Thursday, February 25, 2010

Back In The Saddle Again

One of the questions I've been asked a lot lately is, "Who the Hell are you?" This is followed very closely by, "Why are you in my house?!" However, a far more important question (and a sadly distant third) is, "Why haven't you been making any blog posts?" My friends and readers, I have not one, not two, but three very valid, very believable excuses. I'll share all of them with you over the next three days, and even throw in some other goodies until we get back onto our regularly scheduled Mon., Wed., Fri. routine. You're welcome!

The first thing that pulled me away from the blogosphere is Bioware's rather fantastic game, Mass Effect 2.

This game is, of course, a sequel to the very popular Mass Effect, which allowed gamers to traipse across the universe in the coolest ship this side of the USS Enterprise, the SSV Normandy. In the first game your job is to track down a rogue SPECTRE (a kind of cosmic gunfighter who was Above The Law above the law). Along the way you meet all kinds of aliens, have sex with a few people (if you choose too), discover a new/old type of lifeform that is threatening the galaxy, and basically save the day. Also, there's dancing. While the first Mass Effect was a great game, it suffered from a few flaws. Most notable of these were:

1. The inventory system was a mess in later stages of the game. As each weapon was upgraded and outfitted with new attachments you are forced to sell, discard, or keep every piece of inventory you come across. It got to be quite cumbersome.

2. Every single base on every single planet looked the same. Apparently, in the future, everything is done prefab, by one company, with only one model.

3. The RPG elements of the game were diverse but (and I know this seems impossible), didn't really add much to the game. You could, in fact, play the entire game without really doing anything at all with the skill points you earned.

4. The Mako. 'Nuff said.

Mass Effect 2  addresses every single one of these concerns (and many others not listed here) and fixes them. Inventory? Non-existent. Planet and/or base variety? Nothing looks like anything else. RPG elements not worth a damn? Reduced by about 75% and made much more important. Mako? Disappeared. It is, ladies and gentlemen, just about as perfect as a sequel can be. The graphics are much more crisp and don't take 5 seconds to load like in the first game, and there is a new and improved facial modelling system used so that characters have genuinely identifiable facial expressions making, in this humble blogger's opinion, the most immersive game released to date (until L.A. Noire, that is).

This is not to say that the game doesn't have a few problems, however. The Squad AI is mediocre at best, often seeking cover behind things like nothing, and the middle of a staircase. Biotics (special powers that certain individuals have) and tech abilities are sometimes frustratingly hard to aim, and occasionally don't work as advertised (for instance: setting fire to a small area is supposed to damage several enemies at once, however on more than one occasion the has resulted in absolutely nothing and my enemies then shoot me dead and violate my corpse).Also, planet scanning for resources is a very droll experience (for non-PC users). There are methods to rectify this, but until you discover it you're stuck with a pretty boring experience. One other small problem I discovered is during the last mission where a few of my squad mates died for no apparent reason. Ordinarily this isn't a problem, but the rub here is that if they die in the last mission of the game, they don't come back for ME3. You've been warned.

Overall, this is a fantastic game that will satisfy the demands of hardcore Mass Effect players like myself, or people that just couldn't (or didn't) get into the first game. Of the former I have this to say: Enjoy watching all of your decisions from the first game play out in the sequel. Everything from who lived and died, who you had sex with (if you chose too), and even how you handled the crazed fan, will be revisited in this game. For the latter I say: The new and improved combat system will ramp up your interest in this game considerably (provided that you make it through the first hour of the game or so), and there are several new classes to choose from this time so that you can match your favorite playstyle with a character that fits.

10 out of 10 stars.


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