Friday, January 21, 2011

Mass Effect 2 shines on PS3

"Mass Effect 2"

Developed by Bioware
Published by Electronic Arts
Available: NOW
Platforms: PS3 - also available on Xbox 360 and PC
Rated M
Price: $59.99

After years of waiting for one of the best video game series to appear on PS3, the wait is finally over. Now PS3 owners can travel the galaxy as Commander Shepard. Thrusters on full, FTW.

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.

For the PS3 version, however, players will have to download an interactive comic that gives gamers 6 choices to make - which are the main choices from Mass Effect. It doesn't replace the countless hours Xbox 360 gamers - as well as PC types - spent on the first game. The ability to import your ME character into ME2, to hear people talking about exploits from the first game is worth the price of admission alone. You can play without doing the interactive comic, but the default character is not stunning, and you won't be as bad-ass as a fully tricked-out Shepard would be had you imported them into Mass Effect 2.

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.

Your 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. Unlike the Xbox 360 version of the game, the game is on one Blu Ray. However, there is a mandatory install. Meh. More on that later.

As I stated, the game offers several features players will definitely appreciate. 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. This will require you to go across the planet with a scanner and launch a probe when the scanner picks up traces of elements.

The game also features weapons classes, including 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 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 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. 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.

The enemy AI is intense, but nothing completely overwhelming unless you opt for the advanced gameplay modes. 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 excellent and the sounds are awesome. 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.

Despite the game being one of the finest I've played, there are some sore 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. This game screams for multiplayer. I can easily see several buddies teaming up and zipping around the galaxy with this game. Co-op modes for this game would be a very welcome feature as well.

The other sore spot? The 45-minute mandatory install. Yes, the game is one disc, a Blu Ray, and the game overall is a tad bit better than the Xbox 360 version (I have yet to see the PC version). But after the install, I was expecting faster load times (heck, no load times) but did I get own3d on that one. The load times are virtually no different between the versions.

The verdict: 9.5 (out of 10) stars. After years of Xbox 360 and PS3 fanboys going back and forth over the awesomeness of Mass Effect 2, the PS3 crowd can finally play this awesome series. Even though the game is over a year old, if you've never played it, you owe it to yourself to take it for a spin. You do get the full version of the game - in essence, you receive all of the DLC that Xbox gamers were required to pay for - but was it worth a year waiting for? The slightly sharper graphics, all on one disc are welcome, but for gamers who played it a year ago, they may pass on it, especially at full sticker price. The mandatory 45 minute install doesn't improve load times at all.

The comic does help you make important choices so you aren't stuck with the default character, but having your own Shepard from the jump is the real reason the Xbox 360 version is better than the updated, graphically superior version. A comic can not replace the 40+ hours the first ME offered.

The galaxy is calling.

Editor's note: Ok, there's really one reason an Xbox 360 owner is even reading this review - you want to know if the PS3 version is much better than the 360 version.

Let's look at a few things. First, the PS3 version DOES contain all of the current DLCs, is graphically superior (though not really noticeable) and Bioware had a year to work on getting it top notch. Second, the PS3 version is on just one Blu Ray disc that you don't have to worry about swapping.

Now, the bad news. The game is a year old. If you own a 360, you can get it, sans the DLC, for about $20. As awesome as this game is, waiting for over a year instead of enjoying this beauty is a crime. Second, the game still suffers from the same stutters and glitches from the 360/PC versions. Third, you can not import your tricked-out, leveled up Shepard into Mass Effect 2. Yes, Bioware figured out how to import some of your choices with the comic, but it doesn't replace having high enough persuasion in the original to talk Saren into suicide - as well as the Thorian mission on Feros. You start out with some cred, but this game series was always designed to be a trilogy - and a comic can't take the place of Mass Effect.

Lastly, the mandatory install. Mine took 45 minutes. You think I'm joking? I popped it in ... waited ... saw this warning about the install and threw my hands up. Was able to make a sandwich, fire up my 360, download a few games on LIVE, check my Facebook, tweet a few times, then check on it - it was still installing. After the install, 45 minutes plus later, I was looking forward to uber fast loading screens. Um, no. The loads were actually worse than when I installed the game on my 360 AND played it off the disc. Yes, it's on one disc, but it's a lot of waiting for nothing, IMHO.

So, would I recommend rebuying the game, at full sticker price, especially if I owned it on the 360/PC? No. Unless you want the extra DLC. I can't see a real reason to buy this version unless you are a PS3-only gamer, didn't buy it before on the 360/PC or want the game on one disc.

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