vermin is as addictive as a perfectly mixed Long Island Ice Tea.
For those still in doubt: the voicing is unequalled, the music suitingly epic and the visuals and design technically excellent and artistically very well done and original. On top of that there’s also skilled camera work, lights, shadows and color. Impressive!
Mass Effect 2 in other words improves on its predecessor on all accounts. Artistically the makers managed to create a real immersive world, with characters that – despite their exotic personality or alien design – you would expect to meet in the real world any moment. The RPG and shooter elements were blended into a unique mix that will be able to seduce just about any gamer with a lot of depth in both genres without becoming inaccessible at any time. On top of that BioWare made it a mature game including dark and subtle themes that manage to surpass the average sci-fi storyline without losing spectacle.
A real victory and one of the best games I’ve played in the last couple of years. And then there’s still a third part coming in the trilogy! Those that still think gaming was better in the old days should take off their nostalgia glasses and get immersed in the world of Mass Effect 2.