By Ian McCabe
Commander Shepard, Commander Shepard, where art thou Commander Shepard? The human race needs you! Oh, there you are, still fighting to save the universe from those dastardly Reapers! A full year on from the initial release of the smash hit video game Mass Effect 2, those fine folks at Bioware have continued to spoil us with a plutonium load of additional downloadable content. All good things must come to an end however, as it did with the release of ‘The Arrival’, the final Mass Effect 2 DLC episode. So, let’s take a look back and wrap up all of those extras in one neat little package.
Bioware’s Mass Effect 2 was initially released for Xbox 360 and PC back in January 2010 and later for the PlayStation 3 this past January (which included all of the DLC bar ‘The Arrival’). The action-RPG continued Commander Shepard’s intergalactic battles against ‘The Reapers’, a race hell-bent on destroying the universe, with humanity at the top of its ‘to kill’ list. But surely, you knew this already. It’s difficult to find any console player who hasn’t at least tried the Mass Effect series, which has deservedly scooped up pretty much every game of the year award over the last few years. I’m not here to talk about the game itself though, that’s been done already in AMO’s review here (it’s probably wise to read that first, if you haven’t already). This review is a casual look at the game’s extra downloadable content. In the last year there has been a lot to talk about, from the special weapon packs, extra crew members and appearances, to the fully fledged episodes.
Of course, DLC can often feel like a cop out; paying for more content after you’ve just shelled out £30-40 for a game can often leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. However, Bioware have done a fantastic job of expanding the already humongous Mass Effect universe without making you feel cheated or short changed. So, without much further ado…
(Note: This review is sourced from the Xbox 360 version of the game and may not include any of the pre-order or promotional content).
Weapons, Armour and Appearance Packs
I’ve decided to bundle the additional content into one section. These include the appearance, weapon and armour packs. I’m also including The Firepower Pack, the Aegis pack, the Cerberus weapon and armour pack and Equalizer pack, all of which unlock new weapons and/or armour which can be used by Shepard and his crew. The Aegis pack includes the awesome M-29 Incisor Sniper Rifle which has the ability to shoot three shots at once, very useful against those pesky Batarians. Most of these packs are included for free via the Cerberus network (if you have the code) and really only enhance the game for the hardcore fans.
There are also two appearance packs, which gives alternate uniforms to some of your crew, a pointless, yet quirky add on. The first pack includes outfits for Garrus, Jack and Thane (with a nifty pair of red shades), the second pack is for Grunt and Tali with a lovely new black cat suit for Miranda. The best of these minor additions is the Arc Projector, a heavy weapon which blows all of the other heavy weapons – as well as your enemies – away. It’s a huge gun which can electrocute anyone and anything standing in your way. My personal favourite simply because it is so powerful!
Gamers who purchased Mass Effect 2 brand new are also rewarded with the previously mentioned Cerberus Network code, although it can be purchased too, albeit for a steep price. This gives free access to a lot of the extra content mentioned, including the new character Zaeed, as well as new missions and weapons, which I’ll soon get to.
8 OUT OF 10 – for everything combined.
Normandy Crash Site Mission
Part of the Cerberus Network bundle, this short extra mission is merely just a nod and a chance to reminisce about the first Mass Effect game. Even though you’re now working for Cerberus, the Alliance has found the old Normandy crash site and asked Shepard to scout the location and create a memorial. There’s not a lot to it other than retrieving the crew’s dog tags and placing a monument. Still, if seeing the remains of the ship and the brief flashbacks of the quarters and crew members, such as Ashley and Kaiden, doesn’t get you riled up to kick some Collector/Reaper butt, then I don’t know what will!
7 OUT OF 10
The Firewalker Pack
In the first Mass Effect game, Shepard and co would often venture out across uncharted planets in their mini tank… thing, the Mako, which was fun, for about 15 minutes. Thankfully, this was dropped from the sequel, albeit to a mixed reception. Bioware’s way of appeasing everyone was to release the Hammerhead, a hovercraft … thing, which is fun, for about 10 minutes. Thankfully, unlike the Mako, the Hammerhead isn’t overused. There are five new missions included which involve the use of the Hammerhead and they vary, from basic excavation to blasting the hell out of the Geth. The stories surrounding the missions don’t really add anything to the main arc and merely feel tagged on if anything. The ship itself is also quite difficult to operate, especially in battle, barely putting up any defence at all. Not the best example of DLC you’ll ever see.
6 OUT OF 10
Officially the following add-ons are missions, but the story of each is integral to the main arc or large enough that it feels like a whole new episode in its own right. The missions can be played anywhere throughout the game, but it’s better to play them before you go forward with the final suicide mission.
Zaeed – The Price of Revenge
Another of the packs included in the Cerberus Network bundle, this add-on unlocks Zaeed, a badass English soldier turned Mercenary turned hired-gun, adding him to your crew upon the Normandy (his dossier can be initiated after finding him on Omega). It also unlocks his loyalty mission which involves the two of you (and Miranda, we all choose Miranda) travelling to the planet Zorya in order to take down Zaeed’s old friend and now nemesis, Vido Santiago. Apparently they both started the Blue Suns merc group 20 years ago. Yeah, the same group that was a pain in your butt on Omega. It’s a short and straightforward battle, but is fun nonetheless. The pack also includes a new star cluster to explore as well as a new heavy weapon, the M-451 Firestorm – or a flamethrower to you and I. A pretty damn good one though!
