Mass Effect 2

Investigate and stop the harvesting of human space colonies
Release: January 26, 2010 (Windows, Xbox 360)
                January 18, 2011 (PlayStation 3)

By Ian Coppock, Originally Published on April 23, 2013
Good Lord! That was the hardest headline I’ve ever written.
Usually when I’m thinking of an attention-grabbing line, I try to not make it sound generic. When I have trouble coming up with something besides “save mankind from an evil threat” I start to feel like the waters of mainstream gaming are becoming a little too still (high-brow hipster joke). The same can’t necessarily be said of Mass Effect 2, thankfully, but I really had to work to come up with that line. In any case, we’re back with the second installment of Bioware’s most venerable series.
The Story
Like its predecessor, which I reviewed about two months ago, Mass Effect 2 takes place in a sci-fi setting where humans and aliens get around on giant space slingshots called mass relays. Spaceships use a neato substance called eezo that can raise or lower mass with an electric current.
What’s cool about Mass Effect 2 is how literally it takes narrative continuation. Players can transplant their save files from Mass Effect directly into the sequel, thus transferring their own unique Commander Shepard and all the choices made in the first game. Your Shepard retains all the features you picked, from her eyebrows to her preferring dark chocolate over Skittles. The choices you made in Mass Effect carry over to Mass Effect 2 and directly influence the storyline. People you saved from dying in the first game may show up in the second game, and the cool aliens you ran with will either remember your love and friendship or resent you for being a douchebag. But I digress. The point is that this is an amazing little mechanic for making a sequel feel familiar and organic. By transferring the Shepard we’ve been adventuring with, we’re already very connected to the next installment in the story.
Mass Effect 2 lets you transport your Shepard from the first game’s save file over to the new one.
Now that I’m done drooling over narrative service, we can move on to the actual tale. Mass Effect 2 takes place two years after Commander Shepard stopped some rather unpleasant fellows from destroying all life as we know it, and sees him or her team up with a pseudo-terrorist organization to save it all again. After an intense and rather heartbreaking prologue, Shepard wakes up on an operating table and is swiftly recruited into a mission to save mankind from giant bugs with guns.
Now we’re getting somewhere!The story is significantly darker than the first installment, which is telltale of setting the stage for an end-all be-all third installment, but Mass Effect 2 is way more than a springboard. The story and dialogue are beautifully written, and unlike the first game, the characters develop significantly as the story goes on.
Mass Effect 2 expands and refines the series’ epic beauty.
Shepard falls in with an organization called Cerberus, a survivalist organization that considers the preservation and advancement of humanity a goal without price. They were introduced in a minor way in the first game and are implied to be behind a lot of nefarious business, like assassinations and sabotage, all in the name of mankind’s well-being. My Shepard was a little grumpy at the prospect of working with terrorists, but then they gave me a shiny new spaceship, and I kinda left that train of thought.
Cerberus is led by the Illusive Man, an enigmatic glowy-eyed dude who has impeccable taste in space-age formal wear.
One of the new characters central to the plot is the Illusive Man, Cerberus’ leader, voiced by and modeled after none other than Martin Sheen. As his name implies, the Illusive Man’s identity is a total mystery, but what’s not a mystery is his peerless devotion to mankind’s advancement. He tells Shepard that entire human space colonies have been vanishing instantly and without warning, and tasks him or her to find the pricks responsible and get the innocent humans back.
I found the Illusive Man to be a fascinating character, because he’s one of those people who thinks that the ends justify the means. Little else is revealed, even where he is, but he controls major events from behind the scenes. I had a hard time deciding whether or not I could trust him. This contention makes the story a lot more interesting. It was a hard change from the honor and comfort of Alliance soldiery, but it definitely reinforced the game’s dark theme of having no one to trust.
Working for a secret organization rather than the military is kind of badass. I wanted to be a field agent when I was little and now I can live my dream! Sort of.
Shepard soon discovers that a group of insect aliens are behind the abductions, and sets off to recruit a team of badasses for some serious pest control. In stark contrast to the law-abiding and duty-bound squadmates of the first game, most of Shepard’s second dream team comprises mad scientists, assassins and outright psychotics. One dude inflicted genocide on an entire race of aliens, and another one was a drug-washed telepath who could punch holes through space stations. A little scary, but for saving the entire human race, I needed the most capable.
(From left to right): Miranda Lawson, Cerberus operative and your right-hand woman, Mordin Solus, a scientist who makes new species one day and headshots the next, and Thane Krios, an assassin who waxes poetic from time to time.

