Monday, January 25, 2010

"Mass Effect 2" is golden

Mech madness in Mass Effect 2

"Mass Effect 2"

Developed by Bioware
Published by Electronic Arts
Available: NOW
Platforms: Xbox 360 and PC
Rated M
Price: $59.99

"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

That passage, which appears in Galatians 6, verse 7, is something I learned as a child many, many moons ago. I was fully aware that my actions, be it small and personal, could one day have far-reaching effects. I am geniunely nice to every person I meet because I treat people the way I want to be treated.

When I imported my Xbox 360 "Mass Effect" gamesave, that passage was the last thing on my mind. I didn't want to rebuild Commander Shepard and was really curious to see how my decisions in the first game would help - or hinder me - in "Mass Effect 2."

I will say one thing - that passage rang out in my ear the entire time I played "Mass Effect 2."

Never in my 30 years of playing video games had I been accountable for my past actions. In a video game? Never. I have been known to raise mayhem in "Grand Theft Auto 3," "Vice City," "San Andreas" and "Grand Theft Auto IV" before it was time to shut it off. You know the deal - sniper rifle, a rocket launcher, tons of grenades and a lot - I mean a lot of ammo. 6-star wanted level. I'm there - and turn it off after I am blasted to kingdom come. No, I never imagined I would be held responsible for saving the Council - or letting them perish. And that's in the first 10 minutes of the game! More on this later.

Developed by Bioware and published by Electronic Arts, "Mass Effect 2" is the highly anticipated sequel of the award-winning game "Mass Effect." The original "Mass Effect" gave gamers the freedom to explore the galaxy in a slick spaceship, the SSV Normandy. The game successfully combined third-person action with role-playing elements to achieve universal acclaim.

The sequel picks up right where the original ended. Players assume the role of Commander Shepard. Just like in the original, gamers can choose to play with a male or female Commander Shepard. The classes are still present - all six, in fact - which include Soldier, Infiltrator, Vanguard, Sentinel, Adept and Engineer. When your character reaches Level 4 in your specialty, you can learn a newer, higher more focused talent.

Sun goes down

The squad you have to assemble is an interesting lot as well. The Illusive Man, the financial backer of your missions, will give you a list of potential candidates for the squad. It's your choice who you select to join your team.

The game is massive but stretched across two discs. I am not a fan of disc swapping but with a game of this size, I can tolerate it. Granted, I played around 16 hours and shot to another system - and it asked for disc 2. After putting the second disc in, I was there. According to Bioware, it should happen just once.

As I stated, the game offers several new features players will definitely appreciate. Gone are the elevator loading screens - Shepard staring at a blank wall - and the cookie-cutter interiors from the original. Also, gone is the intense customization of weapons and armor. You can't sell weapons either. Big bummer - I really enjoyed having several slots to store weapons and sell them as soon as I hit various ports in "Mass Effect." However, there are several ways in "ME2" to customize weapons. The first way you will encounter is acquiring upgrades from vendors on planets you visit. The next is finding schematics off dead enemies or bodies - and even wall-mounted trophies. You can also ask your squadmates if they have upgrades and they'll share them. To pay for them, you'll use your credits you accumulate or from acquiring elements you find. You can find elements during missions and by scanning planets. Yes, you will find yourself scanning several planets in search of elements to fund your weapon, armor and even ship and prototype upgrades. Unlike "ME" where you could scan a planet in a matter of seconds, this will require you go across the planet with a scanner and launch a probe when the scanner picks up traces of elements.

Fry, baby, fry!

Also new to the game is an additional weapons class - heavy weapons. You have your choice of high-powered sniper rifles, a Collector laser weapon (think *Toasty!*) and this anti-personnel rifle that will literally take down an enemy - and even vehicles - with a single shot.

You will be able to fly the Normandy - literally - between systems. You will have to buy fuel and probes from fuel depots, located near mass relays. If you run out of fuel, the Normandy will use the minerals you collect. Haven't tried running on excite yet, but I may try it.

You will also have to go on side quests to earn your squadmates' loyalty. By earning their loyalty, you will unlock their special talents - and new outfits.

Your squad is also very vocal. During firefights, if you are using the wrong weapon, they will tell you 'That's not effective' and urge you to choose another weapon. While I was thankful for their recommendation, I would rather have them focusing on the attackers, not my weapon selection. When they are not in combat, you can sometimes trigger flirty dialogue and even trigger sidequests to find items (a bottle of brandy, a grocery list (no, I am not kidding) to earn experience points.

Be on the lookout for characters from the original "ME" too. If you imported a saved character from "ME," the characters will ask you about the events from the first game. It blew my mind the first few times characters quizzed me about past events.

Light him up!

The enemies are much more intense and tactical than the original game. They won't come at you with brute force, but they will find ways to corner your team and try to flank you. In "ME2," gamers will face mechs, the Collectors (including the lead Collector, called the Harbinger, who will assume control of a Collector during battle) and various factions.

The graphics are good - not great. The game is presented like a movie - you will feel like you are the star, which you are, and it's presented with an over-the-shoulder view, just like the original.

The sounds are awesome. From the lasers zipping past you - to the sound system blasting in your personal quarters aboard the Normandy, they really draw you into the game as well. The music score in the game is one of the best I've heard in a video game in a while.

One of the best new features is the ability to keep exploring the galaxy after beating the game. Thanks, Bioware. After you saved the Citadel in the original, you had to restart the game to keep playing. You can even re-import your Shepard for your next playthrough.

Despite the game being one of the finest I've played, there are some sour spots. The most glaring is the omission of online and local multiplayer modes. In this day and age, co-op play is where it's at. Shame on you, Bioware, for leaving it out of "Dragon Age: Origins" and "Mass Effect 2." This game literally screams for multiplayer. I can literally see several buddies team up and zip around the galaxy with this game. Co-op modes for this game would be a very welcome feature as well. Sadly, There is an online network to download news and content into the game, but that's it.

The other sour spot is the need for multiple discs. Though you only have to swap the disc out maybe twice during the game, some gamers will not welcome this feature.

Regardless, the simple fact that you can import a character from the previous game - and find yourself questioning every action - 'Should I spare this person and risk them coming back for me in ME3?' - makes for one intense and emotional ride.

The verdict: 9.75 (out of 10). I wanted to give "ME2" a 10 but the lack of online multiplayer and co-op hurts it some. I wish Bioware would release a free patch to offer MP and co-op modes. This game is too awesome not to share. However, the game is strong enough to stand on its own, even without the original game. For 360 and PC gamers, this is one title that deserves a spot in your collection and is my pick for Game of the Year.

The galaxy is calling.

UPDATE: There will be new content available, for free, today. The content includes an extra mission, a new character and Dragon Age armor.

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