Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One Year Later & Still an Amazing Space Epic... The Mass Effect 2 (PS3) Review

Last year, Xbox 360 owners experienced arguably one of the best games of this console generation with Mass Effect 2. Now, Playstation 3 owners that don't also own a 360 now get a chance to see what the fuss is all about with this BioWare shooter/RPG franchise. One year later, Mass Effect 2 is still that amazing from beginning to end and the PS3 version feels more complete with some additions. These additions range from the DLC that the 360 version had (Shadow Broker, Overlord, etc.) and it is now already in the disc. Since the PS3 missed out on the original Mass Effect, there is an interactive comic at the beginning of the game recapping the major events of that game along with making the key decisions that will play along in this sequel. If you thought BioWare will put out a lazy port for the Playstation 3, think again because Mass Effect 2 is still as good if not better.

Mass Effect 2 continues the adventures of Commander Shepard as his ship, The Normandy, was brutally attacked by an unknown race known as The Collectors. The ship got completely destroyed and it was like the end of the line for Shepard until a human organization, Ceberus, comes in and gives him a second chance of life and retribution. The Illusive Man is behind Shepard being brought back to life and gives him a "suicide mission" of taking down the Collectors at their homeworld by going through the Omega 4 Relay. These Collectors are apparently working for the Reapers, the big enemies of the franchise that almost took out The Citadel in the first game. It is up to Shepard to assemble an expert team of people with varieties of skills to achieve this "suicide mission" for humanity's sake and pretty much everyone else's. The story is pretty straightforward with a certain goal to accomplish, but of course with BioWare it is more than just the main mission and being also a character study diving into the various faces you recruit during the game. The philosophical ties are also worth exploring with these characters through the course of the game learning about their morals and their ethical ways of their lives.

While the original Mass Effect was an amazing game on its own, it was a flawed experience even from a gameplay standpoint. BioWare's solution to this to make Mass Effect 2 more shooter-y than a RPG with a combat being a huge focus. The approach did work even though it is debatable if it is now classified as a third-person shooter than a RPG. Deep down, Mass Effect 2 is still a RPG at heart with the RPG-like elements from the dialogue-heavy choices you make throughout the game, but with improved shooting combat, it is a better gameplay experience. The shooting feels more in vein of a Gears of War with cover-based combat along with rechargeable health/shields and the biotic powers the franchise has been known for. Your squadmates will do their part of the mission as their AI do a good job for the most part of helping out and not dying as much for you to waste medi-gels to revive them during a kill room against enemies. You can still dish out orders for them to hang at certain positions for a tactical advantage, but honestly, I didn't need to use orders that much throughout the game. Like the original game, there are varieties of classes to choose from at the start that suits your playstyle from the standard Soldier class of being gun-heavy, to my personal favorite Vanguard maintaining a balance of guns and biotic powers especially the awesome charge attack.

Other than the combat being improved, other gameplay elements have been improved as well in Mass Effect 2. Exploring planets for minerals is not as much as a chore anymore from the uncontrollable vehicular sections back in the first game to now just launching probes when scanning them. Speaking of vehicular sections, there is a big lack of them this time around as these only appear in DLC missions like Shadow Broker and Overlord, which I mentioned earlier are in the game at the get go being able to play them as early as possible. There are still side missions to play through exploring planets and visiting cities, but there is not as much of them compared to the original being way repetitive in design back then. The franchise signature dialogue sequences have improved drastically from generic scenes of standing to more dynamic scenes with various camera angles during conversations and basically making them feel like you're talking to someone in reality. Paragon and Renegade choices still matter throughout the game and there are times when you to have to press a button for an interrupt in a good or bad way pending with how you want your Shepard to be. BioWare was able to learn from their mistakes from the first game and were able to make a better game with Mass Effect 2.

Graphically, Mass Effect 2 looks and runs a little better on PS3 due to BioWare actually using the engine that is being used for Mass Effect 3 in this version. Character models look amazing and detailed and the various backgrounds you visit look beautiful as well. Sure, there will be many moments where the framerate will slow down when things get hectic during combat situations. Plus, there were times where the game gets a little buggy with enemies being stuck to the point you can't continue progressing causing a restart to the nearest checkpoint or a previous save. In addition, your character can be just stuck in the geometry walking around areas you didn't plan to walk on. During a side mission for example, it felt like I was floating in the air walking around. There is also a mandatory install for the PS3 version, but even load times feel a little long especially when navigating around floors of your ship. Another nitpick is some areas not looking as good as other areas especially in Overlord where it feels like textures were missing. Despite all those nitpicks, Mass Effect 2 still looks great on PS3 and the potential is there for Mass Effect 3 to look better with the engine. As for the sound, it is a top notch effort once again by BioWare from the soundtrack to the voice acting. The soundtrack, even feels a little similar to the first game in regards to tone, is still one of the best gaming soundtracks that fit the game's style exceptionally well. Voice acting is also superb in all aspects for the variety of characters from Martin Sheen being the Illusive Man, Chuck's Yvonne Strahovski as Miranda (Their character models are based on their real-life counterparts), Seth Green returning as Joker, and so on.

One year later and Mass Effect 2 is still an amazing space epic from beginning to end. Even though most of the RPG elements are limited such as the armor customization for your characters and less weapons to choose from and customize, the improved core combat makes the game feel better as a gameplay experience. Some say the game feels more of a cover-based third-person shooter than a RPG, but deep down, it is still a BioWare RPG at heart with the signature dialogue sequences making Paragon/Renegade choices on the fly. Plus, your choices and results after you beat the game will affect things in Mass Effect 3 if you plan to import your Shepard there, which is a nice bonus as well continuing the story by your choices. The PS3 bonuses are good having the DLC available on disc out of the gate and the digital interactive comic recapping the first game for those that never played it. In addition, BioWare continues to deliver an amazing visual and audio production from how beautiful the game looks and the movie-like voice acting. For those that missed out the game last year on the Xbox 360 and even those that wandering what this franchise is all about, you can not miss out on this version of Mass Effect 2. It is still highly regarded as one of the best games of this console generation and I support this notion. As a fan of this franchise, bring on the third game and we'll see if BioWare can end it with a bang.

Score = 9.5/10

  • More content out of the gate for the PS3 version with the DLC that is been available for the 360 on disc plus the ME1 interactive comic.
  • The core combat has improved significantly becoming more shooter-y
  • Top notch production by BioWare both in visual and audio departments
  • The RPG elements, despite limited this time around, are still the heart of this franchise, and still done exceptionally well (the dialogue sequences in general).
  • Moral choices still matter throughout the game and for Mass Effect 3 if you're planning to import your Shepard there.
  • Framerate will slowdown when things get hectic especially in combat sequences
  • Can be a bit buggy at times as well

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