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Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360) artwork

Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360) review

"Uh, no, this actually doesn't hurt me."

Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360) image

Mass Effect 2 is all about change. It asserts this notion with its opening cinematic, in which the crew from the original title forcibly part ways. The Normandy meets with catastrophe and literally falls apart. Everyone exits the vessel and flies into the distance, unknowingly disbanding and starting new lives. The only person left behind is Shepard, who becomes spaced and floats into the unknown.

When Shepard finally comes to and steps back into the role of galactic savior, it's on Cerberus' payroll. Yes, the same Cerberus from the previous installment, who was running experiments on humans and proved to be a more xenophobic entity than your crewmate Ashley. As it turns out Martin Sheen the Illusive Man needs Shepard. A species of aliens called the Collectors are abducting humans for unspeakable reasons. This is the kind of change that civilization can't abide, and therefore must prevent.

For better or worse, Shepard returns to command a new Normandy. Joker signs on once again to fly the ship, and both characters remark about how different it is despite looking mostly the same. They, too, are alarmed by the change.

Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360) image

If you were expecting more of the original Mass Effect when finally jumping into Mass Effect 2, you will be disappointed. A quick view of the menu screen shows you all you need to know. The inventory section is absent and the character sheet is watered down from its initial incarnation. Shepard now only has a few skills in which to allocate points instead of a full list of goodies. For instance, gun proficiencies and shield bonuses are missing from that list. Most of the categories on your status screen are actual abilities you use in combat, with maybe one or two selections designated for statistic boosting. Mass Effect 2's alarming shift away from its predecessor's RPG elements is at first disheartening, and you wonder if the game isn't going to be just another third-person shooter.

In theory, Mass Effect 2 seems to be a step down from its antecedent. However, in practice, it's actually a refined sci-fi experience.

The game improves when Cerberus allows you to go about your business. During your first outing, you approach a nearby planet and dread the thought of boarding the Mako to explore its generic, overly mountainous surface. However, Mass Effect 2 eschews such tedious driving elements. Instead of negotiating awkward hills for hours, you mine goods from orbit by scanning the planet and sending down probes where the readings are strongest. It's great to see that BioWare realized that the original's mining feature could be more efficiently implemented.

As you advance through the campaign, you realize Mass Effect 2's alterations were a means of trimming the fat. The game doesn't bog you down with a huge inventory full of useless equipment or hefty stacks of sell fodder. Instead, you unlock new weapons as you find them and obtain advanced shields and arms proficiencies as upgrades. You then use the minerals you mine to unlock the upgrades, bestowing permanent passive bonuses unto your entire crew. You no longer have to spend dozens of skill points just to make one warrior a sufficient shotgun user.

Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360) image

Even combat proves to be cleaner this time around. In Mass Effect, you didn't have to aim precisely to score a shot on a target. The game corrected your bullet's flight path if you were a few inches off, and your hit rate was based off your stats. It kept the game's shooter elements in check, allowing it to play more like an RPG. This time, though, your need to aim properly because Mass Effect 2 is an actual shooter with RPG-like elements, rather than the other way around. I protested this change at first, but eventually grew to love it because the campaign's action segments were more dramatic and less stilted.

Granted, Mass Effect 2 delivers a lot of what you've already seen in other third-person shooters: cover-based battles, automatic healing and a greater emphasis on action. However, it all comes together with the game's environments and soundtrack. Mass Effect 2's sleek action inspires you to run into the fray and take chances. You end up seeing if you can dive for the next cover point or rush in and utilize a skill to disadvantage your opponents. Its gunplay is addictive, especially when combined with its wonderful score. It exudes cinematic qualities without wresting control from its players. You aren't engaged in an interactive action movie, but playing a game that feels as though it could be one.

Although Mass Effect 2's main story revolves around the Collectors, its spotlight shines on its supporting cast. Each mission serves as an introductory mini-story for each crew member. From there, the game invites you to chat with your new ally to get to know a little about them. Later on, it offers you side missions that allow you to tie up any loose ends they may possess. Miranda, for instance, is a biotic who remained a faithful member of Cerberus because they accepted her. Later on, you discover that she was the subject of an experiment, and that she has a sister who's undergoing the same kind of treatment. She wishes to liberate her sibling, and needs you to join her in that endeavor. Although she came off as a shill for a horrible corporation in the early outs, you see her in a more human light once you've completed her personal quest.

Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360) image

You sink numerous hours into helping your characters resolve their personal issues at the cost learning more about the Collectors. I suppose this setup is fine, though it makes the Collectors seem less important when they're actually a viable threat. Still, I'm a sucker for character-driven pieces and Mass Effect 2 perfectly develops its cast into such an enjoyable bunch that I didn't want to end the campaign. I wanted to help Jack bring down Cerberus, join Garrus in annihilating shady mercs and provide as much aid to the overwhelmed Liara as I could offer.

However, all great things must draw to a close. It's strange that I started Mass Effect 2 with reluctance because of its changes, but eventually found myself wanting the adventure to continue indefinitely. Thankfully, the game goes out with a violent bang, as you enter a mission full of tough decisions that could literally save lives.

Mass Effect 2 is about change. Mostly, it's about refining the qualities that worked in its predecessor while nixing the superfluous features that bogged the original title down. It reminds us that sometimes things need to metamorphose a little to stay fresh. I'm glad Mass Effect 2 distanced itself from its older brother, not because Mass Effect was a bad game, but because it allowed the sequel to stand on its own. If you're going to alter a franchise, that's the way it should be handled.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (December 13, 2017)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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