Mass Effect 2
So, Where Were we? The Council had been obliterated, boy Shepards have embarked on a relationship with Ashley Williams, and you'd picked Udina to head up the new Council, with humanity taking a leading role. Well, that's the default situation, for anyone who's lost their game saves. One of Mass Effect 2s most tromboned aspects is the ability to carry on your story from the original game, as you played it.
Of course, it's not as a complicated or fundamental a feature as BioWare are hoping you'll think. Most of your missions involve your new crew, and most of your conversations don't involve who you chose to head the Council. But it's still impressive - over the course of three games, each spanning 20-30 hours, you could get bitten on the arse by something you did a solid 72 hours of gameplay ago. That's impressive enough for me to doff a couple of hats. This isn't something I find myself saying often, but I'd love to see BioWare's flowcharts.
Of course, phrases like 'mind blowing' are easy to throw around. As a phrase, it's a stupid cliche, and carries about as much sincere weight as 'eye-popping' does for graphics. But imagining the organisation that goes into making an overarching plot that'll eventually span 60-80 hours of dialogue-led storytelling, 'mind blowing' seems fair enough.
Even if you acknowledge that most of the unique-to-you plot elements are irrelevant when you talk to your new crew members, and even when you acknowledge that the conversation trees aren't as vastly branching as you might first imagine, the fact remains, your game is going to be different It may not literally blow minds out of skulls, but it's brilliant anyway.
The sequel starts with a fully powered-up, post-MEl climax Commander Shepard at the helm of his ship, the Normandy. Its familiar interior takes you back into the Mass Effect comfort zone immediately, until the appearance of a massive laser-shitting spacecraft rips you right back out The Normandy doesn't stand a chance - blast after blast lands on the ship, shearing off all the important bits, like external walls. As the crew evacuate, Shepard goes back in to rescue Joker, who's having a stubborn moment of dedication to his post.
Shepard reaches him, but another bloody great laser scythes him from the increasingly skeletal Normandy, and sends him cart wheeling into space. As he flails airlessly towards the nearby planet, your first thought is: "Well, I've read the previews, I know he's not dead. So this is the level one skill-reset event, isn't it?"
I It's more than that: it's an intro to the Inew enemies, the Catchers, and your induction into the mysterious and morally ,ambiguous Cerberus organisation. Shepard's resurrection process is also .achance for a makeover. If you like, you can choose a new profession from the game's six career choices. It's the same deal as the first game: three pure styles, (the technical Engineer, the gun-happy Soldier, or the mage-like Adept), and three hybrid classes for those who prefer variety to deep specialism. Not that it matters so much now - the new combat system makes your teammates' skills feel as accessible as your own, so preparing for combat is as much about choosing a balanced squad as it is developing Shepard's powers.
As you come out of the menu systems and go back to controlling Shepard, it's not because your surgery is complete, it's because there's a state of emergency on the ship. The mechs have been hacked, and you quickly find your first two teammates, Jacob and Miranda. This sets the tone for the combat throughout the game: squads of three, progressing along well-disguised corridors, with cash, mission, upgrade, and story rewards concealed down non-essential routes.
A Better Shooter
Control has evolved slightly away from the menus that pause the action while you make up your mind - it's far more possible to play Mass Effect 2 like an action shooter. But the pause system is an equally viable way to play, and will often be essential, as the type of enemy, and their setup of barriers and armour forces you to reallocate your weapon and skills loadouts. It's not the most difficult system, and unless you vary your squad it can become repetitive. If you use all the options open you, it doesn't get a chance to become too noticeable - play ME2 like a solo third-person shooter, and you'll quickly fall into a dull rut.
The movement is much more dynamic, too. BioWare have surgically incorporated the endemic Gears of War automatic cover system into the action, giving you a much easier way to hide, when your barrier's down and the screen's gone red. It's frustrating to think I'm stupid enough that a shaky run-cam still grabs me by the neck and heart, but it's a tried and trusted mind-trick that still works.
The control system only becomes clumsy when you're forced into melee with enemies who've gotten too close. This shouldn't happen as semi-intelligent use of biotic skills and the pause menu should keep everyone at bay (unless you're playing on the daft difficulty settings).
Soon, you're introduced to the Illusive Man, a suspect gentleman (shown by his habit of smoking - in America this makes him an automatic villain) who occupies an unspecified other-space in which you appear as a hologram.
This chap gives you a new, improved Normandy, with a charming Al called EDI (who develops an unexpected sense of humour in times of extreme tragedy), and a quantum-entangled link to his nowhere room. With a list of new comrades to hunt out and recruit, this is where your new adventure begins, as a rebooted, reset, reconfigured and slightly disfigured Shepard.