I liked the different aliens and teammates that I picked up from planet to planet, but I wish I could’ve gotten a little more story out of them. You recruit 9-10 squadmates in total, plus two more with downloadable content, and Bioware only wrote so much conversation material to be spread across that many people. The two bonus characters don’t even converse; not really. They just spout trivia at you when you come to visit them.You can also interact with other characters aboard Shepard’s ship, the Normandy, and Bioware finally answered my prayers by including a redheaded personal assistant! Woohoo!

Mass Effect 2‘s story is well-written, but I feel like the emphasis shifted from stopping the big bad bugs to field trips to find new friends. Much of the game is spent recruiting people for your all-star pesticide squad, which is okay, but fighting the insect aliens sort of fell by the wayside. This is reinforced when your squadmates learn that killing the bugs may be a suicide mission, and you have to help them find closure through a long round of missions totally unrelated to the major narrative.
The other thing that disappointed me is that they took out the exploration mechanic they had in the first game with the Mako buggy tank. You can buy a few bonus missions where you putt around in this kickass speeder-tank thing, but it’s not quite the same. I liked driving around in the Mako because it made the galaxy feel big, and Mass Effect 2 feels more like a string of enclosed areas.
Mass Effect 2 has a ton of cool bonus content, if you can spare some extra dough. Luckily, some of it is free, including a few missions with the Mako’s successor, the Hammerhead.
I don’t want to give you the impression that Mass Effect 2 is bad. Despite some rather glaring narrative pitfalls, the game is a worthy sequel to the original Mass Effect and is also worthy of your time. One of the areas that the sequel improved tremendously from the first game is combat. The cover-based shooting is silky smooth, and aiming, powers and switching weapons have all been simplified and hammered out from the workable but rather rough combat of Mass Effect. That game’s combat was sandpaper to Mass Effect 2‘s cotton towel. Mmmmm.
The Artwork
Mass Effect 2‘s graphics remain impressive three years after its release, and the game makes use of bold contrast and stark, strong colors. Facial and body animations have improved dramatically sinceMass Effect, and the environments have a lot of added details. The artwork also reinforces the darkness of the game. Shepard’s journey from shining soldier to undercover operative is subtly strengthened through the visuals.
Shepard goes from capitols and military bases to seedy space stations and lawless wastelands. Omega, a pirate haven, reinforces Shepard’s journey from the halls of power to the fringes of galactic civilization.
Like I mentioned, the facial animations of the characters have gotten a lot better. In the first game, characters had like three different body motions, but they refined that in the sequel, which is nice, because it got weird watching 100 different characters walk away from me in the exact same way. It’s like a choreography conspiracy. The sequel also seems to have done away with the long loading times that plagued Mass Effect‘s environmental textures, and the entire thing looks really polished.
Mass Effect 2‘s environments are darkly beautiful, in contrast to the stately and brightly lit environments of the original.
I found most of the game’s environments to be quite absorbing. It wasn’t quite as immersive as, sayBioShock (which is an inherently unfair comparison because BioShock is to me what Christ is to a believer), but the level design was competently done, if a bit unimaginative at times. The presence of clusters of cover walls also made it really obvious when a battle was about to go down, so the creepiness of certain creepy areas was sabotaged from the start. Overall, though, Mass Effect 2 is a good game, perhaps even great.
Kelly Chambers. I love you, your red hair and your love of building animal shelters. Everyone’s allowed at least one fictional character crush, right?
Should I get it?
I give Mass Effect 2 a recommendation on the basis of the material provided, but it’s more than just a continuation of the first installment. The narrative stands up on its own, which is something a lot of sequels can’t pull off, so this made me love it all the more. The atmosphere and gameplay make it feel different from the first game, but the good, improvement kind of different. Get to Amazon and go crazy. It’s been a while since release so you could probably find a copy for $15-20.

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