Monday, May 22, 2017

Mass Effect 2 (PS3)

Mass Effect 2 was released on PS3 a year after the Xbox 360 and PC versions but is the first game in the series to be playable on PS3.  When you begin the game, you are given the option of importing a save from the original Mass Effect or create a new game.  If you haven't played the first game or decide to create a new game anyway, then you are able to make the significant plot choices of Mass Effect although this in no way makes up for playing the game itself.  Mass Effect 2 remains a RPG but the RPG elements are toned down quite a bit.  They are now regulated to earning experience from missions to level up and earn points, then distributing those points to power up various abilities.  There are various different classes to use, each of which will have a different type of gameplay.  Some will be more guns blazing while others will be upon using abilities.  Abilities range from special ammo, becoming undetectable by enemies and special attacks.  Using your abilities is easier as you can hotkey them to three face buttons on the controller.  You can still pull up the radial menu to pause the action and calmly aim and select your abilities though.

You are also able to use your squads abilities which is helpful as they will usually have access to some abilities that your character doesn't.  Mass Effect 2 remains as a shooter although the tweaks to the combat system makes it more action oriented.  All weaponry now have limited ammo and shooting feels more satisfying, bringing it closer to other third-person shooters.  However, it can feel off initially if you have played the original and it is still quite different to a typical shooter since you feel that enemies doesn't quite recoil from the impact as you'd expected.  There is heavy emphasis on being a cover-based shooter; therefore there are a lot of barriers in the levels for Shepherd to duck behind.  Unfortunately, this makes climbing up different platforms a pain since you end up crouching behind it, and then pressing another button to climb over it.  You are able to direct your two squad members to special areas to help flank enemies.  Furthermore, your characters have regenerating health.  Some of the levels can be overwhelming with enemies rushing at you.  It's made worse when melee attacks are awkward to use leading to various mission restarts where it feels unfair.

Certain enemies have Shields, Armor or Barriers which act as an additional health bar or if you want to speed it up, each requires a different power to whittle it down.  This combined with varied enemy types keeps the gameplay engaging.  The first game was infamous with constant and long elevator rides which were an attempt to mask the loading time.  In Mass Effect 2, the developers have gotten rid of that and replaced it with loading screens instead.  There is the occasional long loading times which mainly occur when you're travelling between the different levels of the Normandy ship.  However, there are a lot of doors to open which is another attempt to mask the loading.  The story is Mass Effect 2's biggest draw.  After the surprising and explosive beginning, it only takes another one or two missions before it becomes gripping.  The plot is Shepherd recruiting various aliens to join him to defeat the Collectors who are abducting whole human colonies.  Since there are up to 12 characters that you can recruit, and each have an extra mission to gain their loyalty expanding on their backstories, this makes up most of the 20 to 25 hours playthrough to finish the game.  Thanks to this, the plot also does not seem to be as epic or to a grander scale as the original.

During each of the game's cutscenes, there are heaps of instances where the player can select from a range of dialogue choices which changes what happens during later scenes in the game helping to create a much more personal story.  Granted, most of the choices doesn't have significant impact to the direction of the plot, but there are enough changes to make it worthwhile and not just a throwaway gimmick.  Unfortunately, Shepherd's team is nearly completely changed from the first game.  You will get various opportunities to meet up with some of the characters again but the interactions may be disappointing.  The game boasts non-linearity since at any point, there are multiple missions for you to pick and choose.  However, exploration during missions is limited since they're all linear paths from the start of a level to the objective.  That being said, there are various items to interact which help earn Credits (currency used in the game), minerals and upgrades.  When you take control of the Normandy, you can also start scanning planets for minerals which are used for upgrades to weapons, armor, the ship itself and other elements.  You don't actually go onto the planet anymore but it's a minigame where you move the cursor over the surface of a planet.

The resource scanning minigame is fun for the first few times but very repetitive, slow and boring when you have to do it so many times to be able to afford the upgrades.  The PS3 version includes several DLC packs into the package, including Firewalker, Lair of the Shadow Broker and Overload.  This presents heaps of additional value at no extra cost compared to the Xbox version.  Replacing the Mako from the first game is a hovercraft called the Hammerhead.  The controls remain pretty bad since the vehicle feels too floaty.  The framerate can slow down significantly at some points, seemingly randomly.  It can get so bad that it runs at 2-5 frames per second and the game becomes unplayable.  It takes a few seconds before it gets back to running normally.  The graphics leaves some to be desired as while Shepherd himself has an excellent character model, the other characters at times are not so good.  Overall, Mass Effect 2 is a fun shooter RPG.  While the game is a big recruiting mission, it builds up to a big final with a great surprise and a teaser for the third game, with plenty of content to make it worth your time.


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