written by Blain Newport on Friday, March 19, 2010
US Release: January 2010
Genre: Third Person Action
Price Paid: $30
My Score: 4 of 5
The Short Version
Mass Effect 2 is much more consistent, streamlined experience than its predecessor. Interesting stuff happens all the way through it. Whereas the first game was mediocre with an ending I loved, Mass Effect 2 is good throughout.
The Long Version
I came to Mass Effect 2 with some preconceptions based on marketing and podcast discussions of the game. It was supposed to be like The Empire Strikes Back, the dark middle chapter to the series. You were going to go on a crazy suicide mission where anyone could die. These turned out to be exaggerations, but they improved my experience.
The stakes were always higher for me in Mass Effect 2. This was partly because I knew my team could die, and I didn't know how that would work. I also knew that as a Paragon, I was going to make sure my team made it back. As if that wasn't enough, I knew my decisions would matter in Mass Effect 3. I wasn't just going on a suicide mission determined to not lose a single person. I was secretly preparing the entire galaxy for war.
The characterization is mostly well acted and directed and the dialog is often witty and memorable, but technical decisions blunt the effect. The overall structure of the game is stilted. Plot point. Recruit quests. Plot point. Loyalty quests. Plot point. Game over. It turns life changing events into items on a checklist. Additionally, the choice between Renegade or Paragon isn't much of a choice at all. Going back and forth never seems like the right thing to do. And the inclusion of a neutral choice is usually pointless. It often felt like they could have just had you pick a path in the opening menu and been done with it.
Mass Effect 2 is largely simplified. Instead of sorting through a huge list of duplicate guns, you buy upgrades for your existing guns. You scan planets from orbit instead of driving around on them. Scanning is less interesting than driving, but negotiating rough terrain was a pain and I think scanning takes less time. Then again, I was playing as an engineer who could buy research for less minerals, so I didn't have to gather as much as someone playing another class. The interface is also more streamlined, but there are still weird quirks (inconsistent menu navigation, being told not to rebind keys because upcoming DLC won't be able to handle it, teammates switching to new guns even if they're less effective, and having to manually import save games because the game won't bother looking in the default Mass Effect 1 save directory) that make it feel like sub-par design / PC porting.
Combat is somewhat improved. Your AI buddies will still occasionally stand in the open until the enemy kills them. But they won't shoot you in the back as much while they do it. And finally, there's locational damage when you shoot people. It didn't mean much for my engineer, but I think my soldier will get some use out of it. I'm still not huge on the pace of combat in these games. I'm more of an action guy and the encouragement to pause and general pace of the game rarely pushes my buttons. But when the galaxy is at stake, I'll tolerate it. :)
I would like to nominate Mass Effect 2 for "Worst Use of Tricia Helfer in an Entertainment Product". The character she plays has virtually no emotional range. Her voice is processed to the point of being unrecognizable. Why cast a capable actress for such a generic role?