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Mass Effect 2 (PlayStation 3) artwork

Mass Effect 2 (PlayStation 3) review

"Mass Effect 2 is a mediocre third person shooter with a slightly above average story. Certain changes remove the unique aspects of the original in favor of typical shooter gameplay. "

I went into Mass Effect 2 with a lot of enthusiasm. I loved the first game, and I eagerly anticipated the second chapter of my Commander Shepard's story. Unfortunately, I was mostly disappointed with this sequel.

The combat in Mass Effect 2 has been adjusted to more closely resemble a standard third person shooter. Abilities are still available via the power wheel that stops gameplay, but in both of my playthroughs I found mapping my most used abilities to triggers and using them without stopping the action was almost always the better choice. This change unfortunately takes away the strategic element that I loved in the first game, and it is directly attributable to the inclusion of extremely generous shield and health regeneration to all classes in the game. Simply put, there is no need to stop the game and carefully consider which ability or combination of squad abilities is going to get you out of a tight situation when you know that regardless of what happens you will be able to duck behind cover and be on your way to full health in about four seconds. In this more bland, more typical shooter style of gameplay, powers feel more like grenades with special effects than anything unique. It seems clear that the adjustments were made to make combat faster, but in this case faster is not better.

Curiously, even as combat has been made faster than in Mass Effect, the story has slowed to a glacial pace. Despite an opening cinematic that creates an immediate change to the status quo, once I was in control of Shepard and the Normandy I felt no sense of urgency about what was occurring in the game's world. In the whole of the main plot of this game, there is very little rising action. We never see enough of the major threat in this game to cause any emotion. The nemesis here was not enough to keep me interested. He was there for me to fight, that was it.

Another unwelcome change is that the characters you recruit this time have their development occur exclusively in self contained sidequests. The first Mass Effect had such a strong formula, in which completing extra quest and main quest missions in a certain order led to big changes in the dialog or possible dialog of your squadmates, that the choice to move to these compartmentalized episodes seems very odd. This is not to say that character development needs to happen only in the main plot of an RPG, but this time around the game design felt almost Japanese. It was like the Normandy was suddenly a spacefaring high school and my crew were all outsiders with problems but hearts of gold who just needed me to help them work things out in between saving the world. Maybe that sounds like a stretch, but there actually is a Persona reference in this game.

My issue with this sequel is not that it has changed from its predecessor. Change is a good thing. My issue is that it changed by removing the unique aspects of the first game in favor of gameplay and story elements that can be found in nearly every other game in the genre. I was looking forward to the changes Mass Effect 2 would make to the series, but maddeningly those changes turned it into a style of game I had played a dozen times before. There is nothing wrong with cover shooters that use very fast health regeneration, but there are about a dozen or so of those on the market and most of them are much better at that kind of gameplay. There is nothing wrong with a slow paced RPG with many character based sidequests unrelated to the overall plot. Putting them together is somewhat novel, but it is simply not as special. In the original the gameplay was not only action packed but involved considerable strategy and forethought. In the same way, the character development was not only refreshingly well written, but seemed like a natural part of the story's escalation. I can not understand why these unique, defining elements were tossed aside for this sequel.

For all of my complaining, there is plenty of good content in this game. The new characters are hit and miss, but seeing members from my old crew pop up at certain times in the narrative always made me smile. Also, some of the aforementioned character sidequests are actually quite good. One in particular, involving the mystery of a crew stranded for years on a foreign planet, stands out as a very good sci-fi short story in any context. And while the Mako and empty planet exploration are here replaced by an underwhelming mining mini-game, there is still plenty of fun to be had roaming the galaxy without a particular destination.

Mass Effect 2 is a mediocre third person shooter with a slightly above average story. I recommend you go into it with that in mind if you do not want to be letdown.

Germ's avatar
Community review by Germ (January 25, 2014)

Jeremy plays video games, sometimes.

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zippdementia posted January 27, 2014:

You know, the second game was my least favorite, as well. I think Mass Effect 1 was the best in terms of story and Mass Effect 3 was the best in terms of gameplay. Mass Effect 2 seems to be a solid bridge between the two, and it has great characters, but it doesn't excite me the same way as the other two games.
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Germ posted January 28, 2014:

If you like Mass Effect 3 better than 2 you're going to hate my upcoming ME3 review...

But thanks for reading!

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