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Friday, June 22, 2012

Mass Effect 2, a must have sci fi adventure on the Xbox 360

You know, I think it is time for another game review.  Yesterday, I talked about Castlevania Harmony of Despair, and today I will talk about Mass Effect 2.  By the way, I did play through Mass Effect 3 twice, though I will talk about that game on another post (by the way, feel free to submit game reviews if you want as realistically I will probably not get to every single game for the Xbox 360 due to time and budget restraints).  Mass Efect 2 has been out for a while and I do have to admit that I am a fan of the game and series.  This game is definitely a must have if you are into science fiction games and films (like Star Trek).  Like in the last game review, I will rate this game under a letter grade ranking system (with an A meaning that the game and features are perfect, while an F means it is lousy).

Above is the official launch trailer for Mass Effect 2 posted by EA on Youtube

Overview / Story - A

If you like science fiction fantasy games and films (i.e., Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Knights of the Old Republic, etc), you will probably love Mass Effect 2.  This game was the official sequel to Mass Effect 1 and is the second of a 3 game series created by Bioware/EA Games.  In this action packed sequel, the game continues the story of Commander Shepard in his quest to ultimately stop the reapers from destroying the galaxy as we know it.  In Mass Effect 1, you played as Shepard (along with his crew) as he/she stopped the rogue specter Saren (who was posessed by a reaper called Soverign) from taking over the galaxy (for more information about the first game in the series, you can either buy the game here or read the article on the game on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_Effect_(video_game)). Of course, little did Shepard know is that the story is far from over.  In the prologue of the game, the Normandy (Shepard's ship) gets attacked by a mysterious race called the collectors and was apparently killed during the encounter.  2 years later, Shepard gets resurrected by Cerberus, which is a shadowy organization headed by the Illusive Man which wants to establish human dominance across the galaxy (a spinter group from the Alliance).  Although initially branded as a "terrorist organization" by the Alliance (some of the side missions in Mass Effect 1 even had you fighting Cerberus operatives), Ceberus sets aside their hostilities when entire human colonies begin to "disappear" as a dangerous alien race known as the collectors basicallhy begin launching a genocidal war against the human race by abducting and killing human colonists across the galaxy.  Shepard is forced to forge an uneasy alliance with Cerberus (even against the wishes of the Alliance), recruit a whole new set of squadmates and launch an epic and very survivable suicide mission against the Collector base (which is located literally at the center of the galaxy near the edge of the massive black hole at the galaxy's core).  Some squadmates from Mass Effect 1 (like Tali and Garrus) make their returns as squadmates (though you will have to "recruit" them once again), while others (like Liara, Ashley/Kaiden, and Wrex assuming he survives Mass Effect 1) return as NPC characters and so you will have a whole new set of squadmates this time around, including:

1) 2 Cerberus operatives: Miranda and Jacob (who join your party towards the beginning of the game)
2) A mercenary called Zaeed who was a former Blue Suns gang member and is an expert at combat
3) A salarian doctor/scientist named Mordin
4) A biotic convict female called Jack who was imprisoned on a huge prison ship headed by the Blue Suns who seems to have a grudge against Cerberus.
5) A justicar named Samara who is initially stationed at Illium (a huge Asari colony).  By the way, if you are going evil in Mass Effect 2, you can also replace her with her "evil" daughter named, Morinth , who is like a succubus (she has a reputation for killing people she mates with including Shepard if you decide to romance her).
6) A drell assassin called Thane
7) A prototype Krogan named Grunt
8) A "friendly" geth named Legion
9) A sophisticated female thief named, Kasumi (comes with the "Stolen Memory" DLC that you can buy and download on Xbox live).
10) Tali (who was initially on a pilgrimage) and Garrus (who was going by the alias of the archangel and is initially being hunted down by thugs on Omega (a huge space staion on an asteroid that doesn't have an official government and an Asari crimelord named Ari acting as the leader of Omega).

The game is divided into 3 phases, with several intermissions in between. In phase 1, you recruit your squad mates.  Phase 2 has you doing their loyalty missions (while the loyalty missions are optional, it is recommended that you get your squadmates' loyalty for best results on the suicide mission and plus it extends the game significantly as the game will seem extra short otherwise) along with optional side missions known as N7 assignments (these are pretty much random side missions you can do and have you do various miscellaneous tasks like doing "treasure hunting" on various worlds, fighting pirates, salvaging ships that have crashed, etc).  Phase 3 has you doing the climatic suicide mission against the Collector base.  There are also several extra storyline missions, including 2 where you have to investigate human colonies on Freedom's Progress and later on Horizon, as well as 2 where you have to do some covert ops on collector/reaper vessels.  Personally I liked the storyline, videos, and voice acting.  By the way, if you haven't played through Mass Effect 1, I do recommend playing through that game before doing Mass Effect 2, and there are several benefits of doing so:

