Mass Effect 2

Well! Having been floored by a flawed but also brilliant first game, I had high hopes for the second one. Edge gave it 9 out of 10, IIRC. Edge! A nine! They mean business!

Sequels are a chance to take what was good about the previous game and polish it like fuck. They’re also a chance to take what was shite about the previous game and fix it or replace it with something better. Bioware, bless them, seem to have taken what was good and changed it, not always for the better. They’ve also taken what was shite, and replaced it with slightly different shite. Note – I’ve avoided spoilers about ME2 in this write-up. I’ve not avoided any about the first game though.

The first game had a fucking good story, interesting characters, and some good, hard choices to make. Most of these come across to the second game. Literally, if you load a completed ME1 save into ME2. I’ve done this with my good player character and completed the game, and I’ve started on replaying ME2 with my bad player character save. I know enough to give a half-decent judgement on the sequel. I think.

So! The game has an awesome beginning. Like, really really good awesome. It introduces you to most of the main cast early on, and they’re great. One of the big problems for me with the first game was Deanna Troi lending her voice to one of the characters. She died halfway through the game (SPOILER! Sorry), but by Christ she is shite in a voice booth. Terrible. Maybe she was asked to do too much, maybe the technology or skill isn’t in the game industry yet to do a decent character death scene. I don’t know. Acutally, fuck that, I do. Saren’s death (ANOTHER SPOILER! Also sorry) was done brilliantly. Anyways, I digress.

The characters in Mass Effect 2 are exceptionally good. No idea as to how Bioware managed to coax so many very good performances out of so many people, but they nailed it, as American people like to say. Honestly, there’s not one person that hasn’t been, as far as video games go, given a decent role to play and got it spot on. Following each character’s individual plotline, and seeing some of their reactions to the main plotline, has been a pleasure. Proper decent dramatic entertainment.

One of the strengths of the first game was the story, which was original and intelligently handled. The story continues in the second game, and has a few good twists and turns (who are the Collectors? what the fuck are the Big Bad Space Bastards (ah! I just remembered what they’re really called! Reapers! Fuck it, Big Bad Space Bastards stays) up to this time? why the fuck does President Bartlett, AKA Charlie Sheen’s dad, care anyway?). Buuuut, just as it gets to the end, it goes a bit daft. A little bit. Enough to make a sarky bastard like me hate it. Your mileage may vary. I thought it was fucking retarded, and a damn shame.

So, good characters, and a plot which stays really good up until the shite end. OK, what else? Well, most of the time you’ll be shooting shit up. The combat in the first game felt weak. Right up until the end, when you were a death dealing bastard from Hell, but mostly it felt weak. For the second game, they’ve beefed it right up. Weapons feel punchy and satisfying, you’re forced to use different tactics more often, and it’s generally more engaging than the first game. The only downside, and it can be quite a big and / or recurring downside depending on how you want to play the game, is that they’ve introduced ammo. As in, you can run out of it. And have to pick it up off corpses. If you have a favourite weapon, you’re gonna run out of ammo. If you’re not very good at the game, this will happen more often than not, and then you’ll be forced to use a gun you don’t like, and then you’ll die. This can be frustrating as fuck, along with the occasionally obligatory ammo hunt during or after each battle. The fact that you can use your biotic powers too helps slightly. Slightly.

The side quests for each character carry over from the first game. These are fucking brilliant in places, a teensy bit stupid in others. There’s a character who may or may not be downloadable content called Zaeed (I got most of the DLC with my copy, so I don’t know if it is optional or not) whose side quest is a bit pants. This one stands out though, cos the others are so good. The others are all separate stories, and they’re all done really well.

The Galaxy map carries over from the first game too, but even that has changed.  No more clicking on a planet to fly to it; now you have to pilot a mini spaceship across the map with the WASD keys. You also have to buy fuel to reach other star systems; if you run out whilst out exploring, the ship eats your precious reserves of minerals (used to upgrade weapons and combat powers). This change from the original game is fucking pointless. Why give the customer a galaxy to explore, and then potentially punish them for exploring? What purpose does this serve, exactly? I believe there’s other quests and things to find on the other planets. I wouldn’t know though, cos I’m not going near them. I’d rather not risk the minerals.

So once you’ve got to a planet, you can either land on it (for a side quest, but no more bouncy Big Trak style Mako!), or scan it for minerals. This opens up the mining game, where you feel your way around a planet’s surface for minerals (probably not as creepy as it sounds). This game boils down to watching a line graph as you move the mouse around – when the line graph goes up, retrace your mouse movements, find where the graph spike occurred, click on the spike, and you get minerals. To reiterate – you watch a line graph. Possibly for minutes at a time. This is as fun as it sounds.

I’ve done my usual thing here. I’ve been negative as fuck most of the way through my write-up, and then I’ll go “ah, but it’s not that bad” at the end. Because Mass Effect 2 really isn’t that bad. Like I said, the story is good until near the end, the characters are excellent company right the way through, the side quests are well worth doing, and the combat isn’t shite. There’s hours and hours of really good entertainment in this game. Only problem is there’s little bits of annoying thrown in there too. Not enough to put anyone off the game, but enough to taint the game. The first game was really good, but flawed, and this continues with the second. Put it this way – I’m still really looking forward to the third game, in a big way.

Oh, and the last boss in Mass Effect 2? I’m sure I’ve seen that in a shoot ’em up game on the Super Nintendo years and years ago. Fucking sure of it. If I find it, I’ll stick a piccy up of it.

EDIT – I forgot something. Mass Effect 1 had an awesome synth soundtrack, one which complemented the clean and sheen-y sci-fi look. Mass Effect 2 has a shitty orchestral soundtrack. Mass Effect 1 (slight spoiler) has an awesome song at the end of it, which fit with the game’s soundtrack as a whole. Mass Effect 2 has a shitty orchestral instrumental track. Why change something which helps their game stand out from the rest? I don’t know. I’m hoping they find a way to mix the two in the last game in a way which makes sense. That would be nice.

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