BioWare is on the record as saying that over 700 nuggets of information transfer across from an original Mass Effect savegame. In the sequel, this can manifest in many cute little ways - from small cameos to email messages popping up on your terminal. For example, in one side mission in ME1, you talk to two people about a possible genetic enhancement procedure for a child and this carries through into the sequel: you see and hear them again as you wander around the Citadel. It's not a big deal in the greater scheme of things, but it's more back story, a richer world, and for a series like Mass Effect, that is a major part of the game's appeal.
So with all of this in mind, we find ourselves coming back to this notion of whether Mass Effect 2 on PlayStation 3 really the "definitive" edition of the game.
From a technical perspective, if it is running the Mass Effect 3 engine as the developer suggests, players are not getting any tangible advantages over what has already been released on the Xbox 360. BioWare's heavily modified Unreal Engine 3 probably did require a substantial overhaul to accommodate the Sony platform for the multi-format Mass Effect 3, so it would have made sense to use that work for the ME2 conversion rather than simply port over the existing 360 code. However, this does not manifest in a better game as the marketing seems to be suggesting.
The implementation of the new tech means that there are performance advantages in places, but gameplay seems to be a touch jerkier overall. Graphically, there is evidence that the PS3 version of the game has been pared back a miniscule amount, but the quality of the revisions is mostly first class and the effect on the final game is essentially unnoticeable.
The tweaked lighting is the biggest differentiating factor and in our opinion it is rather hit and miss: BioWare talks about revising it to make the game brighter, but while some scenes undoubtedly benefit from the revised light positions, in many other cases some of the wonderful, nuanced texture work on the original game seems quite flat in comparison. The sense we had from the demo that the lighting is sometimes inconsistent carries across into the full game too, where it sometimes seems as if the positioning of the light sources even seems to change mid-scene.
Technically there is not much of a case for any claims of being "definitive", but perhaps the statement should be judged in terms of content, in the way that a Game of the Year edition of a game might be considered definitive. Having all of the DLC packs available right from the off is certainly a great move, because Mass Effect 2 is a game rich in potential and opportunity with a huge amount of freedom, so more options, more missions and more equipment right from the beginning can only be a good thing. In addition to this, while it's not really a big deal, the ability to play the game on PS3 without having to swap discs is an obvious boon. However, there are many uses for the mammoth storage offered by the Blu-ray disc format and it is fair to say that not all of them have been explored.
If there's one element of the Mass Effect 2 experience that is sub-par, it is the use of Bink video-powered FMVs, which are plagued with macroblocking and often jar badly with the beautifully realised rendered visuals. A quick peek at the discs of both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game suggests that the files used are, for the most part, byte-for-byte identical. Surely the original renders exist somewhere in BioWare HQ and could have been spruced up for this release?
A year on from its release on PC and Xbox 360, the brilliance of Mass Effect 2 remains undiminished. Given a straight choice across all formats, the PC game's ability to power past the technological shortcomings of the 360 and PS3 with higher resolutions and frame-rates makes it feel like the best technical experience, as we discussed in our Mass Effect 2 Tech Analysis last year.
Between the consoles, the gap narrows. Technologically it still feels like the Xbox 360 version has the edge, but occasionally lower frame-rates and mostly unnoticeable graphical compromises on PS3 are not going to have much impact on the fun you have playing this game. Scored today, this would still be a 10/10 game on both platforms.
However, in putting together this feature, the opportunity to return to Mass Effect 2 simply serves to remind us that the experience of playing this series is so much more than just one game: it's a saga, an epic series quite unlike any other where all three chapters are interlinked, and unfortunately, due to licensing agreements, the Xbox 360 is the only console that gives you the full story.