Mass Effect 2 - PS3 Review
|27/1/2011||EA Games||EA Games||Bioware||1||None|
At last PS3 owners can rejoice – Mass Effect 2 has finally landed. That's right; the game that won just about every 'game of the year' award on XBox last year is now available on the PS3. If you haven't heard of Mass Effect then you're in for a treat because it's a fantastic sci-fi RPG/shooter hybrid of the highest order. If you have heard of Mass Effect and are waiting to see if the port is any good before purchasing the game, stop reading now and go get yourself a copy – this is a fine port and a cracking game in its own right. For those who want to know more about the game, read on…
|Mass Effect 2 on PS3 is visually impressive.|
As anyone accomplished at elementary maths has figured out, Mass Effect 2 is the sequel to Mass Effect, a game which Microsoft owns the rights to and thus won't be making its way to the PS3 any time soon. Given that the story of the sequel follows on from the original, Bioware has included an interactive comic to fill you in on all the key story points from the first game. One note though – the interactive comic does not come on the disk, you have to download it, so if you're not hooked up to the internet you're going to miss out on the comic and some other extras. The comic is interactive because you're allowed to make a few decisions to shape how the story of the first game played out; who your love interest was and which one of these two people will you save and so on. The decisions you make here will have an effect on the way the story of Mass Effect 2 plays out.
A very brief and simplified summary of the first game goes like this; humanity has recently mastered interstellar travel through the use of mass effect relays and soon discovered that there are many alien races out there in space. There is already a multi-race council in place, much like our own UN here on Earth, and humans are keen to join up with it. At the same time the hero of both Mass Effect games, a human named Commander Shepard, uncovers a plot by a rogue Spectre agent (think special forces) to destroy all life in the universe with the help of a race known as the Reapers. Commander Shepard can't garner much help from the ruling council, but with the help of a hand-picked squad Shepard is able to eliminate the threat facing the universe, though not without a fierce struggle. Unfortunately for Shepard and the rest of the universe the Reapers have not been permanently stopped, in fact they are back and more deadly than ever in Mass Effect 2. Naturally it's up to Shepard to save the universe again.
|Expect plenty of shootouts!|
With your space-shuttle acting as the hub during the game, you can explore the various planets of the many galaxies and star systems in the game. I didn't do a precise count but I'd estimate there are more than two-hundred planets in the game, though you can't land on all of them. Boiled down to its bare bones there are two primary objectives in the game; first, destroy the threat to the universe, and second, assemble a crack squad capable of achieving the objective. You'll travel far and wide in search of able squad-members, acquiring some in the most unexpected places, while some characters from the first game will return to Shepard's side again.
There are a finite number of suitable squad-members, and while you don't have to collect them all, you're going to collect a diverse bunch of races and personalities into your squad. As such there is the potential for friction between them and it's up to Shepard to keep everyone in line. If Shepard plays his or her cards right, there might also be romance on the cards. One way to focus everyone on the mission rather than the other squad-members is to earn each squad-member's loyalty by completing a personal mission for each of them. Completing these missions provides a number of benefits which I don't want to give away, but suffice it to say they will help you in the long run. Even if you complete these missions there is likely to be conflict among the crew which will keep you and Shepard on your toes.
|Bioware's Mass Effect 2 is a great port to PS3.|
Whether or not you earn your squad-member's loyalty they will react to the way Shepard behaves during the game. During conversations you're given the option to respond in a variety of ways, often including good, normal and bad-tempered responses. Furthermore there will be times when you have responses in blue (paragon) or red (renegade) available, and it is these that will affect the game and your squad's feelings towards Shepard the most. Paragon responses are kind-hearted and generous, while renegade responses are far more rebellious. Whichever you reply with you will earn points of that type which can open up actions other actions you can take during cut-scenes. For example during one cut-scene if you've earned enough paragon points you can perform a paragon action and save a character from assassination, and in another with enough renegade points you'll have the option to beat answers out of a criminal, rather than trying to talk the answers out. While this system doesn't have the same depth as a game like Fallout, it is fun and adds some replayability to the game for those who want to try out different responses.