1) You get the full backstory for Mass Effect 2, including the story with Saren, Soveriegn, planets you visited in Mass Effect 1 (such as Zhu's hope, Virmire, etc).
2) Choices you make in Mass Effect 1 do effect how Mass Effect 2 (and Mass Effect 3 for that matter) plays out.  Several key choices from Mass Effect 1 includes: did you save Ashley or Kaiden on Virmire (there is a situation where both of them were in dire situations on Virmire and you are forced to save one or the other, but not both) and by the way, while the choice doesn't have much effect on Mass Effect 2 (besides who returns), both become romance options in Mass Effect 3 (for example, if you are male shepard and want to romance Ashley, she will need to have survived Mass Effect 1 for you to play as her).  Other key choices will be Wrex's fate on Virmire (it appears he can be killed off on Virmire too) and if he dies, he will be replaced by his brother Wrev in Mass Effect 2, whether or not you save the council at the end of Mass Effect 1 when the citdel gets attacked by Sovereign, (the council will be more suspicious of Shepard if you didn't save them in the first game), whether Captain Anderson or Udina are the human councilors.  Also, it appears some NPCs do make appearences on Mass Effect 2 if you played Mass Effect 1 (such as Conrad Verner).  By the way, if you haven't played Mass Effect 1, those choices will be made for you (whether you like them or not) though there does seem to be a DLC add on (Genesis) that lets you make the key choices from Mass Effect 1. 
3) Imported Shepards do have their benefits, including extra experience points and power ups, free credits, free resources for upgrades, etc.

Finally, like Mass Effect 1, ME 2 does have a "choose your own adventure" style format where you have control over the conversations, Shepard's actions, etc.  You can either make your guy an "angel" or you can make him a total jerk too.  In mass effect 2, you also have new interupt options that appear on certain conversions, with paragon interupts being where Shepard trys to help or comfort the person he is interacting with, while renegade interupts has Shepard pulling more aggressive responses (such as shooting/threatening someone during arguments).  Also, some of your choices will have an impact on Mass Effect 3 (for example, squad mate who die on the suicide mission will not return in Mass Effect 3 and will usually be replaced by someone else).  By the way, Shepard can enter into relationships with certain squad mates.  As male Shepard, for example, you can enter into relationships with Miranda, Jack, Morinth (though she literally kills your character if you decide to go that route, though it is somewhat funny too), Tali and your first mate, Kelly Chambers.  As female shepard, it appears you can have relationships with Thane, Garrus and Jacob.  Finally, the game does have several possible endings, and it is possible for Shepard and his/her entire crew to die on the suicide missions (it is not supposed to end that way, but it is possible for Shepard to die at the end if you made poor choices both before and during the suicide mission, though personally, I found it much easier to survive the game's final mission than to get everyone killed off).  The only thing I didn't really like about the story is 1) the repuation bars do fill up slowly, and 2) some conversation options pretty much require you to max out your reputation bars (either renegade or paragon).  For example, I remember one part in the game where Miranda and Jack get into an argument about Cerberuse and Shepard is called to break up the arguement.  If you want to keep the loyalty of both crew members, you have to choose the paragon/renegade options, otherwise you will have to side with one of them at the cost of the loyalty of the other crew member, and yet sometimes the paragon/renegade options are unavailable even if you have a high paragon or renegade score, so you would have to commit to either going fully paragon or fully renegade early on in the game if you want to be able to use the extra conversation options (I remember on the Shadow Broker mission too, where in one of the conversations, the paragon/renegade options were greyed out even when I "maxed out" my paragon gauge).. 

Replay value - B

Chances are, you will probably find yourself playing through the game more than once.  There are several possible endings to the game: 1) everyone survives the suicide mission, 2) everyone (including Shepard) dies on the suicide mission, 3) some people survive/die during the final mission, and plus you can get either a parogon/renegade ending too (mostly depends on what you do to the collector base at the end, whether you decide to destroy the base or give the base to Cerberus, though that decision doesn't really seem to affect Mass Effect 3, so it doesn't really matter either way).  Also, there are lots of variables at play (especially if you played through ME 1) and they do affect Mass Effect 3 (for example, if you want to enter in a relationship with Tali or Miranda, you have to romance her in Mass Effect 2, otherwise you will miss out).  It can also be easy to miss things the first time or so around too (such as items you missed the first time).  Also, if you decide to romance squad mates, I found it easy to mess up and miss the opportunities (as the opportunities to get into relationships are limited and usually only come in short windows, where you have to pick certain conversation options for it to work, and you don't always get a second chance at it if you mess up the first time).  Also, unlike Mass Effects 1 and 3, Mass Effect 2 seems to have the most DLC content of all of the Mass Effect games, with extra missions you can download and play (such as the full version of Liara's quest to stop the evil shadow broker who wants Liara dead, as well as a mission that aims to fill the gap between Mass Effects 2 and 3 where Shepard has to do a covert mission on the batarian homeworld and later must make a tough decision to stop the pending reaper invasion, which also serves as a precursor to the events of ME3).

Sound - A
I didn't really notice anything I didn't like about the sound, music and voice acting.  Also, the cut scenes play quite nicely too (by the way, you can usually skip conversations and clip scenes if you want too, usually by pressing the b button, though sometimes that can cause you to automatically choose dialogue options during conversations too, whether you meant to choose them or not).

(to be continued later)