Almost exactly 12 months ago, Mass Effect 2 released to critical and commercial success on the Xbox 360 and PC, and until last August it seemed as if PlayStation 3 owners would be on the outside looking in as BioWare’s epic space trilogy unfolded, missing out on arguably the finest RPG experience that this generation has to offer.
Having played the game to death last January, it was awfully tempting to simply play through the Mass Effect Genesis interactive comic, meant to get PS3 players up to speed on the events of the first game that won’t be seeing the light of day on their console, then simply write a review for the game I already know and love.
However, there were some noticeable technical differences that called for much more than that. So I hunkered down and spent about 30 hours over the last week playing Mass Effect 2 on my PS3, jotting down what was better, worse, and simply different.
Was I wrong when I wrote that ME2 would be undeniably better on PS3 last month? Let’s find out.
In the opening scene, Mass Effect 2 storms out of the gate with a hell of an opening scene. In it your ship, the Normandy, is decimated by an unknown vessel while patrolling the galaxy for geth following the events of the original Mass Effect. While attempting to save your crew from the carnage, you’re whipped into the cold, dark void with a punctured suit and left for dead.
But just who the hell are the geth, you ask? Fortunately, BioWare have done the next best thing to porting the Microsoft-published original by including an interactive comic, meant to ease series newbies into the story. Here, you’ll make high-profile life-and-death decisions, and even decide who to romance. In a little under 20 minutes, you’re basically setting the table for what happens within the next 30-45 hours of gameplay.
Immediately after the opening scene and interactive comic, you’ll see your Shepard brought back to life by the shady pro-human organization Cerberus, a process that takes two years. Their reason: human colonies throughout the galaxy have gone missing, and they’re counting on you, the galaxy’s savior, to assemble an elite team and find out why. Despite the terrible things Cerberus have done in the past, you’re left with little choice but to take on a mission what will be your most important mission yet.
As the game unfolds, players can be expect one of the finest sci-fi epics in any entertainment medium. Each conversation you hold with your crew, contacts, and general NPCs holds some sort of weight, and you’ll rarely feel as if you’ve wasted your time talking to them. Every detail you could ever care to know about the various alien races’ biology, culture, and homeworlds, and even the science behind the game’s faster-than-light travel, are all detailed in the game’s expansive codex for you to peruse at your leisure.
Equally as wonderful as the the story is the game’s combat. Streamlining the shooter-RPG elements from the original game, it is essentially a squad-based cover shooter. You’re almost always accompanied by two members of your crew, and you’re able to tell them where to go and when to deploy their various biotic and technical powers. Assigning these powers and abilities to the directional pad make managing your team a snap.
Of course, your squadmates aren’t the only ones with these powers. When Cerberus is rebuilding Shepard at the beginning of the game, you get to choose one of six different classes. These determine what kind of ablilities you’ll be able to use, such as specialized ammo for your weapons, overloading sheilds and synthetic enemies, incinerating enemy armor, or undoing biotic barriers. Striking a balance between you and your squad’s powers is not only satisfying, but key to your mission’s success.
There is, however, still an RPG underneath all of the flashy weapons and combat, although those elements are less pronounced than they were in the original game. For example, inventory management is no longer a chore. In ME1, there were dozens of different weapons and armor types, but they were incremental upgrades that you had to remember to equip for you and your team before leaving the Normandy. In ME2, number of different weapons is dramatically decreased, but they’re much easier to manage in that you can equip you and your current squad right before starting a mission. Armor is no longer an issue as your squad’s health and shields are determined by how you spend their skill points when you level up, although Shepard still has to return to the Normandy to apply armor upgrades purchased throughout the galaxy.
Carrying a conversation is a game in itself, as you get to play a goody-two-shoes, a total bastard/bitch, or something in between. The more you lean towards one side, though, the easier it is to persuade people with special paragon or renegade dialogue options that would otherwise be closed to you. And just because someone else is talking doesn’t mean you get to put your controller down — occasionally, an action prompt will come up allowing you to take extreme action, be it good or bad. This can be something like convincing a kid not to join a mercenary group, or killing someone in cold blood for not cooperating. Even when not in the middle of a gunfight the game keeps you on your toes.
No game is perfect, however, and Mass Effect 2 is no exception. While it makes sense to have to procure materials to upgrade your team and the Normandy to help survive the mission, the way that it’s done is far and away the least exciting thing you’ll do in the game. Hopping from planet to planet in the Milky Way’s many, many systems, players have to scan planets and launch probes to afford said upgrades. Even though this process was sped up with a patch on 360 and PC (and is on the Blu-Ray for PS3), it’s still a slow process that bogs the game down when you simply want to afford an omni-tool upgrade for one of your crew members.