Mass Effect 2. If you ask any gamer remotely involved in the sci-fi genre, chances are this beauty is in their top 10. Released in 2010, Mass Effect 2 is the sequel to Gears of War 3. And now that you’re done not laughing at the previous sentence, lets dig into this masterpiece!
So the game begins with the hero of the series Shepard being killed and his ship destroyed.…Interesting start. Cut to years later and Shepard has been reconstructed by the terrorist organization Cerberus and their leader the Illusive Man (played by Martin Sheen), in order for him to hunt down the race that killed you several years prior, known as the Collectors, who are abducting entire human colonies for an unknown purpose.
If you read my previous review of Mass Effect, you may recall a lot of “we’ll cover this later.” Well this is the later, and here is the covering; Mass Effect 2 not only allows you to import your character’s appearance from Mass Effect, but ALL their choices in the previous game. Think about that for a second. From the way characters react to you, to the ones that survived the previous game, every game is unique! Imagine this in a game like Fable; if your choices and character carried over into Fable 2. It’s two different adventures, as opposed to one massive adventure, which is all your own.
I’ll get my Shepard’s story out of the way first. Throughout the first game Cerberus was up to a lot of shady business in many side missions, so when the second game came around, I didn’t trust them an inch! My opinion of them was formed already through the previous game’s experience. This extended to a member of my squad, Miranda, a Cerberus loyalist. At first I didn’t trust this bitch as far as I could throw her, but I somehow came to trust her more and more, as she softened up to Shepard in the game, in the same why that my personal opinion of her changed. Why do I keep bringing this up? Because I want the readers who have played the series to really think about your experience. How did you perceive the universe and characters? Because chances are, your adventure and mine are not running parallel (mainly because I seem to be over thinking every interaction).
But enough of my own personal experience. Lets get to the gameplay.
The whole game revolves around recruiting a squad to take on the Collector stronghold, which is always on your map from the get go. It waits at the edge of the Omega system, judging you. Daring you. Which is kind of weird from a gaming perspective. It’s like a Mario game with Bowsers castle floating in the background of every level, just looming over you. It has an intimidating presence by just being there! So pretty much everything is built around preparing for the final mission. You recruit your team, and then each one has their own unique mission devoted to earning their loyalty. Your aim is to build up your chances of surviving the final mission; did I mention that the game could end with Shepard’s death? Yeah, that’s pretty daunting! The threat that you could mess up and earn a permanent death for your character has this added element of fear.
Since the game is about recruiting your squad, the focus is mainly on your team this time around. You get to interact with them and know them a lot more than in the previous game, discovering their past and helping them overcome their demons. Each one has their own unique story, which could all be games of their own! This extends to gameplay too. Each character has their own skill and powers, rather than being a carbon copy of each of the player classes, with powers unique to them alone. On top of that their armour is no longer as customizable. This actually works in the games favor. Each of the characters feels unique and has personality, rather than just filling roles on a team. It’s important to note that I fell in love with each and every member of my crew, even the side characters! From my wise cracking pilot Joker (played by Seth Green), to the bickering engineers Gabby and Ken. I even liked the ships cook Gardener. I REMEMBER THE NAME OF THE FUCKING COOK! This game really made me feel some thing for my crew, which I haven’t gotten from any game before or since! This also leads to an embarrassing story later….
Shepard’s classes have also been improved from the previous game. The mixed classes have their own unique abilities now, rather than in the last game where they were just diluted versions of the main specialized classes. Vanguards (combat and biotic) are now designed to be shock troopers, bull rushing enemies and wreaking havoc; Sentinels (biotic and tech) utilize shields and light armor to increase their defense; and infiltrators (combat and tech) are able to turn invisible. The other specialized classes also have their own quirks and abilities, making your classes different to that of your allies and adding a lot more variety and encouraging new play styles on multiple playthroughs.
