Project ten-dollar is EAís commendable attempt to trim down the second hand games market, a market that already has a detrimental effect on developers and could impact gamers in the near future too. While Ubisoft are busy alienating their customers and Activision remain content charging extortionately for reprints of old maps, it is EA soaking up the love. Gamers who purchase new copies of select titles are later gifted with an extra fifteen dollars worth of content free of charge. Thatís right, fifteen dollars, project ten-dollar Ė it doesnít make sense.
Confounding logic aside, Mass Effect 2 is the first title to embrace the initiative. Launching alongside the main game was the Zaeed character pack, the Normandy Crash Site mission, and most recently Bioware have unleashed the Firewalker pack in response to the hate mail they receive on a daily basis from all three fans of the Mako, which of course has no role to play in Mass Effect 2. So, how does it all hold up?
You meet Zaeed on Omega and if youíve already taken it upon yourself to download the Cerberus content before you first visit heís one of the founding members of Shepherd's crew. Heís a bounty hunter, a weathered monument to the hazardous nature of the occupation. Blind in one eye with a blitzkrieg of scars across his face, heís quick to offer his services and proves that thereís more to the future than sexy blue aliens and galaxy saving Americans; us Brits made it to. Whoíd have thought?
Tucked away in a corner of the Normandy heís not much of a conversationalist. There is no cavernous dialogue well to tap into but he does, if you ask, guide Shepherd through a show and tell of his battle souvenirs Ė all pried from the cold blood-stained hands of his victims. Still, itís all a bit hollow.
Like all members of the Normandy crew, Zaeed arrives with baggage and his optional loyalty mission follows in his barely visible footsteps. Landing on Zorya, a planet blessed with surging jungles, blue skies and an artificial population of metal structures, Zaeed walks you through a concise tour of his life spent killing, killing, killing by doing a bit more killing in a Blue Suns base.
The mission is little more than a series of battles interposed by short optional deviations to gather credits and metals, fitting for a gruff mercenary. More emphatically, the M451 Firestorm is found on Zorya. Itís a separate slice of Cerberus content sewn into the mission and allows Shepherd use of the flamethrower that pyro units wield elsewhere in the game to devastating effect. Itís positively frustrating to brush up against but unsurprisingly, using it is brilliant and the second half of the mission is a riot, darting between cover while incinerating anything that moves. Itís definitely one of the betters things to come out of the Cerberus Network content.
Another couple of firefights through the rapidly deteriorating Blue Suns facility and a friendly chat or two with Zaeed (or handbags if you get all high and mighty) and the mission finale surfaces. Itís all over in thirty minutes and bears an uncanny similarity to the humdrum side quests in the main game but itís worth seeing through for the flamethrower at least, which is a great souvenir from an otherwise lacking date with Mr. Zaeed.
The second slice of content, mysteriously titled The Normandy Crash Cite, has little in common with Zaeedís fiery temperament and the rhythmic shootouts on Zorya.
Retreating back to the ghostly resting place of the old Normandy, Shepherd sets about retrieving the scattered dog tags left by the members of the original Normandy that werenít deemed worthy of bringing back. Probably because itís quicker to build new character models for all the cardboard cutouts milling around the ship than it is improving the old ones.
Itís a throwback to the original game, an ode to its incidental characters and the defunct Normandy. Shepherd experiences some docile flashbacks while the Mako is gloriously marooned on an icy mound for all to see. Despite the delightful sight itís a trip lacking in soul and Iím sure Bioware could have carved a more fitting monument in remembrance of the first Mass Effect. It deserves better.
The M44 Hammerhead lies dormant in the belly of a bubbling volcano, its vertical rugged walls dancing orange and the skies masked by a thick blanket of smoky greys.
The Hammerhead is a hovercraft, damning the Makoís design, and all memories of it, within seconds of taking control. It handles like a lucid wet dream; built to cannonball across planets, its sleek metal design and shit-hot blue thrusters so at home in this undying metaphorical wet dream. It flies! It soars! It destroys! Itís elegant like the horse! Swift like the AA! If it were human it would probably be Chuck Norris. And you use it to research some worms.
The first of five missions spent with the M44 is dedicated to conducting research. Nothing explodes; no one dares stand in your way only to be left flattened as you race off toward a distant sunset. You donít rescue any lush alien ladies from the shenanigans of space cowboys or punch any Pyjaks in the face with the bonnet.
Instead you pounce about inside the volcano like a cat on a hot surface, grinding to a halt inside garishly marked yellow circles where holding the Y button is Biowareís idea of getting the most out of your tools. Luckily the first mission lasts five minutes. Tutorial over, itís time for some real excitement, right?
The second mission is identical. Except itís timed. And it take place on a snowy planet so you canít see much. And the rings are red. Stunning.
The third? Uh. Well, thereís a brief moment spent outside of the Hammerhead and an escape that verges dangerously near being entertaining, but once again Shepherd is here to take notes. Hmm.
Surely this canít go on. Admittedly the fourth mission tries to shake things up a bit. Thereís battles to be had, but after all the waiting itís pretty shocking. A Geth Colossus guards each of the artifacts youíre gathering data from, but apparently Bioware was on the receiving end of a brainwashing from Gearbox because the most efficient and least frustrating method of overcoming the unfittingly titled Colossusí is to retreat to a safe distance and unleash a pounding wave of artillery their way. Itís no fun whatsoever but it beats the quick death married to close quarters combat. General Knox are you there?
Finally you trek to the far reaches of the galaxy to moon of Kaplos. Not that it really matters, the linear corridors are tiresome whether they're white, orange or grey. More artillery is fired and Shepherd recovers the artifact.
And after all that it's categorically insignificant, it is to Shepherd's mission what The Venga Boys are to music (had to be said). In fact itís so totally worthless that you later find it on a coffee table in Shepherd's private quarters. Dedicating an hour to stockpiling data in a neutered Batmobile for a frivolous bedroom ornament is not on. Shepherd, you look like Sid from Toy Story, Mr Potato Head - you know of him. You can take his ears off, put a tongue where his eyes should be and all the parts are stored in his rear. It's the perfect accompaniment to any room and he arrives within two to three working days. No strings attached.
They say, or at least MasterCard do, that the best things in life come free. Bioware clearly donít agree because the Cerberus Network content is a far cry from being the best of anything. It can't be absolved on the basis that it is free. So is Mass Effect 2 if I download it and being free isnít the point.
Project ten-dollar should be a big step forward in eradicating the harmful used game market, or at the very least reducing its grip, but if this is the path EA are taking then the initiative simply wonít bear enough substance for those swayed by the lower prices.