Right, Mass Effect 2. The sequel to the mind-blowing Mass Effect (1). If you're not familiar with the games they're an action-adventure RPG settlement with a Science-Fiction genre. Created by Bioware the games contain the classic 'moral-choice' system of letting you decide who lives and who dies and who can be your friend. So it's no surprise if in ME2 the choices you made in ME1 reflect the flow of game.
The first impressive thing about ME2 is that you can import your character profile from the first game (that's if you played and completed the first game). The game doesn't persecute you for not playing the first one, but you are given a basic and generic profile to play from which in a way takes the freedom away from you already. I strongly suggest if you want to play Mass Effect 2, play the first game before because 1.) you'll feel your profile isn't your own if you don't and 2.) the story will be so cerebral and surreal for you, you'll feel your head will explode.
The story is a complex but stunning thing; as big as what you'd get from a Metal Gear Solid game but half as stupid, the first game took the player on an intergalactic journey as Commander Shephard. In a nutshell Shephard is sent on a mission to hunt down a traitor to the Galaxy Council, and on the way he/she recruits a band of soldiers surrounding a variety of alien races and abilities. The game ends with Shephard killing the traitor but we are left with the knowledge that there is still a very dangerous and ancient race still roaming the galaxy and it's up to Shephard to stop them.
So in Mass Effect 2, you return and after being attacked and killed, you are resurrected by a shady and mysterious company called Cerberus who tell you the race that killed you (The Collectors) have been pinching humans from distant colonies. Shephard gets himself a new ship and the first thing he has to do is recruit a new team, and gather allies.
The first thing I want to say is if you were to cut the game into two pieces it would be Recruiting, and then The Suicide Mission. You see, you spend a majority of the game circling the galaxy gathering up your teammates and after you feel you're ready you can take the one-way route to Dead Town (also known as the Omega 4 Relay) which starts the Suicide Mission. You can take your time completing side quests and recruiting teammates, but pass a few checkpoints and you'll be forced to do some of the key missions like boarding ships and saving colonies.
When I said 'moral choice system' I mean the moral choices have been bumped up to an extreme level. The whole game rests on a set of scales and upsetting one side will disturb the other. By this I mean, mixing the whole 'take your time' aspect with the game, you have to judge every move carefully so you can achieve the best ending. When you recruit a character they give you a 'Loyalty Mission' which if completed unlocks upgrades and accessories for your ship or character. You don't have to do this but neglecting the element will give you a sore ending, and probably end up killing the characters you don't gain the loyalty of. This is just a way of getting you to explore the game's universe before you jump feet first into the Suicide Mission.
That's choice systems covered, what about the combat? You roam a map with two chosen members of your team, both of them have to be carefully selected depending on their skills; so even if you form an emotional attachment to one particular character, the decision of whether or not their skills are worth taking into the field need to be considered.
The combat is pretty straight forward; shoot the enemies and they die after taking enough damage. But if you know things about 'Powers' and 'Abilities', you should take your class into consideration.
You have six choices; Adept (Biotic Specialist), Soldier (Combat Specialist), Engineer (Tech Specialist), Vanguard (Biotic/Combat), Sentinel (Tech/Biotic) and Infiltrator (Tech/Combat). Anything with 'Biotic' in the title pretty much means you can levitate, push, pull and warp any object or enemy. If you're having trouble picturing a 'biotic', it's pretty much a Jedi with roid-rage.
There's cover systems, team command controls and strategic play, all of them moulding nicely together rather than being clunky like in Gears of War. The maps during combat aren't squashed together either; there's freedom to move about and take cover rather than being forced to fling yourself against walls or tables, so even when cover systems are available, you can still feel completely mobile.
Like every game released these days with shooting, there's melee combat throwing in too. And on some occasions smacking your opponent seems much more effective then shooting them. You see upgrading your weapons in the first game often meant adding various attachments to various weapons therefore increasing it's strength. This concept has been thrown out the window in the second game; giving you the same four weapons throughout the entire game with only three or four upgrades per weapon throughout the entire game. It's a hell of a lot easier to handle and takes the fuss out of handling weapon management, freeing up time for you to explore other qualities of the game. But when I said you'd be better of punching enemies, the concept is only valid when you confront an enemy and you forgot to upgrade your weapon. Like I said, choices have to be taken seriously in the game.
In the first game the way to explore levels was through an astonishingly bad vehicle section which took so much time out of having fun you hated the game for it. This too, has been thrown out the window and replaced with a 'mining section'. You scan planets and fire probes, collecting elements which can help you build armour and weapons for your ship and characters. Although an improvement from the vehicle section, the mining can get quite tedious and samey. Especially when you discover certain elements that you need are rare; you find it to be an inane process that can go on for ages. At first the mining process can get quite fun but when you fish out the same large quantities of pointless materials it gets very disappointing and pointless.
The solid core of the game doesn't necessarily stand on its gameplay, as there isn't much of an improvement from the first game. What really stands out is the 'narratology' rather than the 'ludology'. So what stands out for us? Well for one thing it's the unique characters you encounter; of course it can get very boring when you talk to someone you want a mission from and they feel they have to spout their life story, but if you pay attention to what they say you start to get involved with their back stories and you actually feel sympathy for them. I especially grew attached to the new character, Thane Krios. It's hard to describe Thane, but I guess the best way would be to say he's a 'kung-fu monk assassin'.
Another appealing feature is the story; by god is it big. And addictive. It's very rare for a game to make my jaw drop when a revelation unfolds or a much-loved character returns, but with Mass Effect 1 and 2 I found myself on the edge of my seat. But the game doesn't really score points for this, when we play games to 'play' not watch it's just a bonus that the story's good.
All in all Mass Effect 2 is definitely a game I'd recommend. If you haven't played the first game I highly suggest you do otherwise the story will completely burn you, and if you want something that can keep you going and has a lengthy life to it then Mass Effect 2 is for you. But if you don't like good games, then why are you even reading a review on Mass Effect?