Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360) review
"If Iím struggling to record my thoughts on Mass Effect 2 itís because it excels on so many fronts and does so many things right that itís hard to settle on just one thing. So Iíll ramble in a word document instead, talk about a few things that caught in my mind and then reveal that Iíve hardly scratched the surface."
Iím struggling to record my thoughts on Mass Effect 2 in a serviceable way.
I could very easily talk about how the previous titleís engine has been overhauled almost completely. How firefights are vastly improved by a universal magazine system rather than waiting for your sci-fi weapon of choice to cool after an overheat, or how the scaling back of customisable powers and equipment means less fiddling and more immediate results. I could laud the deletion of the roving MAKO vehicle no one liked, and praise how away missions are now directly accessed via a shuttle. Everyone else has, and itís an easy way to fill the page and justify the large score Iím about to accredit the game with. But I canít help but feel this would be missing the point a little.
So, instead, Iíll talk about Omega. You donít have to make it your first stop after the gameís opening stages, but itís openly suggested that you swing by there early. Thereís two potential crewmates waiting to be recruited (three, if youíre a fan of DLC) as well as a sizable smattering of struggling traders and back alley murderers. Here, youíll find forgotten walkways lined by dying inhabitants broken up by the odd rotting corpse and a collection of vorcha warriors loitering with dangerous intent. This new reptilian race makes up for its lack of intelligence with unbridled aggression, and theyíre everywhere. Delve into the virus-ridden domestic estates, and youíll find them thriving, slaughtering civilians and mercenary groups alike amidst the sick and the dying people cowering in their homes or making a desperate last-gasp pilgrimage to a nearby clinic. Omega is the home of the desperate and the walking dead; if youíre not living your life through a haze of narcotics, youíre living in fear of slavers, of the gang warfare between warring merc bands or raging xenophobia running rife through the hotchpotch of races not even trying to co-exist.
Right in the middle of the space station, surrounded by delirious clubbers tripping off pulsing electronic beats, weird green drinks and hallucinogenics, sits Aria TíLoak. Once a stripper for the intoxicated masses, she clawed, murdered and slept her way to the top of the food chain, and has no desire to move aside. She views you with early suspicion that quickly laps into indifference, answering your questions in a bored tone, helping you just as much as she can be bothered to. Sheíll tell you the whereabouts of a vigilante outlaw armed with a sniper rifle and the higher ground that the stationís three main factions have joined forces to root out. Sheíll help you disguise yourself as a freelance mercenary employed by the uneasy alliance as an undisguised meat shield as you bluff your way forward in an effort to recruit him for your crew. Along the way, you can exchange words with the krogen battle master for the Blood Pack, and hear how he wants to rip his foe apart with sheer strength. You can drop in on the pooling ground for the Eclipse, and perhaps vandalise their collection of battle mechs so they no longer recognise friend or foe, or you could spend some time with the dominant group, the Blue Suns, and wedge an electro-tool into the spine of their quartermaster as he tries to repair a dropship.
Sabotaging as you go makes life easier when you manage to gain access to the sniperís den and help him fight off wave after wave of solider, mech and armourment. Overlooking the only bridge that offers access to his safe haven, target after target pour into your crosshairs as you battle to keep your would-be recruit alive. Survive that, and you need split your forces to battle both the survivors of the foiled charge and fresh troops tunnelling their way in through abandoned hallways and barricaded underpasses. After that, thereís only the small matter of surviving a gunship as it encircles your hideout, dropping troops right into your lap and firing ceaseless rounds of armour-piercing ammo into your ranks.
Maybe youíll survive that. Maybe youíll battle through the vorcha-infected, plague-ridden domestic quarters enough to reach the clinic and obtain a vaccine to pump through the environment systems in a last-ditch attempt to save everyone there. Maybe youíll manage the slog through the psychotic, single-minded aliens who stand guard to the stationís salvation, ones armed with assault rifles, flame-throwers and more jagged, needle-like teeth than IQ points. Even if you do, youíve only seen a fraction of what the dilapidated station has to offer. Thereís desperate pilgrims desperate to buy themselves freedom, but held to ransom by a senior traderís harsh price restriction and old faces eager to catch up on old times. Thereís a batarian barmen with a stronger irrational hatred of humans than usual and seedy smugglers looking for the right man to help them bring in their illicit goods. There are forgotten warlords that need protecting from unforgotten grudges, conspiracies to be uncovered and a string of seedy murders you might very well fall victim to. Omega crawls with life, mostly of the low variety, and it takes a long time before youíve seen every crime, checked into every store and survived every encounter it dredges up from its depths and hurls your way.
Omega is one small corner in Mass Effect 2Ďs assorted galaxies. Galaxies that need to be explored to prepare for a new war, one thought long concluded.
And so youíll visit corrupt trade planets, forgotten science stations and the remains of the krogan homeworld. Razed human settlements, tapped-out archaeology sites and fringe worlds littered with lost tech and old foes. Youíll explore worlds set under ultra-heated suns, fallen foul to alien indoctrination or home to crashed spacecraft sheltering what remains of its crew. Youíll intercept distress beacons, strip-mine planets of mineral worth from orbit and slowly upgrade your craft and your crew through in-house R&D projects that can do anything from pimp your shipís shields to giving everyoneís pistol a little more kick. Youíll help plug shops for a discount on their wares, scour the markets for new fish to put in your cabinís tank and play peek-a-boo with a giant space hamster who, apparently, hates you.
Thereís a serious war to be waged, but Mass Effect 2 never lets itself get lost in it. It would be missing the point to talk only about the battles waged and the lives lost.
So, instead, Iím going to talk about the Citadel. Itís the centre of the universe as far as the alliance is concerned, but the conclusion of the last game made it a floating scrap heap. Two years later, itís still in a state of disrepair, and the trailing elevators that once made the spine of the station are no longer functional. Back in the old days these endless elevators trips were employed to mask loading screens quite cleverly, which gave your squad the chance to chat amongst themselves and even receive mission updates or news bulletins on pending or completed quests. It was universally hated. Now, the majority of accessible station is a shopping district traversable by seamless stairs. Take two of your old team exploring, and one will turn to the other and ask her if she misses the time they spent chatting aimlessly while waiting to arrive on the right floor. When her response is a definite and cold ďNoĒ, he tries to strike up forgotten conversation threads about her race and condition for the sake of nostalgia.
He may as well turn towards the camera and offer the player a wink. Bioware made Mass Effect 2 fully aware that there's problems inherent in the first game and, not content to just offer fixes, they go out of their way to make fun of themselves and the industry, setting up clueless bar patrons as clichťd protagonists tropes content to wander around aimlessly, chatting to anyone who stands still long enough in a bid to receive quests or checking random crates for a few extra credits.
If Iím struggling to record my thoughts on Mass Effect 2 itís because it excels on so many fronts and does so many things right that itís hard to settle on just one thing. So Iíll ramble in a word document instead, talk about a few things that caught in my mind and then reveal that Iíve hardly scratched the surface.
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