Only in a science-fiction universe can you traverse upon a whole race of intergalactic diversities each with their own cultural and religious beliefs on how to keep their newly reformed galaxy safe. Within this galaxy, humans and aliens are living, conversing with each other in beautiful and life-like Blade Runner-inspired cities whereas a few alien species don’t like it and instead running illegal operations on empty planets away from the highest galactic populace and guess what? They make up only a small percentage of the bad guys you will encounter, the biggest threat is an evil and unstoppable race called the Reapers. You, the role of a male or female Commander Shepard of the SSV Normandy, a spaceship piloted by one of the few comic reliefs in this game and voiced by Seth Green, whom accidently bumps into this ‘new enemy’ while out on patrol and to cut the prologue short, something you may not expect happens and will come off as a surprise.
Suddenly after a two year fast-forward, you are back on your feet revived by cutting-edge, cybernetic-type technology that would have left Darth Vader wishing he’d applied for life insurance before he’d signed on for the third Star Wars film. Anyway, you wake up fully revived and find out you are an invested prodigy who can save the galaxy once again but instead of fighting for the very friendly military service, the Alliance, like in the original Mass Effect, you are now unwillingly working for the not-so-subtle, not-so-friendly organisation called Cerberus. A very shady company lead by the calmest, but mysteriously suspicious of all CEOs, the Illusive Man, who is voiced by veteran actor Martin Sheen. In the original Mass Effect, you save an entire galaxy from being overtaken by some rogue alien and then finding out he was just a puppet being controlled by the bigger enemy, the fore-mentioned Reapers. And the Reapers make a welcome return in Mass Effect 2 and are the new bosses of a rarely-seen species called the Collectors and they are apparently doing their bidding by abducting entire human colonies. According to the Illusive Man anyway. Basically the Illusive Man reads out Shepard’s new contract of employment with the following tasks: put together a team of the finest soldiers you can find, save the human colonists, stop the collectors, and then take a one way trip to stopping the biggest enemy of all and whilst the Illusive Man is reading this out, you cannot help doubt what he really wants to gain from all of this.
One of the greatest aspects of this third-person RPG franchise, is being able to make the choices you see as moral or ethical. In the original Mass Effect, the choices you made affected your character, affected the narrative and how other character perceived you and in Mass Effect 2 that has changed massively. You are able to import your Commander Shepard from Mass Effect 1 into Mass Effect 2, increasingly affecting the story depending on the actions you took in the previous game and also throwing in some exclusive in-game bonuses. Apart from the narrative comes the gameplay and before you start charging in and killing hordes of mercenary aliens, you have to choose your class (unless you import your Soldier from Mass Effect 1). There are six classes ranging from the gun-waving Soldier, a kinesis-manipulating Biotic to a tech nerd who can hack robotic enemies and spawn three foot holographic Death Star replicas called Combat Drones. Whatever class you take on, there will still be a wild ride of adrenaline-pumped action whether you are popping headshots with your sniper rifle or lifting your enemies and throwing them off a 200ft skyscraper.
All of the characters you recruit for your team have their own unique classes and back-story to make them seem more interesting. Despite there being at least 10 characters (depending on whether you downloaded the Zaeed DLC), you can only have two at a time to aid you during missions, so choose wisely. For example, the first person you are likely to recruit is an eccentric, but very intelligent professor who definitely has the best dialogue given to him. This makes him another great comic relief and oh, his combat speciality is burning and freezing enemies which proves a great balance when facing both organic and synthetic enemies. Not only that but he can make you laugh and be a useful member within your team. He can also tangle with the part of your brain that like stories and Mordin Solus (that’s his name) definitely has the best back-story because it is related to one of the most important back-stories of the Mass Effect Universe and this creates a great piece of drama which ME isn’t lacking.
It is also necessary you employ him as soon as possible because without him, you cannot research upgrades to improve all of your weapons, shields, biotic and tech powers. This is also helpful as it makes the hardest fire fights easier to handle, especially for those of you who consider themselves ‘hardcore’ and love to play games on the hardest difficulties to get that lovely gamerscore or well-deserved accomplishment to brag about. If you are new to the franchise, it is recommended you stick with the default (Normal) difficulty. Hardcore and Insane are challenging, but it not hard to the extent where you want to break something valuable or sentimental.
The gameplay mechanics in Mass Effect 2 are a massive improvement over its predecessor. The original was an RPG with some third-person action whereas its sequel is a third-person shooter with the RPG elements tuned down to the minimal. Feeling like a inter-galactic entrepreneur, buying and selling weapons and armour in the original was one of its greatest charms, but in Mass Effect 2 they are scattered in certain places waiting for you to pick them up and then you scan the planet you found it on for minerals that can be used to upgrade that equipment and everything else in your arsenal.
It is a very slow and discouraging process and is as tedious as driving around on a planet surface in the six-wheeled Mako, but it has to be done. Mass Effect 2’s shooting combined with biotic and tech powers for back-up, it is single-handling one of the best shooting/firefight experiences you will ever have. The enemies are smarter and strives hard to kill you, you can take cover and shoot a biotic into an enemy taking cover, deploying them from cover and then shoot, burn, freeze or push them off a 200ft skyscraper (there are a lot of ledges and height hazards).
It’s not all about combat though, another improvement over the original are the dialogue scenes, with a more improved graphics engine, it looks more cinematic than ever and with film grain enabled, it can often be mistaken for a movie. This is how you get character back stories – by talking to people whether they are your crew or a random quest-giver from the recovering and political city of Citadel or the glitzy, and often very dodgy city of Illium. The newest addition to the dialogue feature the original Mass Effect didn’t have and that is the ‘Interrupt’ method where occasionally during a cutscene, you can perform a Paragon (good) deed or a Renegade (bad) deed and whichever you do, both will dramatically affect the present-time narrative and it might actually benefit your character... or do the exact opposite.
Whatever actions you took in Mass Effect 1 or in both that and Mass Effect 2, it will drastically alter the storyline you are going through and when it comes to the end of the game, you must prepare yourself. Your actions may lead to consequences and this makes the end mission a lot more tenser playthrough, because anything can happen. Whatever happens contributes to what might happen in Mass Effect 3 – assuming you would import the game save to it, because Bioware will occasionally remind you with in-game messages they stuck into the loading-time screens you will encounter a lot.
Mass Effect 2 is the full package, an amazing visual spectacle to the human (or alien) eye, an original soundtrack that has a true sci-fi feel to it. The characters are original as well as being voiced by some of the best voice actors. The first game in the series was great, Mass Effect 2 is amazing, albeit not being perfect as it does have the minor criticisms mentioned and the occasional and irritating bug, but what game is there that is not bug-free? Mass Effect 2 is one best interactive experiences you will ever have and that is applying to every strength it has from combat to understanding the well-thought out character’s back stories and even the little encyclopaedia details of them and everything in this sci-fi dystopia called the Mass Effect franchise (or galaxy).