Most missions in the game involve Shepard and two other squad members taking on a number of enemies in cover-based shooting action. Many of the controls will be familiar to anyone who has played a recent shooting-game; L1 targets, R1 shoots, square reloads and x serves multiple functions; holding it makes Shepard sprint, tapping it gets him into cover, and tapping it while holding forward makes him vault over cover. If it appears to you that this multiple use of the x button could lead to some control issues you'd be right, and it will be discussed more later on. While in cover your character rarely takes damage and going a few seconds without taking damage allows your health and shields to replenish, so you'll be sticking to whatever cover you find. If you find yourself stuck in a close quarters fight you can use circle to throw a melee attack, but you're vulnerable here and are better off keeping your distance from enemies.
|Commander Shepard firing a gun!|
Unlike many traditional shooting games, characters in Mass Effect 2 have abilities other than just shooting. Some characters can use biotics, which are a bit like magic and allow them to, among other things, hurl black-hole singularities at enemies, which suck them in spin them around helplessly while you shoot them out of the sky. Other abilities include adding elemental damage to your ammunition, overloading enemy shields, sending out AI drones to distract your enemies, and abilities that increase your own shield strength. You can map three of your own skills to the L2, R2 and triangle buttons, and one of each squad-member's to the left and right direction button. You can also direct your two team-mates by pushing left or right at the spot you want them to go provided an enemy isn't targeted at the time (if an enemy is targeted your friends will unleash their mapped ability on the enemy instead). It may take a little bit of getting used to, but before long you'll find that this is a very effective control system that enables you solid control of the battlefield.
Most missions follow a linear path but anytime you're unsure of the direction you should be heading you can press L3 or R3 to get a pointer to your objective. Given the linear paths in missions you can be sure that if you're ducking off the path there will be some loot at the end. This loot can come in many forms, though most often it is ammunition or medi-gel. Interestingly you cannot purchase ammunition or medi-gel outside of missions, so you'll have to make do with whatever you find during missions. On harder difficulty settings you'll want to find as much medi-gel as possible, and heavy ammunition for Shepard never goes astray either. The loot could also be a new weapon or a weapon or tech upgrade, or it could be one of the four resources in the game. Weapon and tech upgrades require research before you earn them, and resources are the currency for this research.
|ME2's character design is quite superb.|
Speaking of resources, you will need a lot of them if you want to research all of the upgrades in the game, and this is where the majority of the few hundred planets in the game come into play. When you're flying the Normandy (your space-shuttle) between galaxies you can pull in at any unknown planet and pick up resources by sending a probe down. You're given a clear graphic that shows how much of each resource is available at any spot on the planet, and you search for the best spot by moving the target reticule around. Occasionally you'll come across an anomaly on a planer that requires investigation, and if you choose to you can head down to the planet to undertake another mission.
Whether you're doing a standard mission or investigating an anomaly, once the mission is over you're taken to a mission summary screen which summarises what happened on the mission and lists the experience earned as well as any weapons, weapon or tech upgrades and resources you found. Only three squad-members can participate in a mission but every member of your squad earns experience from each mission. In this way all of your characters level up at the same speed, so none should be over or under-powered as the game progresses. Squad-members that join up later in the game start at the Shepard's current level so they won't be under-powered either. When characters go up a level they earn points which can be used to upgrade their abilities. Every character starts with three abilities, and a fourth is unlocked once that character becomes loyal.
|One of Mass Effect 2's 19 weapons.|
Mass Effect 2 is a great game no doubt, and it's actually hard to find any major problems with it. In fact in the 40-50 hours I've spent with it there is only one issue I consider more than a minor inconvenience and that is the overuse of the x button during the shooting sections. As mentioned earlier, during the shooting missions 'x' performs multiple functions; it sprints, goes into cover and vaults you over cover. BioWare has tried to minimise any issues by making Shepard slide into cover when he is sprinting, but this can also lead to Shepard sticking to the side of a piece of cover rather than sliding in behind it leaving him exposed and vulnerable. The other issue is that some enemy attacks will blast you so hard that you stand up from cover, leaving you open to attacks, which makes you hold forwards and push 'x' again. The problem is, often this will vault you over cover and lead to an untimely death. This one issue is not the end of the world, but it is the one area of the game that repeatedly feels clumsy, and is the primary cause of ‘unfair' deaths in the game.
