Mass Effect 2 review
Available for
Xbox 360
Publisher
Electronic Arts
Mass Effect 2

Reviewed by Rich DeWester

F

resh off their last smash hit, "Dragon Age: Origins," Bioware returns with a follow-up to possibly their most loved RPG to date, "Mass Effect." In the ambitious "Mass Effect 2," much of the game has changed, and most of those changes are for the best. It may have been a little over two years since the last one came out, but those of you who still have a completed game save can transfer that character over to the sequel.

While this may be an entirely new concept, it's how that impacts the story that makes it innovative. Your choices and past accomplishments will now impact the story in a number of ways, both slight and profound, immersing you into the game’s world and helping you truly feel like this odyssey is your own. If you have never played or do not have a "Mass Effect" completed game save, the game will generate a generic story for you.

The story begins by giving a small rundown of events following the destruction of the Reaper and the saving of the Citadel. You and your team are now commissioned to hunt down the remaining Geth and eliminate them. On one such mission you're attacked by an unknown ship; things do not end well. Without giving away too many details, two years pass and you find yourself working for Cerberus, an unpopular human army that works outside the lines – a lot. Try as you might, you will remain Cerberus' bitch, and because of this, the game tends to play on the darker side of morality. Human colonies are being attacked and the Citadel will not lift a finger to help, so it's up to Cerberus – or more specifically, you – to find out who and stop them.

During the story, you will often catch up with members of your own crew; most of them just ask where you've been for two years and are a little disappointed to see you working with Cerberus regardless of your good intentions (thanks, fuckers). You will have to recruit a team to stop this new threat, some of whom are very "unique" individuals. Just about all of the game’s conversations are a lot more involving (and a lot less daytime TV) than the first one. The silliness of the choice menu is still there – for instance, selecting "Hello?" might start a sequence about mining operations or Geth war activities. New to conversations is the Trigger System which, on rare occasions, will make an icon for renegade or paragon appear on the screen; these are timed, but if hit in time, they will produce a dramatic outcome and give you a hefty boost in either area.

Graphically, you only need about two minutes to see this is easily one of the best titles yet on the 360, though there are a few small problems, like the eyes. What the hell is going on with the eyes? Constantly while talking to someone you'll notice the characters go cross-eyed or roll their eyes back – it makes conversations feel awkward and bizarre. The game has also done away with the worst element from the first “Mass Effect,” the Mako. In fact, they've completely changed how you explore planets now; it's not as dramatic, but it's far less annoying. Bid a sweet goodbye to that six-wheeled piece of shit and irritating terrain obstacles, because now you scan the surface of the planet from the comfort of your command chair and launch probes to collect resources. Those same resources are used to upgrade your ship and/or the team's equipment, and yes, they're finally useful. You still get to go down to the surface when doing missions, but you no longer have to spend 5-10 minutes figuring out how to get there and then even more time driving around trying to locate probes and resources only to be killed by a Thresher Maw and remember you hadn't saved.

Weapons and armor have changed from the first installment; you no longer constantly find gear from different companies, only to continuously upgrade the gear from IV to V to VI. There are no more mod attachments this time around, either; instead, you have your standard gear and on occasion will find different types of weapons, but you use resources you collect to purchase upgrades for your equipment. Most upgrades affect the team as a whole, improve SMG damage, and so on. There will be occasions when you will have the option to upgrade a certain member or just Shepard.

Combat AI has been improved as well; team members make better use of cover, typically, and you always have the choice of telling them where to take cover. They also seem to use their abilities at far more useful times. You will be forced to use a bit more caution this time around, because your guns use ammo, so after eliminating a squad of enemies it's wise to go around and collect ammo. You may also find other useful stuff, like ideas for upgrades or salvage stuff to sell. Yet another improvement is how hacking/bypass has been changed. Attempting to do one of these will give you a simple minigame.

The mass of effectual changes (you see what I did there?) has helped streamline the original’s already arresting vision. Coupled with the amazing story, this will not only have you replaying “Mass Effect 2” multiple times to see all the different story variations, but it's sure to leave you thirsty for the third installment.

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