0 Gaming Review

'Mass Effect 2' (PS3)

Released on Tuesday, Jan 18 2011

Gaming Review: Mass Effect 2

© EA

Also available on: Xbox 360, PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Bioware
Genre: RPG/Third-person shooter

The past few weeks have been very kind to PS3 owners. We've seen the return of Sackboy in the excellent LittleBigPlanet 2, the release of Dead Space 2, complete with bonus content in the form of critically acclaimed Wii lightgun game Dead Space: Extraction, and now almost a year after it was released on the Xbox 360 and PC, the definitive version of Bioware's epic RPG/third person shooter hybrid Mass Effect 2. Remarkably, the game which narrowly missed out on the top spot of Digital Spy's 2010 Game Of The Year awards is an early contender for the crown for a second year running, largely due to the fact that the PS3 version contains a few minor upgrades as well as a generous helping of additional content.

First of all, if like me the whole Mass Effect phenomenon has passed you by, don't worry. Bioware - in conjunction with Dark Horse comics - has provided players with a ten minute interactive comic outlining the plot of the first game. The comic is wonderfully drawn and does a great job of telling the story of the original Mass Effect and, most importantly of all, allows gamers to make the big decisions that affect the political landscape and Commander Shepard's personal relationships in Mass Effect 2. The importance of this bonus content can't be understated because not only does it bring PS3 owners up to speed with the series, but it does so in a way that makes the lack of a predecessor on the console seem irrelevant. Being able to mess with the setup and dynamic of the sequel in a matter of minutes before the game starts adds further replay value to a title already brimming with replayability.

The interactive comic isn't the only piece of bonus content that has been included in the PS3 port. The game features plenty of extra weapons and armour as well as additional characters and missions, all of which have been seamlessly integrated into the game. The content is by no means exclusive to the Sony version, but PS3 owners won't have to pay huge sums of money for the DLC after they have already completed the game - unlike Xbox 360 and PC owners who may rightly feel aggrieved to have shelled out extra cash for the DLC over the past year having already paid full price for the title when it was released. The majority of the extra content is good too - the mission involving Kasumi, the party and the vault is a worthy and entertaining side-quest and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

While the inclusion of the extra content could be seen as Bioware's way of apologising for the title's lengthy absence on the PS3, it wouldn't mean much if the core game itself wasn't worth waiting for. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth, because even without all of the bells and whistles Mass Effect 2 is undoubtedly one of the games of this generation. It all starts off on trusty spaceship The Normandy, which is attacked by unknown assailants in a surprising and explosive opening to the game. After customising your character, players lead their creation out of another potentially fatal situation and begin working with - be it willingly or reluctantly - a pro-human group called Cerberus. The subsequent action takes place across scores of planets and diverse locations and is as riveting, engaging and engrossing a tale as you're ever likely to witness.

What makes the plot in Mass Effect 2 stand out is that it is driven by the player and the choices that they make. Speaking to different characters brings up a fluid conversation menu which contains answers ranging from friendly and helpful to downright nasty. The answers and actions players choose fill up a paragon or renegade bar depending on whether they are morally just or evil. This dictates how other characters view Shepard, what he looks like and even who lives and dies - which of course has implications regarding the ending of the game and no doubt what happens in the third title. Occasionally a paragon or renegade symbol will pop up during cut-scenes and can be selected by pressing either R2 or L2 and usually results in the death or saving of an NPC. Playing God with people's lives can be cruel and mean, but it sure is fun, especially when you see the long-term effects it has on your game.

The riveting plot and innovative narrative techniques are wonderfully complimented by the excellent cover and fire combat system, which resembles shooters like Uncharted and Gears Of War. In addition to the vast array of space age rifles and shotguns, players also have access to teammates' unique abilities (such as telekinesis), which makes it feel like you are fighting alongside Jedi Knights. Holding L2 and bringing up the menu wheel mid-fight pauses the action and allows players to select a power to use, revive teammates, change ammo-types (in order to deal with different types of armour) or queue rechargeable squad powers. In a nice touch, additional powers can be learned by gaining the trust of teammates either by talking with them or by carrying out certain missions.

More skilled players can also map abilities and squad members to different buttons, allowing for commands to be issued on the fly. This blend of sauntering, slow-paced combat and real-time, lightning quick action eliminates the rigidity found in other shooters and allows for many different strategies to be used, especially when you factor in the choice of which teammates to take into battle and the weapons that they carry. The RPG style levelling-up system also adds depth to the combat, with players given points to spend on new powers and abilities. It's a blurring of genres that has often hampered other games but works so wonderfully in this instance.

Perhaps the only suspect feature in the game is the rather dull and time consuming mineral mining. It's slightly disappointing and deceptive when you see the size of the galaxy map only to realise that many of the planets are technically out of bounds and may only be scanned in order to mine resources to aid with the creation of new weapons, armour and items. Also, the graphics are largely smooth and sharp - surprisingly so in fact - but occasionally (and in particular during some vehicle sections), the textures leave a little bit to be desired. Speaking of the environments, as with any sci-fi, space title, there are instances when certain space station interiors seem a little dull and generic, but even this is largely (and again surprisingly) a rare problem, as most of the surroundings are visually diverse and aesthetically pleasing.

In a game of this scale and size, the problems are relatively minor and are heavily outweighed by the positives. The combat system, the narrative, the branching conversations and the meshing of multiple genres sets Mass Effect 2 apart from almost every other game, resulting in a title that will entertain for hours and can be replayed over and over with different outcomes. Considering all of the extras that the PS3 version includes, it's fair to say that this is the definitive version of the title and proves that good things, nay great things, really do come to those who wait.

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