By Duncan Voice
So I rocked up back into the Citadel, ready for my hero’s welcome. I had, after all, vanquished that pesky Saren and brushed aside the Reaper threat. The council didn’t make it, but they were gits anyway, so I thought I’d see how my old buddy Anderson was getting along as head of the new council. Boy, was I in for a surprise…
The conversation went roughly like this;
Anderson: “I hate my job.”
Shepherd: “You’re welcome.”
Anderson: “Wanna be a Spectre again?”
Shepherd: “Yeah, why not?”
Anderson: “Okay, congrats.”
And that was that. Possibly the biggest decision I’d made at the end of the first game, offing the council, was met with all the fanfare of a sloppy fart. This seems to be a running theme throughout Mass Effect 2, with major decisions from the first game only receiving brief mentions. The odd occasion sees you running into one of your old crewmates, but BioWare don’t care much for sentimentalizing. A brief, but completely awesome opening sequence boldly decimates your merry band of heroes. Such confidence do they have in their characterisation, BioWare force themselves to conjure up a completely new cast for their Empire-Strikes-Back-moment, making the first crew seem like a bunch of Hollyoaks extras in the process.
As is customary with a BioWare game, the majority of characters are quite splendid with the odd dud. I’d hate to spoil your own voyage of discovery (this sounds like a self-help book!) and your Shepherd should meet the new bunch of his own accord. The only one I will warn you of beforehand is Kaiden Alenko’s replacement in the boring token male department, Jacob Taylor. Perhaps it’s because he’s a spit of Kanye West that I took an immediate dislike to him, but compared to the genius of some of the others, I’d rather go into a fight with an angry Krogan armed with colourful language and a packet of wine gums than speak to him.
Story-wise, something feels slightly amiss. The main storyline feels incredibly brief, and only seems to revolve around four major events. It could be argued that Shepherd gaining the loyalty of his/her crew is the main point, but the individual mission for each crew member is completely optional and so if someone just wanted to see the bare bones of the story they could whip through it without getting to the real meat of the game. The loyalty missions are wonderful (mostly, here’s looking at you Kanye) and vary from exciting shoot-em-ups to poignant, emotional moments. They are worth doing if only to highlight how brilliant BioWare are at creating fascinating characters with deep backstories. The storyline is no longer about humanity trying to find it’s place in the galaxy, no more political wrangling with a stubborn council. It’s about individual tales of how, in the face of extinction from the galaxy-bothering Reapers, there are still personal stories to be told. My favourite character was Zaeed Massani, a downloadable mercenary. Not because I found his story deep and meaningful, he just reminds me of what I’d imagine would spawn if Crocodile Dundee and Boba Fett ever got it on. A frightening thought.
From the second you fire your first round (thermal clips act as bullets instead of the overheating system) it’s abundantly clear that the combat system finally makes ME2 just as much of a third-person shooter as it is an RPG. It’s not quite as refined as say Gears of War, but is superior to fluff like Army of Two. Covering now requires a button press and actually works, although Shepherd did feel the need to inexplicably dart to the other side of cover on occasion. A.I squadmates still think that they can take down a Geth Colossus and chums by running directly underneath it for instance, but overall they help you out of sticky situations more often than not. Being rescued from a number of assailants by a well placed shockwave out of the blue does nothing to harm the feeling you are no longer a one-man army, something that plagued the original. Powers have been streamlined, and each team member only has access to a few abilities, although a special power can be unlocked by completing each respective aforementioned loyalty mission. Instead of weapon upgrades ammo can now be augmented using a power, for instance giving your rounds ‘cryo’ properties allowing you to freeze enemies. Combining these powers is insanely entertaining. Freezing enemies before shattering them into the ground using ‘slam’ equates to obscene amounts of enjoyment. It just feels a lot more solid, with the more frenetic battles feeling a lot more manageable now too.
Sadly, the much-vaunted conversation interrupt system feels fairly minor. I only counted a few opportunities where I could perform a paragon or renegade action such as booting a chap through a window. The good cop/bad cop system remains largely the same, although there is now a visual impact if you choose to be a bit naughty, reminiscent of Knights Of The Old Republic.
