Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mass Effect 2 – PS3 owners should be excited

Gamescom 2010 had many highlights but possibly the most exciting announcement was that Mass Effect 2 will be making its way to the PlayStation 3 in January 2011. BioWare’s crowning achievement has been wowing PC and Xbox 360 gamers for the past year and it’s now our turn to travel the galaxy in this awesome space-travelling RPG. Here’s a quick round-up of what we’ve been missing out on.
Mass Effect 2 is an epic space opera that has you travelling across the galaxy recruiting crew members before pitting you against an unimaginably powerful enemy. On your journey you’ll meet a wonderful array of species and visit several beautifully crafted planetary systems.
The story follows on from where Mass Effect 1 left off. Fresh from saving the galaxy, the hero Commander Shepherd and his crew are surfing the stars looking for any remaining Geth, an enemy from the first game. The peace doesn’t last for long before a new unidentified enemy arrives on the scene. Equipped with a massive ship and boasting a ridiculously powerful weapon, the enemy has its sights set on the Normandy (Shepherd’s ship).
The opening sequences are as powerful as you’ll see in any game, so it’s best that I avoid telling you what actually happens. All I’ll say is that Shepherd will end up back at square one; with no one to trust, no crew, and working with people he once called an enemy. Our story starts from here.
In terms of gameplay, Mass Effect 2 is probably the first game to truly successfully merge the RPG and third-person shooter genres without leaving at least one half feeling a little under cooked. The combat is fast and tight, you’ll enjoy ducking in and out of cover and blasting away like a maniac. The camera is also well positioned just over Shepherd’s shoulder.
While the shooting mechanics are way ahead of similar RPG/shooter types, they are not as fulfilling as those found in the best third-person shooters like Uncharted 2. This is simply a result of the enemies’ often indifferent responses to being shot. You know they’re being hit – you can see their health bar depleting – but their bodies rarely give an indication that they care that a blaster is ripping right through them. In the end, this is only a minor complaint because Mass Effect 2 excels in different ways. For a start, it makes you think more strategically than most shooters, and I would argue that this is more satisfying than seeing an enemy clutching his arm after being shot.
Strategy and effective squad management are at the centre of the combat. While controlling Commander Shepherd you are flanked by two team members who fight independently alongside you. You can leave them to look after themselves if you like, but by managing them yourself you will find them much more effective.
One of your key duties is to tell them where to go; this is done simply by hitting the appropriate button when aiming at the position you’d like them to take up. By making smart choices, you have the chance to flank enemies and help protect yourself from being exposed.
mass effect 2 teamwork e1282951058315 Mass Effect 2 – PS3 owners should be excited
You have two supporting squad members, make the most of them
The shoot-outs can get quite frantic, but if you find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed you can freeze the play by opening up the Command HUD. From this screen you can scan your surroundings and choose your weapons, ammo and power ups. You can ask your team mates to change weapons and you can also give them orders. This opens up some interesting strategic opportunities. For example, you could overwhelm your enemies by having all three of your characters fire at them at the same time. These triple whammies can be very satisfying.
Each member in your squad has different skills for them to bring into the battlefield. You should take full advantage of these abilities. Your team mate Jacob Taylor, for example, has a move called ‘pull’ which he can use to make enemies levitate; it’s a very useful power up. If an enemy was hiding behind a wall, Jacob could pull him into the open, leaving him vulnerable to your attacks.
Admittedly, these managerial responsibilities do sound fiddly but the system is actually very intuitive.  It won’t be long before you’re dishing out smart tactical manoeuvres on the fly. It doesn’t interrupt the flow of the game much either because the transition between real-time combat and the Command HUD is so instantaneous that you barely even notice it happening.
BioWare have done such a great job with the combat. They have managed to find a balance that will satisfy the twitchy fingers of the shooter fans while also offering enough complexity to please the RPG crowd. It’s not an easy balance to get.
The RPG fans will also be delighted to know that Mass Effect 2 has customisation options in abundance. At the start of the game you will have the chance to create your own character. Not only can you design your avatar to look like you but you also get to choose its class. There are six military classes on offer: Adept, Engineer, Infiltrator, Sentinel, Soldier and Vanguard. The class you choose will affect what skills you have at your disposal; for example, an infiltrator can use cloaking technology. Every type of gamer should be able to find a class that suits their playing style.
No matter what class you choose, your character will have much to learn. Levelling up has to be done, good weapons have to be acquired and upgraded, skills need learning and new upgrades need to be researched.
Mass Effect 2 also features an interesting morality system which allocates you points for being a “Paragon” or a “Renegade”. If you play nice you’ll be a Paragon, whereas if you act like a ruthless murderer then you will be considered a bit of a Renegade. Points are allocated depending on the choices you make during conversations and during other events. It has to be said, while being a Paragon will sit nicely with your conscience, the Renegades have much more fun.
BioWare are eager to give you the freedom to choose the pace and direction of your gameplay – whenever possible. If you like, you could stick entirely to the story missions, but if you want a break away from these there are a number of sidequests on offer. These are accessible at just about any time.
You also have the freedom to go sightseeing across the galaxy. Planets can be explored and their minerals can be mined. You can find the minerals by playing a very simple but addictive mini game which has you scan the surface of a planet looking for places to send a pod down to mine. The mini game is very basic but it’s easy to lose ten to fifteen minutes on just one planet ripping up as much of its resources as possible. These minerals contribute to your research department. Scanning can also pick up anomalies on planets which normally open up new sidequest opportunities.
Mass effect 2 grunt e1282951142955 Mass Effect 2 – PS3 owners should be excited
If you hadn't already guessed, this is total science fiction
It’s easy to pass time in Mass Effect 2’s world. I personally enjoy just walking around speaking to the huge number of interactive characters. There are hours upon hours of recorded dialogue in the game. This may not appeal to everyone but the dialogue is superbly written and performed, so it’s almost always pleasure to listen to the other characters speak. BioWare also deserve praise for their impressive use of facial expressions.
Mass Effect 2 is just so impressive all round, in both scale and quality. BioWare have left no stone unturned in their quest to have the perfect game. The perfect game is such an unobtainable target, but BioWare have created one that leaves little to complain about. It’s a wonderful space opera that thrills from start to finish.
Since it was announced that Mass Effect 2 was coming to PlayStation 3, many have said that gamers who haven’t played Mass Effect 1 will have a poorer experience. But this shouldn’t stop anyone from buying the game when it gets released: BioWare have already said they have added many touches to the game that will offer new players a “seamless introduction“.
I haven’t played Mass Effect 1 but that didn’t stop me loving the second game. Anyway, the first game was hardly everyone’s favourite. I’ll leave you with the thoughts of Echo307; a man who loves Mass Effect 2 but not the first game…
Mass Effect 2 is amazing, simply put. When I say it’s amazing, I want to make one thing very clear: PS3 owners should be absolutely ecstatic about this game coming to the PlayStation 3. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of comments from the X-Box side claiming that PlayStation owners will never get the best experience of the Mass Effect story due to the lack of the original game on their console. While I see their point to an extent, we should hash this thing out further.