But what about the combat? It choked on it’s own dick last time, so did they improve it? Hell yeah they did! The cover now feels natural and fluent, allowing you to move between cover much easier. On top of that your guns are a lot easier to handle. Previously weapons couldn’t aim for shit without the right mods, but this time they feel more balanced and easy to use. The AI too feels a lot more refined; both the team AI and the enemies stick to cover a lot more and will try to flank you if your not careful. There are also new specialized enemies, with their own tactics and strategies. So the combat is perfect now right? Nope!
The stronger enemies will just storm through your attacks and wreck your shit before you can even react. Their attacks just feel unfair and cheap. But then again it does force you to think and react quickly. You can’t bunker down and plan out your attack slowly; you need to react fast to multiple, different scenarios, adapting to changing circumstances. But what about when the game feels downright broken? The worst is a glitch where if a teammate brushes up against you in cover, your character will leap back out of cover and into a hail of blaster fire. This glitch is extremely infuriating on the harder difficulties. So the solution is to spread them out right? Wrong! Your squad will often make executive decisions, regrouping without prompt and switching their weapon to one not suited to the current situation! However these issues come from the fact that the gameplay is completely different from the first, so they had to begin with square one. So these minor issues were fixed in the third game, and the gameplay overall is improved greatly over its predecessor.
The rest of the game is pretty much the same, except with more variety and detail in the environments. Choices have also expanded to button prompts, allowing you to interrupt a conversation with either a paragon or renegade action, usually allowing you to get the best results in a given situation. But you don’t know what the action will be, which at one point lead to my punching out a reporter by accident. It does have some interesting and sometimes humorous outcomes, or even helps you in conflict; the villain of the moment is ranting and raving, but then Shepard interrupts the cut scene to blow open a fuel tanker and wipe out half the enemies you face in the next encounter.
The vehicle segments are absent this time around (if you read my previous review, you may recall my strong opinions of the Mako and it’s bouncy castle physics!), which is a shame, but it allows them to improve the game in other areas. Uncharted world exploration is replaced with scanning planets in orbit for resources. VERY SLOWLY scanning for resources. It’s essentially trading a tedious tumble across a barren wasteland for tedious grinding. The vehicle segments had promise, but were held back by what I believe to be the hardware. They did release a much better vehicle in the form of a hover tank in DLC, but sadly this never came to anything in the third game. This also creates a different game feel. The universe doesn’t feel as huge and empty. It’s still huge sure, but now the game feels more packed and personal. It’s like a diluted barrel of beer compared to a single, perfectly poured pint. Quality over quantity. It’s weird how this feeling of a personalized universe can come from taking away a car, but that’s just how this game creates an overall experience through each of it’s elements and improvements over the first game.
Now that we’ve looked at what this game did to improve itself over the first game, lets close with a personal experience. At the final mission, I made a mistake that got my entire supporting crew killed. I arrived too late to find that nearly everyone was dead, and I could have saved them if I’d only arrived earlier. I spent the entire last half and hour of the game depressed. I couldn’t focus on the fight because I was too busy mourning! “Shepard! Why aren’t you giving us orders?” “BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL DEAD! THEY’RE ALL DEAD AND IT’S ALL MY FAULT!” This is the first game to make me feel guilt! Eventually I got over myself and finished the game in their honor. However it turns out that in Mass Effect 3 there is a memorial to all the characters who have died, just outside the elevator.
I had to be reminded of my mistake every time I went to the crew deck!
I actually ended up playing Mass Effect 2 ALL OVER AGAIN, just to save Gardener and my bloody secretary! And I mean ALL OF IT! Every side mission and collectable! 100% game completion a second time, just to save a few supporting characters. At least they’re alive now, and I got to play Mass Effect 2 again! Joy!
As you may have guessed, I’m a little emotional when it comes to this game.
It feels like Mass Effect established the universe, while the second game allowed you to become emotionally invested in it; using the first game as a template to create a much better game. But what’s to come next? We’ll find out when we enter the game that everybody loves to hate, Mass Effect 3. Which is my favourite game in the series…