Your journey will boost your crew's numbers to a potential 10, and as you progress, every member of your crew will offer you a mission that'll tell their own personal story in more detail, earn their loyalty, and - in a gameplay payoff that reminds you this is not just a fantastic and epic interactive movie - unlock a fourth power.
Mentioning the phase "interactive movie", I've so far ignored what Mass Effect is: gaming's most engaging, incredible and unexpectedly enjoyable conversation simulator. In any other game, this would be a tragic chore. In any other game, unskippable dialogue would be a sign of precious scriptwriting, and a reason for docking the score. But this isn't a baffling Hideo Kojima wank attack, or a badly-acted European RPG -it's a collection of subtly scripted and perfectly performed character led stories that are shot through with an epic storyline. It's timed so well (you choose your response while the other person is still talking, so conversations are uncommonly fluid), and it bores so rarely that ME2 lifts the benchmark for game writing set by the original.
Of course, this means that impatient caffeine-fuelled tools will hate ME2. Many games are designed for two types of gamer: the skeletal core of the story is presented to everyone, with audio logs and fragments of story littered around for those willing to explore. Other games tell a simple story by working it into the background (Left 4 Deadend Portal) -but ME2 is a game where nearly all information is given by dialogue.
You can take the most direct route through any conversation by choosing the right option - but you'll be punished by only seeing a fraction of what BioWare's huge universe has to offer. If you're a compulsive chat-skipper, think hard before you play this game. You'll miss out on the game's opportunities for romance, and fail to identify and complete the secret missions the universe has to offer. You don't get XP for killing creatures, you get it for completing missions, so you'll end up miles away from the level 30 cap. But most frustrating of all, you'll end up with heroic or savage shortcuts through certain scenarios denied to you. This is the return of the Paragon and Renegade system, that decided which set of endings were open to you. This system lets you intervene in some cutscenes. An early Paragon example lets you prevent a young hothead from signing up to a doomed mercenary mission. A Renegade intervention later on lets you interrupt an interrogation by pushing the interrogatee off a building. It's difficult to say whether these options are open to you depending on your prior decisions without playing the game 15 times whilst scientifically varying my responses to each dialogue option, but I played through as a Paragon, and many Renegade options were open to me, so I can only assume they're always open to you.
One doesn't come at the expense of the other - behaving heroically doesn't deduct Renegade points, and punching people off a ledge doesn't lower your Paragon points. But it takes dedication to one attitude to guarantee that you've progressed far enough down one option to use all the benefits of your branch.
This system, as simple as it is, is a real incentive to play to your role consistently, and BioWare are always sophisticated enough to keep the moral choices frequently ambiguous, and the tone of both branches consistent enough that you don't seem schizophrenic.
At certain points, in some crucial situations, a blue Paragon option will have Shepard say something wise and convincing, and a red option will get you out of the situation with some threats: these require a certain amount of points, and if you don't qualify you'll be forced into a less desirable outcome.
Despite the console focus, this PC version is a highly competent conversion. Mining planets - one of the dullest aspects of the console game - is sped hugely by the use of a mouse, making resource collection for upgrades far less reliant on OCD.
So, that's pretty much it it's the same game with more dynamic combat better squad control, and a fun way to interrupt conversations. But the game isn't perfect. There are some odd aspects - like BioWare forgetting that people doubleclick to select items, or that mouse-over is an event that people have used since the tooltip. So selecting a squad and upgrading yourself is a matter of clicking all over the place. And while the radial menu of the console version has wisely disappeared, its replacement is a bit fussy at higher resolutions.
The hacking games are as irritating and repetitive as any hacking mini-game, the streamlined upgrades system feels a little too smoothed-out with the notched system of Mass Effect replaced by an over-simple 1-2-3-4 ranking system. Upgrades to weapons, too - five upgrades, each offering an extra 10% damage seems to be the general shape of things - feel uninspired. While I'm being a fussy prick. I'd say that the upgrades system is badly organised, especially for such an experienced RPG developer.
But this is mainly cosmetic stuff. Mass Effect 2 continues the great tradition of brilliant brink-of-cliche space opera, with Shepard as the lovey-dovey cuddleprince or the alpha male prick. It's a story that you're probably already hugely invested in, and if you're not, you really should go back and play the original. If not to fill yourself in on the Council, Reapers, and Sovereign, or to carve your own niche into the events of Mass Effect 2, then because the improvements to combat will make it difficult to go back. Faults dutifully noted and easily forgiven, this game is truly epic storytelling.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode