(Reviewed 1/30/2010! Contains reviews of both the first and second games in the series!)
Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 by Bioware and Electronic Arts Genre: Role-playing games done in a space opera style. Rating: Mature for animated blood, animated violence, sexual themes, partial nudity, and strong language. [Release: 1/26/2010]
If you're familiar with such shows as the various Star Trek series, you basically know what to expect from the Mass Effect games. The only difference is, the storyline and gameplay scope is much more epic and far-reaching than a simple episode of any TV series, or even most of the franchise's movies combined. That's a bold statement, I know, but I've got to be honest: I am almost 20 hours into the second game and I don't feel like I'm even halfway through. That is how epic these games are.
The basic story line goes like this: you play Cmdr. Shepard, whom you may choose to be either male or female, and who lives in a somewhat distant-future version of the Milky Way galaxy, this one filled with space travel, colorful aliens, and a great deal of intrigue. He is selected for a mission to investigate the strange disappearance of many of the inhabitants of an Earth colony. Evidence left behind indicates the presence of a strange and very powerful machine race, which has the power to transform its dead victims into mindless husks, much like zombies. Shepherd and the crew of the ship, the MSV Normandy, travel throughout several systems and explore many planets looking for clues to the identity of these horrific aliens. This race, who turns out to be known as the geth, are rumored to be responsible for the systematic extermination, down through the generations, of all sentient life in the galaxy; a few survivors invariably hide, or are preserved, to begin the cycle over.
Though the geth are (seemingly) the main threat in the galaxy, many others story threads present themselves, not the least of which involve your crew members. You'll have to interact with them and gain their trust in order to make the most of their abilities and to have the most storytelling options available, even including some romance, potentially. These people, and the rest populating the game world, are the most colorful and memorable characters I've met in recent role-playing game history, that run the gamut from human, to blue-skinned asari, to craggy-faced turian, to the massive-headed krogan, to the environment-suited quarian, to many others that she will discover as you progress in gameplay.
Through an excellently implemented conversation interface, which allows you to select the basic gist of any message which you wish Shepard to say instead of the exact wording, you can convince others to believe you and to help you throughout your various missions, as well as just to hold simple conversations. Every conversation you can have in both games turns out to be a thoroughly cinematic affair, with sweeping camera angles, close-ups, and reaction shots. Shepard can choose to ascribe to one or two character types throughout his tenure in the galaxy: that of the Paragon or that of the Renegade. A Paragon tends to be open-minded and helpful throughout his dealings, while a Renegade takes charge and sometimes commits fairly brutal actions in his accomplishment of the greater good. You'll inevitably find yourself mixing both of them, as they are mutually exclusive; however, people's reactions to you will differ depending on how your Paragon or Renegade points are distributed.
In the first example I've seen of a game manufacturer maintaining massive continuity within a game series, you can import a completed save game file from the first Mass Effect game into the second. If you choose to do this, not only will you start out with a bonus in currency and research materials to get you started in the new game, but people you interacted with (and are still alive after the events of the first game) will find you and have new missions for you or simply new conversation options. This goes a long way towards making the player feel immersed in this massive world, and definitely has potential for opening up new mission options in the second, as well as the upcoming third game: as an example of this, in my play of the second game, Shepard just ran into a guy I (as the one playing Shepard) was somewhat rude to in the first game. He was a nice guy, if a little overzealous, but was annoying me because he wanted to be just like me (Cmdr. Shepard is a Spectre, like an elite special forces soldier, only in space). Now, the guy is a vigilante and wishes to stamp out crime where it does not exist and annoying others in the process; it's my duty to talk him down and stop him before he gets hurt.
Something that is not in the second game that was in the first game is the presence of the all-terrain planetary vehicle known as the Mako. This rover allowed you to traverse the surfaces of many of the planets that you come across in your travels, finding mineral deposits and getting into trouble along the way. This has been replaced in the second game by planetary surface scanning right from your galaxy map; this can be a bit tedious, but is very rewarding if you are looking to find new research elements; another new feature is that you can use four different elements that you find in varying amounts either from scanning or in missions to upgrade different aspects of your crew, your ship or your weapons. There is a vehicle, the Hammerhead, available to be unlocked through downloadable content (which you must pay for) which allows you to traverse various planets like the old days, or so I hear, but I have not looked into this yet.
This is such an incredibly epic game series; I would expect to spend upwards of 40 hours on each game, and you shouldn't be surprised if you spend over 80 finding every last little secret within the games, completing every last side mission, finding every last mineral deposit (in the first game), and exploring the world to the utmost limit of the map. Your time is definitely well spent, and is aided by some of the best graphics I've ever seen on the next-generation consoles. Voice acting is also top-notch, with lip-synching handled wonderfully for the most part; it seems as though for every one of the major conversation scenes, there are no reused talking and movement animations. That's impressive, in my opinion, and again, it definitely aids immersion.
I could never give this series any less than five stars per game, and that also accounts for the third game, which is yet to be released. If you like epic space opera style stories, really excellent shooters (admittedly more so the second than the first in this area), and wonderful character interactions, you won't want to miss this one!
Didn't like it. Too many boring cover based shooting segments which lasted too long, often with so many enemies, it just felt like padding and was a slog to get through. Character control felt restrictive and M/K controls were awful. Over simplified character skills and advancement, dialogue which often failed on delivery for the most part. The game also has a large focus on a bunch of side missions each with their own mini stories which pretty much have to be played though for reasons I won't list here due to spoilers, but they felt like a checklist that detracted from the main story arc. I liked a few of the characters but it wasn't enough to save the game for me.
I will have to write a negative review for this game due to several reasons:
1) I paid extra for the "Deluxe Version" on Steam but the DLC is simply not included in the package so I paid extra for nothing. And it is not possible to download the extras from Bioware's own website as far as I can see, since this is the Steam version.
2) The Steam version, for reasons I haven't been able to understand, installed the 32-bit version to my computer which can run 64-bit programs. Which sucks, due to the following:
3) The game frequently falls to low frame rates, which makes the game look ♥♥♥♥♥♥ and (this is a very personal outcome) it makes my head hurt terribly and gives me severe nausea. I think this is because the computer needs to utilize all CPU cores to run the game OK but fails to do so due to the 32-bit version. I experienced this exact same problem with Mass Effect, too (the prequel to this game)
To restore the framerate, I have to ALT+TAB and wait for around 10-15 minutes. When I click the game open again from the bottom, the game looks crisp and works excellently for around 5 minutes, after which the framerate plummets once more. Naturally, this makes for a terrible gameplay. Even though I am a frequent and old-time FPS player, this is the first time a game has given me headache or nausea. But I won't hold this against the game because I haven't seen anyone else bringing this complaint. So far, this problem seems to be limited with myself.
4) The mouse sensitivity is total BS. Even at the lowest setting, it is so fast I can barely get a proper shot at enemies during fights. I play on Normal difficulty but still have to reload many times to be able to do all the necessary killing in an area and move on to the next part, as I die frequently (yes, I get to cover and believe me, I use covers very well in this game).
5) Not being able to save before boss fights: Several other gamers here made the same comment: After killing waves of enemies (with great difficulty thanks to terrible framerate and out-of-control mouse cursor) you just don't get the chance to save your game before the boss fight begins. And if you die, well, you will have to experience the joy of killing the same waves over waves of enemies again!
6) Very few graphics options: This ties in with number 3: Even on the configuration tool, the game offers very few graphics options so you can't get a fuller control of how the game looks and plays.
7) New planet scan system: Total bore and drudgery. In the original Mass Effect, having to scour lifeless, barren planets which were mostly the same over and over again was a real drag, but at least you got some action. And there was something really satisfying about blowing up your enemies from a great distance thanks to the big♥♥♥♥♥wicked cannon of MAKO. In this game, you have to "drive" your "state-of-the-art" spaceship around, buy fuel to do that, and put a stethoscope on a planet and try to find some minerals, bases, etc.
The RPG aspect of this game, I think, is excellent. The voice acting and cutscenes were delightful to watch and listen (hell, I would very much like to have the kind of voice some characters in this game has!). But I just couldn't keep playing the game like "play 5 minutes, ALT+TAB for 15, and try to suppress your headache and vomit all the time"
Due to the reasons above, I can't recommend this game. I pity the money I spent for this and it is sad because I enjoyed the original Mass Effect.
I enjoyed the game, the quest were clean, and challenging even on casual level, over all it was a nice game, I would have liked to see some more side quest for earning credits, you just ran out to fast, even something along the idea of trade quest. over all a 8 out of 10 for me.
Like its predecessor, Mass Effect 2 is a game of great depth, funny and interesting characters, good gameplay and suprisingly good graphics for an almost 8 year old game. In my eyes, this game far and expanded upon the concepts of the original game while dumbing down some of the RPG elements in an attempt to help it reach people it normally wouldn't. It was a little weird for me to get used to the new combat system after the last game, and while I do sort of miss the RPG complexity of swapping out armors and weapons, the game works fine as it is and doesn't need to be change. The game is very stable, I never experienced a single crash, though there are some areas that your character isn't supposed to get to that you can get stuck in, forcing you to load a save. But this rarely happens and is easy to overlook as long as you quicksave often, which you should be. Also, turn off autosaving. Manually saving is much better. Storywise, without going into spoiler territory, the characters are greatly written, and have more personality than a lot of characters in modern AAA games. You get to explore some of their background and help them come to terms with their past, or assist them in a personal action they need to take. And this is all encouraged by the knowledge that you need to halp them in order to get the best endings. Whether you pick Paragon or Renegade doesn't really matter in the end, as both options allow you to successfuly resolve situations as long as you are highly ranked in them, so pick as you please, but try to commit to one or the other unless you don't care about characters seeing it through to the end. Romance options are expanded upon, too. You can now romance some of the alien crew member, who I personally liked more than the human options, so it was a nice touch.
In summary, if SOMEHOW you haven;t played this game series already, go ahead. Even if it is slightly marred by EA's micro transactionpocalypse, the ones in this game series aren't that bad, or even required to enjoy it. Solid 9.5/10, falls short of being 10 out of 10 for locking some additional story content behind a paywall, but again, not required to enjoy the game. Give it a spin. Mass effect is awesome!