|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: January 18, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p|
by Neilie Johnson
Since its appearance four years ago, BioWare's Mass Effect series has become the standard all other RPGs –including BioWare's other stellar RPG, Dragon Age—attempt to live up to. With their rich dialogue and alignment system, Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 became the go-to games of 2007 and 2010—at least for Xbox 360 owners. The games weren't released on PS3 so Sony fans were left out in the cold. This month, however, BioWare makes it up to them by releasing a special edition of Mass Effect 2 complete with interactive comic, DLC missions, and a brand new engine.
For those of you wondering how useful it is to start the PS3 off with the second game instead of the first, BioWare's created a sort of "choose your own adventure" graphic novel you can download from PSN. [Note: weirdly enough, there's no way to tell that you've successfully downloaded the comic. You can't see it in the main menu, so I (and many others, according to Bioware's forums) failed to realize that it plays during the intro, in between the prologue and the actual game's start. If you start a new game without having done the download, you'll have to start all over again once you do.] The comic is BioWare's band-aid for not having released the first game on PS3 and serves as a "previously on Mass Effect" trailer that allows you to make the same critical, game-changing decisions made by people who played through the first game.
Once the comic's done, the game starts, complete with brand new engine. Those of us who played the 360 were waiting to be blown off our gaming chairs by the incredible new graphics, but truth be told, they don't look that much better. The game looked pretty darn good on the 360, and on the PS3, it merely looks a weensy bit sharper and more contrasty. In any case, the game is still one of the most exciting, absorbing action RPGs you'll ever play. For gamers unfamiliar with the Mass Effect series, where have you been—hiding under a rock? In a nutshell, Mass Effect tells the story of veteran Alliance soldier Commander Shepard and his (or her) defense of a multi-race, reluctantly cooperative society against alien race the geth, Saren, a former elite alien commando and Sovereign, a vast alien ship capable of mind control. It's way more complex than that, but those are the essentials leading up to the plot of Mass Effect 2.
At the start of Mass Effect 2, Shepard finds himself co-opted by a shadowy, human-centric organization called Cerberus, to whom he finds himself unexpectedly indebted. Cerberus wants Shepard to investigate disappearances; human colonies have been vanishing and no one knows how or why. Your job as Shepard is to assemble a team of the best soldiers in the universe and go after the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. Your team-building mission sends you to multiple planets both to find new team members and to reunite with old ones. Along the way you'll be pulled into several entertaining side stories while becoming acquainted with the game's exceptional squad system which taps into both our desire for explosive action and for emotional depth. It's designed to make you rely on your squad and gives you such a wide range of compelling squadmate options that every time a mission starts, you'll struggle with deciding who to bring with you and who to leave behind. Despite your own unique abilities, you'll find yourself constantly leaning on your squadmates who are custom-made to provide you with the proper support.
Some of them are biotics, capable of setting enemies on fire or levitating them into the air; some are excellent assassins; and some can hack computers and interfere with enemy shields. You can control your squad's powers and send them to various points by pressing R2 and L2 to bring up a circular menu, but for the most part, it's unnecessary since they're generally smart enough to do the right thing in any given situation. In addition to fighting with your squad, you befriend them by talking to them and by helping them complete their own missions. You can even start a romance with some of them if you say just the right things. The game's stellar writing goes a long way to getting you emotionally involved with these people, and it's amazing how much you end up caring about them. Sure, there are enough cool weapons, armor, and action to keep the most combat-oriented RPG-er happy, but as you find yourself agonizing over the possible consequences of each decision, you'll realize Mass Effect is perhaps the first game series to really make your decisions count.
It's easy to spend upwards of forty hours playing Mass Effect 2, especially if you take the time to explore the universe. In between missions you can scan planets for resources in a fairly interesting mini-game and then give these resources to your ship's resident tech expert to research upgrades for weapons, armor, and the ship itself. And with the release of the PS3 edition, the game gets six hours longer and richer with the seamless inclusion of the Kasumi: Stolen Memory, Overlord, and Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC missions.
If you've been wondering what all the hubbub is about the Mass Effect series and have been thinking about finding out, now's definitely the time. BioWare's interactive comic gets you up to speed on the story and sweetens the pot by throwing in a set of Terminus Armor, M-490 Blackstorm Projector Weapon, and three interesting DLC packs. With the release of Mass Effect 3 looming on the horizon, you better get moving; there's only a year or so for you to become as Mass Effect-addicted as the rest of us.
CCC Freelance Writer