Last week BioWare demoed a short 15-minute sampler of Mass Effect 2 at gamescom, and the overall impact of the game is hugely positive, with a far more confident and impressive implementation of the Unreal Engine 3 technology in place.
The litany of technical issues found in the Xbox 360 version of the original game is expansive. For instance, the game had clear texture-streaming issues whereby gameplay would slow down or even freeze when the DVD drive was unable to keep up with the demand for new data - an issue that an NXE hard disk install would only marginally improve.
There was also the sense that original Mass Effect was somewhat too ambitious for the Unreal Engine 3 technology that powered it, with some serious frame-rate issues both in the cinematics and during gameplay.
"The nice thing about it, and why we've really been able to advance it so much is that we had the existing game, so we knew where we needed to fix it," BioWare's Heather Rabatich told me at gamescom. "The guys on the dev team made a list of everything they wanted to improve and they just sort of checked it off: the elevator loads, the texture pop-in... you can see the advances in the visuals."
Indeed you can. It was the Xbox 360 version that was on display at the convention, and in both the role-playing and shooting sections there was very little discernible evidence of any kind of texture streaming problems. Resolution was definitely locked at 720p, and while just about all the LCDs in use at gamescom were very badly calibrated (with ultra-harsh contrast making analysis difficult) it does appear that Mass Effect 2 features 2x MSAA anti-aliasing too.
Over and above that, the game is v-synced, which can impact frame-rate at times, but this only seemed to be noticeable during the cinematics, and even then, it was still a big improvement over the first game.
The boost to performance during gameplay is also especially impressive bearing in mind that BioWare is intent on giving these sections more of an action bias, with a definite emphasis on making it a credible shooter. More bling and more bangs usually entails a bigger load on the engine, but once again, ME2 acquits itself very well indeed.
As for the elevator loading sections... yes, they're still there, but they're clearly quicker than they were in the first game, with a computer-style series of vector images displaying your ascent (and presumably, descent), helping to make the wait more bearable. The overall sensation - certainly in the demo we were shown - is that the whole process is a lot less painful this time around.
Look out for a detailed Mass Effect 2 gamescom preview elsewhere on Eurogamer soon.