Thankfully, missions deviate from the typical go there, ask a question, shoot some people framework. I found myself stalking politicians through the streets, rummaging around for dog tags to send to widows and trying not to be mentally defiled by a saucy Asari. There is a much greater variety than last time, particularly when heading down to planets for the side missions. The abomination that was the Mako has thankfully been banished to memories passed, and the missions no longer just revolve around heading into an identikit science lab underground. Some planets have their own mission-specific location which are generally stunning to look at in their own right, and you don’t have to drive round looking for something to do.
Upgrades and the like are no longer restricted by an inventory system that requires a MENSA membership to navigate. Collecting minerals and crafting materials by launching a probe down to planets allow you to make upgrades to weapon damage, armour and even to the Normandy. It’s a vast improvement to the driving around a desolate planet looking for a bit of scrap metal, although it essentially amounts to nothing more than a mini game with little in the way of challenge. Other mini games come in the form of basic picture matching puzzles for opening locks. Hardly taxing, but does away with all that omni-gel malarkey from previous lock picking exploits. Elevator rides now take the form of a loading screen, which ruin any effects of open-world immersion and are still as boring as your Dad’s tie collection.
Something which generally gets overlooked (or in other words, the best thing about the last three games in the Halo series) is the soundtrack. Here, it is simply exquisite. Jack Wall has once again composed a classic, digital symphony which wouldn’t sound out of place as the ambience for a poncy London bar. I mean that in the nicest way possible, of course. It transcends anything you would expect to hear in a game, and even the nightclub soundtracks had me nodding along enthusiastically. The voice acting ranges from the sublime with Martin Sheen’s Illusive Man and Michael Beattie’s Mordin Solus to the bland, namely Mark Meer’s wooden XY chromosomal Shepherd.
Not drawing on any personal experience here, I’d imagine Mass Effect 2 is like spending a good few months down the gym, getting rid of those adorable love handles. You feel trim, you’ve got rid of the unwanted flab, you feel good about yourself. ME2 seems to have cut a lot down, almost to the point where it feels like half a game. But it’s feels better. I’m conscious that I perhaps haven’t draped this review in the superlatives that it deserves, but it really is an astonishing game. The ending mission trumps anything else I have played by a long shot. It’s undoubtedly the best looking game on the 360 at the moment. If you’re new to the series, I’d highly recommend soldiering through ME1 first of all if only so the story all ties in together and you get your own epic space bothering tale.
And of course, there are completely unnecessary sex scenes.
Almost perfect. Miranda was too hard to seduce.
9 OUT OF 10
The Collectors Edition – A Rant
I’ve been quiet for a while now because I’m being made redundant, and scrambling around trying to find a job to fund my gaming habit… erm I mean to pay the rent has taken up most of my time. So for some reason, I deemed it a good idea to drop £60 on the collectors edition. I never said I was the brightest star in the galaxy. See what I did there?
It comes with the bog-standard making of DVD, Issue One of the Mass Effect comic, an art book, a Cerberus network download and the Collector Armour and Assault Rifle. All very pretty, I’ll never look at it all but apparently impulse buying forgoes any rational thought on my part.
The Cerberus network (which as far as I can tell just gives you a few free downloads and a rubbish news feed when you load up) was simply downloaded in-game. The Collector Armour and Assault Rifle add-on… I couldn’t tell you what its like, because not only is it a thinly veiled attempt at quashing the pre-order market it’s also an absolute pigs ear to download. I had to sign up for a Bioware account which only gave me the option of Canadian English as my language. Sorry what, CANADIAN ENGLISH? Jeeeeeez. I fully expect American English to be thrust upon me, in all its simplified glory, but what on earth is Canadian English? What’s wrong with cup-o-tea, chim chim cheree, English English!?
So I signed up, forgetting that months ago I already created an EA account trying to download my disfigured computer generated face into Fifa 2010 using my normal email address. Lo-and-behold, because I used a googlemail address to link up my gamertag, I now couldn’t download this fancy armour. EA apparently reply to queries within 48 hours. This was three weeks ago when I asked them how to go about changing it and I haven’t heard back yet. Typical.
This has nothing to do with the game per se of course, hence why it doesn’t sit in the main body of the review. It’s just a rant toward the ridiculous hoops developers are making gamers jump through nowadays. The latest is the disgusting DRM that Ubisoft have added onto the PC version of Assassin’s Creed 2. It effectively means unless you are online, you can’t play the game. I feel an angry article coming on…