So much has been written about Mass Effect 2 over the course of the past twelve months that there really isn’t a whole lot left to say. Yes, it’s the best thing that Bioware have ever done, by quite a substantial margin. Yes, it has set some kind of quality benchmark for videogame scriptwriting. And yes, it’s a space opera for people who normally wouldn’t dream of allowing their fingertips to come into contact with one. And if you’ve never really dug RPGs, then you’re more strongly encouraged to sample Mass Effect 2 than anyone else. And that last fact is what makes the game such an incomparable triumph.
Mass Effect 2 rather brutally streamlines the (frequently labyrinthine) design and interface complexities that blacken way too many big-budget contemporary RPGs, and it’s for that reason that it currently stands as the most bluntly influential videogame of this generation. There is no intimidating inventory system, weapon and technology upgrades are all applied as soon as you’ve ‘researched’ them (requirement: the touch of one button) and quite amazingly, the hitherto uncommon third-person dialogue method makes you feel far more kinship with Commander Shepherd and his team than if you were using the kind of first-person system that appears in games like Fallout.
These ingenious modifications wouldn’t amount to a whole lot if both the storytelling and the gunplay weren’t pitched perfectly, and they are. Mass Effect 2’s plot – down to every last one of its miniature sub-plot splinters – is a work that’s born of discernable love, patience and intelligence. Regardless of whether you want to take the path of the Renegade or the Paragon, your story is never anything less than coherent and entirely gripping. In the aftermath of completing Mass Effect 2 for a second time, this reviewer – who would previously rather have played a videogame set in a Lancashire tea room than outer space – is now counting the days until the third instalment is released later this year.
If you’re a PS3 owner who is worried about jumping into the second instalment of a franchise that has always been touted as a terrific interactive story above everything else, an excellent ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style interactive comic book is included; it contains all of the broadest and most pivotal story strokes (decisions included) that occurred in the original game. The fact that the first Mass Effect title can’t be ported to PS3 due to licensing issues is indeed a great shame, but this ‘Interactive Backstory Comment’ is a sleek and elegant way of getting new players bang up to speed. And as a bonus, it also contains a few snippets of the utterly delectable original soundtrack from that first game.
All of the downloadable content that was released for the Xbox 360 and PC versions of the game is present on the PS3 iteration from the start, and despite the fact that one piece – Kasumi: Stolen Memory – could be classed as enjoyable but largely superfluous, the others are resolutely brilliant; The Lair Of The Shadow Broker in particular, is as compelling as anything in the main game. However, all of the DLC is fluently weaved into the fabric of the existing story, and if you’re new, you’re very unlikely to be able to see any of the joins.
Mass Effect 2 was released on PC and Xbox 360 way back in January of 2010, and it was such a bewildering masterpiece that it still reigned supreme in people’s hearts at the end of the year, when almost everyone nominated it as their favourite videogame of 2010. That truth still stands, so don’t be surprised if the same conclusion is reached by many PS3 owners at the end of 2011, regardless of how good a year for software these next twelve months turn out to be. Mass Effect 2 truly is something else. Entirely.
Watch the Mass Effect 2 trailer here: