Mass Effect 2 gives us the game we craved the first time around — the laborious load screens remain, but the bits in between are a breath of fresh air. BioWare's sleek, cinematic sequel has added a Gears-esque cover system and a smoother control layout. What's more, the star-studded cast of voice actors take the story to a higher level. Notable credits include Battlestar Galactica babe Tricia Helfer as the spaceship's AI, Seth Green reprising his role as the snarky pilot Joker, and — best of all — Martin Sheen as your unscrupulous, chainsmoking boss.
|Mass Effect 2 | For the Xbox 360 and PC | Rated M for Mature | Developed by BioWare | Published by Electronic Arts|
You're still playing as Commander Shepard, and your first name, physical appearance, gender, and personality are all up to you. You'll also select your specialization: Tech, Biotic, Combat, or a combination of any two. If you still have a save file from the first game, then you can import all your old settings (as well as your old love interest, who will be pissed if you cheat — don't say we didn't warn you).
Here's the big spoiler: you die within the game's first few minutes. Unpopular corporate bastion Cerberus develops the technology to resurrect you. The catch? Now Cerberus owns you. The good news is, you both want the same thing: to put a stop to whatever's behind the mysterious abductions of entire human colonies. You need Cerberus's resources and technology, but you're not happy about its anti-alien reputation, so the diverse team you build is made up of combat-wise social rejects who run the gamut from alien to human, and from heroic to sociopathic.
In battle, you bring two teammates along, and you either control their attacks or let them fight on autopilot. If you play on Normal, micro-managing isn't mandatory, but going up in difficulty will require some teammate coordination. Looking at your dialogue options, you can decide whether to have a charismatic Paragon personality or a bad-ass Renegade attitude. You'll get your way whether you choose to intimidate or charm, but it helps in the long run to head conclusively in one direction or the other.
As you socialize in-game, you may wonder whether you bought a dating sim by mistake. BioWare loves relationship subplots — the first ME had a lesbian arc that inspired fans' glee and parents' ire. (The latter group should note that this is why the game bears a Mature rating.) But unlike BioWare's recent Dragon Age smash, there's no male-on-male in ME2, and the only lesbian coupling — raunchy as the cutscenes are — won't even unlock the Paramour Achievement. So if you're obsessed with completing every side quest, stick with hetero affairs.
Unfortunately, not all the clumsy menus have been cleaned up, and if you don't have an HDTV, reading text is nigh impossible. Worst of all, instead of exploring planets in a clumsy car, you're reduced to moving a cursor slowly over the entire surface of a rotating globe. This mini-game actually manages to be more boring than it sounds, and yet you have to collect resources to build the upgrades you need to win.
Given Mass Effect 2's success, Mass Effect 3 must be in the pipeline. If BioWare continues to make improvements, saving humanity will be even more fun the next time around.