Written by Jim Thomas Saturday, 30 January 2010 18:52
Humanity is under attack, colonies in the Terminus systems are being abducted without a trace, and I have just been reconstructed from a frozen pile of meat. But the only thing on my mind is how long it is going to take me to plow my head into Miranda’s sweet bosom and motorboat the hell out of her. I’m Commander Shepard, and I’m a total dickhead. That’s right, the modern day Captain Kirk is back, and he’s not pulling any punches.
Picking up immediately after the events of the original Mass Effect, Commander Shepard and the crew of the Normandy find themselves under attack by a mysterious foe. A bolt of plasma cuts through the bow of the Normandy engulfing the bridge in flames. Crew members race to escape pods and jettison out into deep space. After escorting the last of the crew to safety and releasing the pod, a second shot rips through the hull, ejecting Shepard into the dark abyss of space. As he slowly drifts away, oxygen leaks through the seals of his suit which was damaged during the attack. His slow death is expedited when the Normandy’s Mass Effect reactor explodes, caroming Shepard into the darkness. And that’s just the first 10 minutes.
Mass Effect left some pretty big shoes to fill, but Bioware was up to the task. Mass Effect 2 has been streamlined; from graphics to game play everything has been improved. The guns perform better, your biotics are more powerful and the female squad mates have bigger tits, and those are just a few of the improvements the game has received. If the original Mass Effect were “A New Hope”, Mass Effect 2 would definitely be “The Empire Strikes Back”.
A mysterious race known only has the Collectors have appeared, and have been abducting human colonists on the far reaches of the Terminus system. Shepard’s goal is to determine what the Collectors are after, and investigate their connection with the Reapers (massive sentient machines hell bent on destroying all organic life). The Council and Alliance have downplayed the Reaper threat, but Shepard has a new ally in Cerberus, who are determined to save humanity whatever the cost. Lead by the Illusive Man, Cerberus rebuilt Shepard in the hope that he could once again save the galaxy. Shepard prepares for what will likely be a suicide mission into Collector space, but he’ll need a crew he can trust.
The heart of Mass Effect 2 is rounding up your squad and gaining their loyalty. After all, if you’re heading out on a suicide mission you’ll need people you can trust. The Illusive Man has done his homework and already scouted likely recruits. Your mission is to get them to follow you to certain death. As you round the galaxy gathering your squad you will have the opportunity to embark on “loyalty” missions. These missions are character specific and revolve around an event important to a certain squad mate. Complete the mission satisfactorily, which is more difficult than it sounds, and you will gain that person’s loyalty. But be careful, misstep on the mission and you lose their trust forever, which makes the games climax all the more interesting.
The locales in Mass Effect 2 make the Citadel in the original look like wasteland. The new environments feel rich, and alive. Characters interact in the background, and every locale has its own feel. Gone are the barren planet side missions that require you to drive up 90 degree cliffs in the Mako. Instead Shepard and the crew are transported via shuttle to the exact locale, each unique from the others. The once monotonous experience grinding side missions have been replaced by story driven events that aide in the general plot of the story, or give the player unique insight into a member of their squad. While these missions may be more linear then the last game, they serve as a way to drive the story forward, rather than feeling like you are wasting time while the galaxy is under attack.
Controls and game mechanics have been completely reworked in ME2. The original Mass Effect was very much an RPG with action elements. Mass Effect 2 is an action game, with RPG elements. You tech and biotic powers can now be mapped to the right and left bumpers as well as the Y button, meaning most of the time you won’t need to bring up the power wheel mid fight. The cover system now functions similarly to Gears of War, a simple press of the A button and Shepard dives behind the first cover available. In addition, accuracy is no longer dependant on some arbitrary “skill” number. Shepard is a trained soldier; as such his bullets no go where he aims his crosshair. This means that sniping is no longer the ball busting experience it once was.
In addition to the core controls, the inventory system has been removed. Now instead of scrolling through pages of worthless Kessler pistols, you have one. That’s right; you start the game with one of every type of weapon. During missions you will have the ability to scan guns found in the level, which will give you the ability to build those variants in the Normandy’s lab (at the cost of some resources). Each gun has a few different variants, but ultimately you are left with far fewer choices. However this isn’t a bad thing, now instead of managing an inventory you can focus on the core of the game, which is killing aliens.
As I mentioned above resources are now a big part of the game. As the Normandy roams the galaxy you will come upon undiscovered planets, this gives you the opportunity to scan the planet (via the thumb sticks) and locate deposits of rare metals or elements. Launching a probe into these deposits will collect them for you. Each resource is used to upgrade your weapons, the ship, or your biotic and tech implants. All of which are crucial to survive the suicide mission.
With the focus on immersing the player in preparation for the final confrontation it’s easy to forget about the little items that Bioware has added to the game. By far the best feature is that players are allowed to import their characters from the original Mass Effect into ME2. When importing a character, all the decisions you made during the first game carry over. Kill the council during the fight with Sovereign? They’re still toast. Do fifty pushups on top of Ashley Williams during your journey to Illos? She remembers. Almost every major decision from the original game carries over, and each is addressed in ways that will be sure to please even the most ardent completionist. From subtle dialogue options with familiar characters, to punching women square in the face Bioware has made sure that the decisions you made in Mass Effect carry over. By doing so, they ensure that every player experiences a different game, and adds countless hours or replay.