Let me tell you my story with Mass Effect. I was very late to the party. I didn’t sit down and play the original game until over a year and half after it hit shelves. I kept hearing my buddies talk about how great it was so I finally decided to give it a try once I found it for cheap… and I hated it.  I put almost 6 hours in to it before realizing I couldn’t stomach it. Sure the voice acting and story were solid but in my opinion, the game handled like crap.  The cover system, the gunplay, the frame rate and planet navigation took me to very high levels of frustration before I finally gave up.

A year passed and lo and behold, Mass Effect 2 came along. I still don’t remember what it was that compelled me to purchase it after despising the first game so much but after about 2 hours of playing it, I no longer cared. Mass Effect 2 is one of – if not the – greatest games I’ve played this year. The story is absolutely amazing, the voice acting is concrete, the cover system and gunplay are fantastic and the game’s atmosphere and visual style are the icing on the cake. So I’m here today to tell you that you do not need the original Mass Effect to appreciate just how amazing this game is and to appreciate the world it takes place in.

mass effect 2 facial e1282951274502 Mass Effect 2 – PS3 owners should be excited
Mass Effect 2 has some of the best facial animations around

Ok, so I don’t piss off any of the series’ die-hards, I’ll also say this: you are missing a small piece of the world that others have gotten to play but for me I didn’t feel like it took away from the experience one bit. Not even half way through the game I understood exactly what was going on, I had caught on to all the lingo and I didn’t even think about there being a game prior to the sequel.

If you really think about it, in one aspect you’ll actually be getting an escalated experience that rises beyond what 360/PC players have gotten. All the DLC – the extra characters, the Normandy crash site and the expansions – will be available from day one.  The world will actually be at its biggest when you crack open that case for the first time. Most players on other platforms didn’t get to experience that added depth until after they had already finished the game. You’ll be seeing the world in its most fleshed-out form on your first play-through.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that you’ll be lost in the story or won’t know what’s going on, just remember that there’s at least one gamer out there that thinks that is complete hogwash – and I believe my perspective is coming from the same direction that a lot of other PS3 gamers will come from.
Buy this game.  You won’t regret it.

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