Best of all though is having Zaeed as part of your team. The guy is a deadly shot, it’s like having an extra soldier class Shepard. Adding him to the team also unlocks a new room on the Normandy, where you can talk to Zaeed about his weapons as well as take out the trash… literally.
8 OUT OF 10
Kasumi – Stolen Memory
This pack is much like the above. After a cool little introduction involving a conversation with a Citadel advertising board, Kasumi, the Japanese master thief, is added to your team along with her loyalty mission. It also unlocks the Blotzmann star system, new formal attire for Shepard to wear aboard the Normandy and the M-12 Locust machine gun. A new area of the Normandy crew quarters opens up too, where you can listen to Kasumi talk non-stop about her old boyfriend or just use the bar to get very, very drunk.
The best part though, of course, is the mission and it’s one of my favourites. Kasumi asks Shepard to aid her in retrieving a gray box of secrets which belonged to her late partner, Kenji. Getting the box back will allow Kasumi to reconnect with him, perhaps gaining closure. However, the box is being held by a rich and evil art collector with a weird accent, Donovan Hock, who just happens to be the person who killed Kenji. The mission is a lot of fun. The first half of it is more at home in the adventure genre than the third person shooter genre; Shepard doesn’t even have a gun for most part. Seeing him/her wearing formal wear and mingling with the well-to-do folk at the party is enjoyable if only for the complete juxtaposition to the rest of the game. Kasumi also joins the squad full time, her crafty ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ biotic power more than making up for her lack of combat skills.
Stolen Memory isn’t included within the Cerberus Network, costing 560 points, just about right considering it’s short length.
8 OUT OF 10
Much longer than the previous two missions, Overlord brings back the Hammerhead. A rouge VI (virtual intelligence) is taking over any technology (including those annoying Geth) and overrunning Cerberus research facilities. Shepard must stop it before it finds the power to overrun other planets. As if that wasn’t enough, a surviving scientist lets slip that the whole thing was originally an experiment which fused the VI with a human, his brother, creating the VI Overlord. This is actually quite frightening when finally revealed.
I found this mission quite dull for best part, mainly because the bulk of it takes place within the Hammerhead, although the surviving English scientist and his hammy acting didn’t help. It’s a standalone story with no impact on the main arc at all and I might even say give it a miss, unless you’re a hardcore fan or want to experience everything. However, the last third of the story more than makes up for the wasted time and does something no other mission has done. Without spoiling much, it’s almost like placing Shepard into Tron and it works, even if it does feel a bit odd. It’s a shame that it takes so long for the mission to get interesting, especially for 560 points.
7 OUT OF 10
The Lair of the Shadow Broker
This add-on costs more points than the others, 800 points in fact, but it’s worth every one of them. If you’ve played the original Mass Effect game you’ll no doubt have heard of the Shadow Broker, a shady, unseen character who seems to have insider information on everyone and everything in his left hand and the cajones of universe’s elite in his other. Well, it’s time to finally take him down and our old friend Liara T’Soni is back to help. She’ll do anything to get to him and it seems his agents will do anything to stop her. The mission’s story is not pivotal with regard to the game’s main arc, but elements of it seem to be pointing towards the third game.
Everything is great about this DLC. The story and dialogue is crisp and clever, there’s even a slight joke about omni-gel at one point which will amuse fans of the original game. Shepard and Liara’s general interactions cause the odd chuckle too, especially if you chose to court Liara in the previous game. There’s also a hover car chase through the busy streets of Illium, followed by a neighbourhood shootout which is a highlight of the whole series, never mind the DLC. The pacing is top notch too, there’s a nice spread of detective work and action and the length just feels right for an add-on episode. Liara doesn’t become part of the Normandy crew after the mission, but she is part of your squad throughout it and there’s also the chance to continue your friendship with her afterwards.
Without spoiling much, the payoff continues even after the mission is over, in numerous ways. Mass Effect 2 really isn’t complete without this DLC.
9 OUT OF 10
And finally, the last chapter in the Mass Effect 2 journey, the DLC which connects the second and future third game together. Unlike the others, the impact on the main story is very evident in this episode, with the Reapers even making an appearance at one point. Admiral Hackett (voiced by Lance Henriksen) is back, and this time we even get to see him in the flesh. The Arrival is perhaps the most challenging of the DLC episodes, with a few wave battles thrown in, plus Shepard is all by himself this time. Sadly, it’s rather short and disappointing for a final chapter, but there are some surprising twists and a lot of action to keep you on your toes. The finale is exciting and explosive too, shocking even, and will have you ready for the third game, which is expected within the first quarter of next year.
As I said, it’s a bit short. I probably got through it in about 90 minutes, if that. But the narrative importance and the twist at the end of this DLC is enough to warrant the 560 points and a recommendation.
7 OUT OF 10
There you have it. Mass Effect 2’s twelve month rollercoaster is over, only for us to play it all over again as we await the third and final chapter. Some of the DLC seems rather pointless, although if you were lucky enough to get a free Cerberus Network code, it’s nothing to complain about. It’s obvious the weapons and attire packs are more for the dedicated, hardcore gamers, although everyone should try the Arc Projector. The Lair of the Shadow Broker episode and the Kasumi character are worth all of those points together, making up for the disappointing Firewalker add-on. If you haven’t added to your Mass Effect 2 experience yet then I highly recommend doing so. In the end, it’s more Mass Effect 2 and surely that’s good enough!