All other issues I had with the game are minor; there were a couple of graphics glitches, one where the Hammerhead hover vehicle fell through the environment which meant it couldn't traverse a path over lava, and another where biotics sent enemies through the roof or ground. Occasionally your squad members do daft things like stand out in the open, or irritating things like steal the piece of cover you're gunning for or obstruct your view. You can steer them away from trouble so it's not a big issue but it can be frustrating when you're in a tense fire-fight and forget about them for a moment.
|Yet more impressive character design.|
Visually Mass Effect 2 is beautiful in patches and excellent throughout. Just about everywhere you go has its own distinct look and feel. The Citadel is a pristine environment that attracts the wealthiest of customers, while Omega contrasts that with run-down areas and people living down alleyways. The Krogan home-world has been ravaged by war and it shows with corridors formed by fallen rubble, while the lush environments of some planets are teeming with local wildlife and have wonderful views (which the in-game AI will draw your attention to). Although you're basically ushered through corridors throughout missions, the game does a great job of giving the illusion of freedom. The textures of environments may not be detailed, but to be honest you'll hardly notice, and this is more than made up for with the detail on some of the characters, particularly those of alien races. Most of the humans still look a little strange up close; Miranda is a pale imitation of the real-life actor playing her (the beautiful Yvonne Strahovsky from 'Chuck'), and Jacob often looks cross-eyed. The cut-scenes look fantastic though, and overall the graphics are of a high quality throughout.
One area the game lacks nothing at all is in the music and sound departments. The music blends in with the action seamlessly, rising in intensity during tense moments, and suiting your locations when outside of battle. The easygoing tune when searching planets for resources fits just as well as the dance beats in the Omega nightclub for example. The sound effects can be a little bland, especially for biotics and some of the heavy-weapons at Shepard's disposal but this is a small thing. The voice-acting is first-rate, which is what you get when you assemble possibly the finest cast in a videogame yet. There's Martin Sheen, Seth Green, Keith David, Carrie-Anne Moss, the already mentioned Yvonne Strahovsky, Adam Baldwin, Claudia Black and Tricia Helfer among others. Just about every single line in the game is delivered well, and even the characters with suspect Aussie or South African accents are humorous rather than dodgy. There is an absolutely mammoth amount of spoken content in the game, and to have it deliver at such a high-level throughout is a significant achievement.
|Taking cover from one big-assed enemy...|
Mass Effect 2 does an excellent job of combining two genres that you would not normally expect in the same game. The RPG elements are there for everyone to see - detailed story, the relationships between characters, levelling up characters and abilities, and more exploration than most other games can dream of (which is one benefit of setting the game in space). The shooting elements work well too, with some minor issues in the cover system the only flaw worth mentioning. What BioWare have produced here is a sprawling sci-fi epic of the highest order, and one any RPG fan should pick up immediately. In fact anyone not put off by the RPG elements here should pick up this game; it's polished, long (40 hours if you try to do everything), has replay value and above all is a lot of fun.
Review By: Mike Allison
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|GRAPHICS||Beautiful in places and excellent throughout, which is quite an achievement given the number of diverse planets and environments on display.||92%|
|SOUND||The music fits each moment wonderfully and there is a huge amount of spoken content all of which is top-notch.||95%|
|GAMEPLAY||Classic RPG elements along with high-quality shooting mechanics. Most importantly the game is fun throughout.||91%|
|VALUE||The game is huge. Really, really huge. If you have an internet connection to download all the free extras you're in for a treat. Even without the extras you'll be busy for 30+ hours and will want to play it all over again||95%|
|OVERALL||Mass Effect 2 is an epic game which PS3 owners can finally enjoy. And they should – go but it now if you haven't already. You won't be disappointed.||92%|