Mass Effect 2
Reviewed on: Xbox 360 (Also Available on PC)One of the most anticipated releases of 2010 hit shelves in the very first month of the year. This unfortunately might make people forget to mention it come Game of the Year time, and that would be a shame. 2010 has a lot to live up to with this game as a starting point.
At its heart, this sequel reaches back often to the first game of the series. A western RPG, the game has you building up your main character as well as other members of your squad, all leading up to a climactic battle against a galactic-level threat. It's the heart of many stories, even of other stories told by Bioware in the past. The presentation, character depth, and improvements to gameplay, however, make this game not only stand out from the original, but from its peers in this growing genre.
This game is all about choices. You choose at the beginning to bring in a character from a completed “Mass Effect” or start a new one (then choose whether they be male or female). Depending on this choice, various characters you meet will react to you differently. You choose during the game how to speak to and interact with allies, enemies, and others you associate with. You choose to be a pure force for good (paragon) or a no-nonsense fighter willing to be dirty and downright evil to get the job done (renegade). Every choice you make in this game (and made in the first, if you’re importing your character) has a direct and real effect that can be seen throughout. This creates a living world that you become a part of, rather than merely a backdrop. While Bioware and other companies have attempted this before, no one pulled it off quite like the “Mass Effect 2” team.
The presentation of the game, from cinematic-quality in-game graphics, to a varied soundtrack, to the stellar voice acting of Jennifer Hale (the female version of lead Shepard) and a cast of stars, improves in literally every way from the first game. If this is your first step into the Mass Effect world, you’ll be wowed by how developed it is. If you’re returning to it, you’ll be amazed by how far they’ve taken it forward in so short a time. There’s not a character in the game who isn’t engaging, and doesn’t have a deep back story that can be uncovered as little or as much as you’d like. The story builds to a fast pace much more quickly than the first, without leaving any detail out.
The other massive change is in the combat. This game would hold up against any tactical shooter, with easily-mappable real-time control over squad members, special abilities, and on-the-fly weapon changing. The game moves so seamlessly from conversation to exploration to combat that no one part ever feels out of place. There’s no inventory system to speak of, with all upgrading done back on your ship, and any purchases instantly becoming available back at home base, which allows for a lot more freedom to simply enjoy the story and gameplay itself.
Bioware somehow managed to take a beloved game, build on it and fix nearly every complaint anyone could have had, and simultaneously create an experience that is welcoming to newcomers. This is a game that you can choose (there’s that word again) to play through “quickly,” in about 30 hours, or do every side-mission and grind away for 80 hours or more. Xbox 360 and PC gamers should not miss this game, and those wary of the RPG genre should consider this their gateway. A fantastic space epic that’s grounded in personal choice and humanity, “Mass Effect 2” is a must-buy.