Computer Game Review: Mass Effect 2


Mass Effect 2

Warning: Possible Spoilers. Mass Effect 2. Universally praised. The best game yet on the Xbox 360? Read on and find out …

Considering all the effort that has obviously gone into the rest of the game, the overall story is really pretty bland, and consists of ye olde ancient race invading the galaxy and what-not. Despite reams of conversation and backstory, I never did work out the motivations of the Collectors and Geth and all the rest of the bad guys, and it didn’t really matter. The focus is really more on the different characters that make up your crew and their personal stories, which thankfully are relatively interesting.

Like many products designed for the largest market possible, I suppose there’s too much risk in doing something really different in the story department. It’s a shame, but hopefully it’s early days for the industry in this regard.
There is a much-touted emphasis on developing, shall we say, a more intimate relationship with one of your crew members. Sure, I got it on with Miranda in the engine room, which was strange because the conversation options made me feel kind of sleazy and wimpy at the same time to get there. Hold on, aren’t we all here to save the universe? I applaud the developers for trying to include some adult emotions in the game, though you do get the feeling they don’t get out much.

The lynchpin of the whole game is the conversation choice system, and where it puts you on a sliding scale from Renegade (selfish, bad-ass) to Paragon (sensitive nice guy hero). It’s this system which I actually think is the weakest part of the game. The game rewards you for consistency—to the point where emphasis on one type or the other opens up more conversation options (usually powerful ones). To me, this detracts from the realism. As I started playing I found myself wanting to make all kinds of choices—sometimes I wanted to ‘do the right thing’, other times I wanted to shoot the guy in the head for looking sideways at me. But after reading a bit about the game online I soon realised that this approach would get me nowhere, so I had to make a conscious decision to go Renegade or Paragon (afer much indecision I chose Paragon) and so instead of making choices as I went along, often found myself automatically selecting the obviously Paragon choice.

Err, life’s full of grey areas kids. I suppose it’s beyond our technology still, but I want a story that develops in response to my choices, not one that forces me to choose one of two options. Certainly there’s an illusion of freedom here, but it’s a shame to be penalised for not staying on a consistent path.

The gameplay in ME2 strikes a good balance between keeping the overall plot on track and giving you the freedom to explore. There was no rush to advance the storyline, and yet the occasional semi-mandatory mission kept me feeling that events were still proceeding without my involvement. You’ll even find yourself scanning planets for minerals so you can develop your technological options; it sounds boring (and sort of is), but occasionally it’s a nice relaxing change from killing things.

Most of the time you’ll be going on missions either to recruit members of your team, or personal missions on their behalf so you make them more loyal to you and make them more effective fighters. In general, missions usually come down to gunfights—running from cover to cover as you advance on the enemy’s position—but there’s plenty of variety and enough stories and situations to keep the game feeling fresh. The combat is excellent. I was more of a ‘stay in cover and pick off the enemy with my sniper gun’ kind of fighter, but you can develop whichever style suits you best.

I can’t summon up any criticism whatsoever of the graphics—they are uniformly stunning. The cut scenes, especially during the game’s climax, are beautifully shot and rendered; exciting, cinematic, and coupled with a pounding, memorable soundtrack, absolutely thrilling.

One of the unique things about ME 2 is your ability to customise the appearance of your character to an obsessive degree. It took me very little time to create a character that looked just like me, to the point where my girlfriend thought it was ‘weird’ everytime she walked through the room and saw me on the TV chatting to aliens (come to think of it, she thought the whole Miranda thing was a bit weird too). All games need now is a voice sampling synthesizer and the illusion will be complete!

One of the excellent things about ME 2 was the just-right level of difficulty. I threw the controller down in frustration a few times—but mercifully few times. I’m sure some of the combats would have been easier if I really took the time to explore the different power and team ability combinations, but even with my limited grasp of the options, I still managed to get through the game with very little frustration and just enough challenge. However a bit more information on how the various powers worked would have been helpful.

ME 2 is without doubt a stunning game and one of the best experiences I’ve had with the Xbox 360 so far. When I considered what to play next, I couldn’t think of anything I hadn’t played that was of the same caliber. I played for about 25 hours, but there are numerous other missions you can discover, and in fact the game was so good I’d even consider playing it again one day in ‘Renegade’ style. My only real criticism is that the Renegade/Paragon system forces you onto one of two paths, taking away the freedom to make choices ‘on the fly’. Otherwise, I’m really looking forward to the next installment in this series. Hopefully with my voice sampled this time!

Four and a half seductive conversation choices out of five.

Battlestar Galactica

Comments Off on Battlestar Galactica

A friend sent me this fantastic promotional photo for Battlestar Galactica. Great stuff. Also note, Fantasy Flight Games have just released a Battlestar Galactica board game, which has been getting great reviews. It’s a co-operative game–that is, until, one or more players are revealed as Cylons …

Battlestar Galactica
[click image to enlarge]

PS: No spoilers please! I haven’t got hold of Season 4 yet.

Film review: Sunshine



You know, I was going to write a review, but my friend anaglyph over at Tetherd Cow just beat me to it.