Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mass Effect 2 Video Game Review

BioWare's Mass Effect 2 (ME2) is the sequel to the award winning action RPG Mass Effect.(2007) So, does this sequel measure up to its predecessor? Read on, my fellow gamers.

ME2 takes place right after your character, Commander Shepard has defeated Saren and the Reaper, Sovereign. You see the Reapers are machine like creatures out to conquer the Milky Way Galaxy. Their allies are the sentient robots, the Geth. What's left of the galactic government, has sent you to hunt down the Geth. The government does not believe in the Reapers but wants your character to finish off Geth resistance. On the first mission, your ship, the Normandy, is attacked and destroyed by a mysterious ship. You are thrown into a planet's atmosphere and you die. The end. Okay, that would make this the shortest game in history. It's not the end but the beginning.

A shadowy pro-human group called Cerberus has saved you. Remember them from ME1? They did all kind of unethical experiments. Anyway, you are resurrected. A new threat has arisen. The Collectors are an alien species that is kidnapping thousands of colonists. Cerberus wants you to investigate the threat, form a team of kick-ass samurai and find a way to stop the Collectors.

BioWare has been listening to your complaints from ME1. If you hated ME1's Mako, the Moon Patrol like buggy, you'll be glad to see it's gone. Frankly, I didn't understand all the guff it got. People complained about the Mako's targeting. I mean just fire the guns from a first person view. But I digress. You are delivered to planets by shuttle. Speaking of targeting, remember how hard it was to hit anything in ME1? That's been fixed. Your guns do put bullets on the enemy. If you hated the elevator loading screens, you'll be happy to see that they are gone and replaced by neon graphics loading screens. The confusing weapons upgrades and armor are replaced by a simplified upgrade system which features less weapons of the same type. For example, there are only three type of assault rifles. Additionally, the game wants you to spend your money to upgrade rather than hoard all your money and wait for better weapons at the end of the game. You have to find upgrades and spend money to upgrade weapons during the game. It's kind of a Keynesian RPG.

Unfortunately, ME2 has massive flaws. First, the text on your character's computer is too small. And if you have a SDTV, forget about reading 70% of it. On many missions, you cannot revisit the planets after completion. That means you had better save your game before you try to open that vault. And by the way, they corrected the way you open things. On ME1, you had better have a good tech member. This time you don't need that guy. However, instead of the simple button pushing mini-game, you must now match colored lines at the top with scrolling codes. Or you have to match four pairs of buttons which is much easier. It's not fun. You must mine planets to get raw materials to upgrade your armor and weapons. In ME1, it was a one button touch. In ME2, you drag a target over the entire planet's surface and launch probes. Absolute tedium. Trust me, if you need a sleep aid, this will do it.

So with those problems, should you skip ME2? Absolutely not. Let's start with the voice acting. BioWare has recruited top notch talent. There's Oscar nominee, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer, Futurama's Phil LaMarr, Star Trek's Michael Dorn, the Matrix's Carrie-Anne Moss, Keith David, Seth Green and Chuck's Adam Baldwin and Yvonne Strahovski. Oh, before I forget, Martin Sheen plays the Illusive Man. The acting is great. You believe that these characters exist. When you put off a character's romantic advances (Liz Sroka), you hear disappointment in her voice.

The graphics have improved. There is more detail. Colors are richer. In a nod to the film Star Trek, there are lens flares. Cut scenes rival the best that Hollywood can produce. While, the RPG elements have been reduced , RPG fans should not fret. You still control the sex and looks of your character. I did the best I could to make my Shepard, a chubby Asian guy. You also benefit from gaining higher levels, so it's still got many RPG elements. The music also is on par with any Hollywood movie. During the last mission you will actually feel as if you are in a race to save mankind.

All of this is driven by some of the best writing for a video game. Mac Walters and Drew Karpyshyn have written a deep piece of science fiction. It's as good as anything written by Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke. The story has terror, humor and heroism. You have characters discussing the ability of sentient beings to create art. In one scene, a Geth discusses existence. Who says video games are for kids?

The gameplay is addictive. Unlike ME1 where you see repetitive warehouses, combat missions take place on multiple locations. Battles are exciting. It's harder than ME1 but to make up for the difficulty, your targeting is better from the start and your away team is pretty good. I recommend you play ME1 first and import your character to ME2. Choices you made in the first game show up in the second. So, if you saved a character from a side mission in ME1, he might show up in ME2.

Mass Effect 2 is one of the best games of the year. It may be a flawed masterpiece but it is a masterpiece nonetheless. The grade is A.

Here's a trailer that doesn't depict the actual gameplay but it is cool.

Here's a more accurate trailer that features actual gameplay.

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