Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review: Mass Effect 2 (PS3)


Unless you’ve been actually living in space, you may have heard of Mass Effect 2. Winning multiple Game of the Year awards last year and making up one-thirds of every Xbox fanboy’s arsenal in console wars, the game has finally arrived on the PS3. We already reviewed Mass Effect 2 last year and gave it a perfect score, so this review is just to help you make up your mind in case you were still on the fence.

If you’ve never heard of Mass Effect and really can’t be bothered with what’s happening on the PC and Xbox side, here’s the lowdown – this is a space opera played out as an action-oriented RPG. The game creates a very rich universe, with its own civilisations, history and politics. The first game saw protagonist Shepard chase across the galaxy in search of a rogue alien and uncover a deeper conspiracy hatched by a long forgotten race of super beings. Mass Effect 2 continues Shepard’s campaign; this time on a mission to find why humans are disappearing from colonies. You will tie up with a rogue human organization and befriend a motley crew of new and old allies, and even meet up with some old faces who’ve moved on with their lives in the two years separating the two games. The game is much more action oriented than its predecessor, and battles can be brutal at higher difficulty levels. This is one of the finest adventures you will embark upon on PC or consoles, and I thoroughly enjoyed replaying it.

The PS3 version includes a comic to bring you up to speed on the events of Mass Effect 1, in case you didn’t play it and because it isn’t available on PS3. The Dark Horse comic is bright and colourful, and well narrated. Over ten minutes, you will also get to make some of the key decisions, which will reflect their outcome in Mass Effect 2. While a ten minute comic is no substitute for 25 hours of gaming and the rich universe created in the first game, it does an admirable job of getting you up and running.

 However, and this is where my gripe with the PS3 version starts, the comic is only available as downloadable content free with every new copy of the PS3 game. They could’ve included it on the disc; it’s not like there was a dearth of space. The game itself requires a ridiculously long installation; 25 minutes on a near empty PS3, and up to 50 minutes on a full PS3. Add to this the time required to download the Cerberus pack, which includes the comic and a very useful ally, and you’re in for a long wait before you can get gaming. Ideally, the comic and the DLC should have been included on the disc, and the comic should have played out during the installation. Starcraft II did this to great effect.

The game looks fantastic. The opening sequence will leave you stunned. The characters are livelier this time, and the cutscenes and conversations have a cinematic touch to them. There is more camera movement, character expressions, and even an option to interrupt the conversation in a helpful or nasty way. The PS3 version is supposed to use the same graphics engine as Mass Effect 3, but it’s difficult to make out any major changes. I had some teething problems playing with the PS3 controller, being used to the Xbox 360 controller. There’s a nifty setting in the Options to switch the bumpers and triggers, which really made life simpler.


The main campaign itself is outstanding, helped by some great side quests for each companion. The campaign has great pacing, hitting highs and lows at the correct points and culminating in a satisfactory ending. There is immense replay value with the six-character classes and the multiple permutations and combinations possible, further bolstered by a large team and different morality choices. The PS3 version includes three DLC add-ons on disc for free; these are paid on the PC and Xbox 360 versions, so that’s great value. The Overlord and Shadow Broker packs are outstanding and show what good DLC can be capable of. The third DLC introduces a new ally – Kasumi, and while the campaign is nothing great, Kasumi is an interesting character with many admirers.

So if you had all three systems and still hadn’t played Mass Effect 2 which should you go for? The PS3 will not have Mass Effect 1 in the foreseeable future, and while the interactive comic does provide some information on the first game, it’s no substitute for the real thing. If you really want to have the complete Mass Effect experience, I would recommend the PC version, because it looks the best on PC. If you just want to play Mass Effect 2, which is great even as a standalone game, I am torn between the three versions. The addition of the three DLCs is great value, yet there are technical problems which mar the experience on the PS3. The loading times are horrendous even after a long install, and there are reports of a save-game-eating glitch. I personally have had my PS3 crash multiple times in the game and it has never done that before. Bioware is releasing a patch to address some of these issues.
Conclusion

Bioware astounded last year with Mass Effect 2, following up a great game with a much superior sequel. It needs to be played, whether or not you’re a fan of the genre. One year on, it’s made many a PS3 owner happy by releasing Mass Effect 2 for them, sweetening the deal with three free DLCs and taking the effort to cover the events of the first game through a nice comic. This is Commander Shepard, and this is my favourite developer.

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