Game Review: Mass Effect 2

I'm Shepard and I know it...

Coming into the gaming world as late as I have means having to catch up on plenty of past favorites in order to enjoy some of the current favorites… Uncharted and Batman (I just realized that I haven’t written my Arkham City review yet… I’ll get on that soon) come immediately to mind.  When a co-worker began salivating as the release date for Mass Effect 3 approached, he also began filling me in on what this game is all about.  Honestly, I didn’t think I would care for it… but I was intrigued by the game’s main conceit… the decisions that the player made (this is an RPG btw) in the first game carried over to the second game and would then carry over into the third for one cohesive story from the point of view of the main protagonist, Commander Shepard.  Interesting…

As a Playstation owner however, I was limited.  Apparently the game was only for Xbox and PC when it first came out and only begrudgingly went to the rival platform after the release of Mass Effect 2.  In order to deal with this discrepancy, the PS3 version now comes with a DLC containing a couple of new character, a few new missions and most importantly, an interactive comic bridging the first and second that would allow PS3 players to make six of the major decisions you would have made if the first were available.  What’s so awesome about this set-up is that the story does in fact change based on these decisions… there is no right or wrong… simply consequences.

I popped the game in prior to getting that DLC… big mistake.  I had no clue what was going on and didn’t feel any connection to the characters.  I downloaded the DLC, which incidentally took about three freaking hours, and restarted after about four hours of frustration.  What a difference a little comic can make.

So… what exactly is Mass Effect, and why should you care?  Mass Effect is a futuristic RPG based in space… many different species, many different factions.  I’m still slightly unclear on what the first was all about… other than the fact that one particular guy was indoctrinated by something known as a Reaper, which is a sentient spaceship that comes around once every 50,000 years or so and wipes out all organic life in the galaxy.  Basically hitting a giant reset button for life in the Milky Way.  Apparently Commander Shepard is the only person who believes what is going on and tries to convince the council of the impending danger.  In Mass Effect 2, Shepard has an unlikely ally… a group known as Cerberus headed by Martin Sheen… or rather, “the Illusive Man” as voiced by Senor Sheen.  My understanding is that Cerberus is not a trusted group in the first game and that sentiment carries over greatly into the second… but as the game opens, we see Shepard die and be rebuilt over the course of two years by Cerberus as they recruit him to help humanity by taking out the “Collecters”, a group of aliens known to be working for the Reapers in an attempt to wipe out humanity.  Colonies are being destroyed, and Cerberus wants to find out why… hence, the new rebuilt Commander Shepard.

Shepard can be customized as you see fit.  He can be a she… his face can be altered… his armor and clothing can be tweaked with (and yes, you will get a Fashionista trophy for modifying his/her duds)… and you can give him/her a name and have multiple careers based on different names and styles of play.  My first Shepard was Steve… I call every generic guy Steve.  Once I restarted, he became Bruce… I imagine Steve and Bruce hanging out at the Regal Beagle… everything is Three’s Company in my mind.  I would have selected Jack, but that infringes on LOST a bit. 

Once you have a Shepard you are happy with, you begin figuring out what the hell is going on.  The story unfolds well… the pacing is wonderful… and there is plenty to do both onboard your ship, the Normandy, as well as throughout the different missions and random planets and solar systems you encounter throughout the game.  There are lighthearted moments of whimsy and fun such as drinking in a bar and dancing… and more serious fare where you can scan various planets in order to gain mineral resources for upgrades and weapons improvements. 

Progressing through the game involves creating a squad in order to battle the Collectors and eventually earning each character’s loyalty through separate missions.  Each new squad member has different attributes that can compliment and augment your particular skill sets (when creating your Shepard you also choose what type of class he/she would be… soldier, infiltrator, engineer, etc.  Each has its pluses and minuses) and I will simply say gaining everyone’s loyalty is key.  If you fail any of the loyalty missions… take this advice, replay the mission.  I did not replay a mission that I failed and found myself annoyed and frustrated once I realized the consequences of that.

Throughout the game, you are given a decision wheel in which to choose what your actions and dialogue will be… the choices are either neutral, paragon, or renegade.  If you choose more paragon, you will be making your character a more heroic figure… if you select more renegade, you will be much more of a tough as nails badass.  I made the mistake of playing more middle of the road and making my selections more on what seemed appropriate at the time, bouncing between being a good guy and a badass.  Later in the game that decision came back to bite me in the ass as I had no clue that different options pop up based on the ratio of times either choice was given and taken.  In a time of need I didn’t have enough of either to quell an internal conflict between squad-mates to the detriment of one of their lives.  That’s all I’ll say on that matter.

This is not a straight ahead shooter by any stretch of the imagination.  On each mission you select two of your squad-mates to accompany you.  The decision should be mission based as well as figuring out which of their individual powers will compliment yours the best.  When in the field and in the midst of a battle, you will have to employ tactical moves… either telling each of your squad where to fight, but also who to fight and with what weapon or power.  You could play more straight forward, but then you would be doing yourself a great disservice.  They are there to help and should be employed judiciously.

Another fun aspect of the game is the possibility of romance.  On one hand, I find the idea of romancing video game characters completely cheesy and a touch weird… on the other, why not, it’s a bit of silly fun.  Of course, every female character has the typical female video game form… huge breasts and hips with a tiny waist and that come hither look that generally exists only on the covers of romance novels, not to mention the physically impossible stance where you can see both breasts and ass cheeks (for more on this impossibility visit Escher Girls… highly recommended)… but hey… it’s just a game.  At least the game is progressive enough that you can romance women if you too are a woman and multiple species as well.  If you are xenophobic, that may not be a great option… but wait until you meet Liara… you may change your mind… then when you meet Jack, you will be surprised and may change your mind again… just saying.

Any more details and I risk spoiling the best part of the game… playing it and allowing the story to unfold.  Well constructed, great action sequences and set pieces, wonderful character development, fantastic graphics, and great game play… what’s not to love.  I would recommend Mass Effect 2 to anyone who enjoys a good RPG and also likes science fiction.  I started out skeptical about this one but became a convert after a good eight hours or so. 

In the end, it took me about 35 hours… and that was doing every single side mission I could as well as the main.  Now I’m ankle deep into ME3 and already thinking about the decisions made in ME2 and how I will eventually go back and replay ME2.  I find the idea of something that invites multiple play-throughs to be very appealing… and if you do too, than Mass Effect 2 is the game for you.

I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favorite blog on the internet,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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