Developer: BioWare / Publisher: Electronic Arts / ESRB: Mature (Blood, Drug Reference, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99
In this world of video games a bar is set when an amazing game comes out. Some video games set a new bar, others fall to a dismal death, others are just good enough to get the attention of the gamer. Some games are epic in scope: they have the right concoctions of story, graphics, gameplay, sound and controls that make you swoon. Mass Effect 1 was one of those games; it had an engaging story and kept the player hooked until the very end. Left dangling on a hook, the player was left with a sense of wonder, the classic saying, “What happens next?” Well, Bioware and EA have answered that call with Mass Effect 2. Can the sequel to one of the best RPG’s live up to its predecessor, or will it be forgotten like Pluto?
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The gameplay in Mass Effect 2 is quite smooth. Every frame of this game is quite enjoyable. For fans of the first Mass Effect, it’s like riding a bike. You are back in the saddle and are ready to ride. For newcomers, you will be quite surprised when Mass Effect 2 delivers you a treat. With a story this engaging, Mass Effect 2 makes it difficult to peel your eyes off of the screen. For a quick recap: in Mass Effect 1 you find out that the Citadel is a trap that was created by the reapers to collect humans. Picking up in Mass Effect 2, a new group of enemies called “The Collectors” track down Commander Shepard. Now it sounds like I am being vague, and that’s because any little detail is a huge spoiler, so forgive me if I don’t go into too much detail. Trust me, I’m doing you a favor. All you need to know is that Commander Shepard is back with a new ship and a crew that would be wise not to be messed with.
It is up to you to reach the depths of the Milky Way and find friends from the past; the galaxy is vast, so you also get to make new friends. Now, how is this masterpiece all orchestrated? The Illusive Man. He is in charge of a galactic military outfit known as Cerberus, known for being very untrustworthy; the Illusive Man brings you in and gives you orders. He also gives you a lovely lady for your team named Miranda Lawson (voiced by the beautiful Yvonne Strahovski). It is up to you, under the pseudo-command of the illusive Man to gather a team that is good enough to penetrate the forces of The Collectors. Blasts from the past come and go and a story filled with high emotions and great flashbacks make for an epic game. Being drawn into a game that is this engaging is tricky, and Mass Effect 2 has done it, and more!
The galaxy has been represented in film, television and video games to the extent that we feel like we are astronauts. Mass Effect 2 had put in a certain level of detail to each planet, each environment and each character. You know where you are at every point of the game, the levels fit the story elements and the characters are all believable. The character models are quite amazing to look at, from dialogue cutscenes to fully animated cutscenes. The physics are impressive.
When you look into the eyes of a character, you see life being breathed into something new, a character you can connect or disconnect with, a piece to an evolving puzzle that you can sit back and admire. Each character is unique in their back story and design. The worlds that they come from are an equivalent and great comparison to the character. Space has been done over and over before; Mass Effect makes you see the beauty and ugliness that it all entails. From moons, planets, and surrounding orbits, the level design is something to admire in this game. When you are in highly intensive combat scenarios, it’s difficult to sit back and admire all the beautifully rich layers and depth of each planet and ship. Every one has a unique personality and a society that dwells within its innards; you don’t want to explore, you have to. Each structure, character, and planet makes the galaxy feel that much closer to home, that this solar system exists, these people, creatures, and various other life forms exist in a world that does not. Mass Effect 2 can make you a believer in a non-believing world. Stunning, sharp and fantastic are words thrown around often. I wish I could add those to this, but it wouldn’t do it justice. The graphics in Mass Effect 2 are simply breathtaking.
Controls can make or break a game sometimes. They are either too complicated or quite limiting. The best way I can describe the controls in Mass Effect 2 are like a brand new pair of Dan Marino-sponsored Isotoner Gloves. They are the right fit, and make you feel all warm and good on the inside. From the dialogue tree scenarios to super intense combat situations, the controls will not let you down. A very simplistic way of mapping controls that work seems easy, right? Sometimes it’s not. When in combat, you can map hot keys to switch from your abilities to secondary ammo. You can also control your teammates and their abilities. It’s as easy as target an enemy, bring up the abilities wheel, click that ability and watch the bad guys take a fall.
Another element to the combat is the weaponry, sometimes you fall in love with a certain weapon, maybe you give it a name and you take down the enemy. In Mass Effect 2, the ammo is so scarce that you have to switch weapons often. Well, what seems like a problem is not. In non-combat situations the controls are quite easy as well. Selecting various dialogue choices is quite easy and a no-brainer, but Quick Time Events take place throughout the game that make you 1) pay attention to the story (not that you will need help with that) and 2) pick which side you want to be on, a paragon (good guy) or a renegade (bad ass). These QTEs make or break a scenario and the supporting cast of characters react to them. So, you better choose wisely and make sure it’s what you want to be doing in that certain situation. Overall, the controls in Mass Effect 2 work; they are effective and are simply simple. I assure you, it’s not a bad thing.
Where to start. Well for one, Keith David is in the game. Oh yeah, the man, the myth, the legend. What, that’s it… Okay, there are more voice actors than just Keith David. Adam Baldwin and Yvonne Strahovski of NBC’s Chuck fame, Michael Hogan, Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica fame, Seth Green comes back as “Joker” and all your favorites from the first game make appearances. The dialogue is well-written and well-voiced. Each character has their role in this universe and each one feels as real as a video game can get. You can connect on a human (and sometimes not so human) level with these characters. For a game like Mass Effect 2, the voice work has to be top-notch, otherwise it will just fall apart. I assure you, you will be impressed with the level of voice talent that is in this game. Now voice isn’t the only thing that matters in a game. The level of sound design is quite impressive, from the firing of weapons to the ambient chatter in cities. A world full of audio bliss is weaved and you can’t help but get caught in all of it. A score sets the tone and the setting of anything, and boy does this game deliver. From personal scenarios to super action-oriented areas of the game, the music is there every step of the way. To raise you up and pull you down, highs and lows, the in-betweens, every nook and cranny is filled with audio bliss.
Mass Effect 2 has that special something that makes gamers and non-gamers take notice. The way the world is right now, it’s tough to get a quality product. If you are going to spend your hard earned money on something just for it to be short, or too long, or not what you expected, it’s hard to put your faith in something and stay dedicated to it. Mass Effect 2 is that special something you are looking for. It has a little something for everyone: action, drama, humor and it’s all interactive. The way the future is going, it seems all things entertainment will be interactive. This is the breaking ground for that. A world that is so immersive, you can’t help but take notice is quite a special thing, especially in this day and age. We as humans have to think quicker and smarter, we have to think at the speed of the internet, which some say is faster than light. Keeping on top of the elements of entertainment is difficult, and I feel that the crew at BioWare have created something special. Trilogies often have a second-better-than-first situation: Wrath of Khan, Empire Strikes Back, Two Towers, and the Godfather II. Granted those are movies, but they are still a part of the entertainment world. I think it’s safe to say, for video games, this is the first of many sequels to make its mark in the world of entertainment. Mass Effect 2 is simply breathtaking. That is why I am giving it a ten out of ten.