Somebody at Bioware has been studying what makes great shooters tick, and as a result we have a wider and more interesting range of encounters this time around. We get a great stand-off between three mercenary gangs and your small group that wouldn’t have felt out of place in Gears of War. Later, we get a frantic defence against an alien menace that could have come straight from Modern Warfare 2. And the hits keep coming; combat is thrilling in Mass Effect 2. Sure, the specialists still do it better, but it’s no longer the case that this is an average action game buoyed up by a brilliant RPG. Mass Effect 2 is all good.
It’s still the narrative stuff that glues it all together and locks your imagination in its fiendish grip. After a literally explosive opening, Mass Effect 2 kicks into a strong, edgy plotline with Shepherd now collaborating with the sinister human-interests organization, Cerberus, as he/she attempts to uncover why colonies at the edge of the galaxy are disappearing. With an answer found, it’s up to Shepherd to assemble a crack team of scientists, warriors, killers and miscellaneous alien nut-jobs in order to take on a new threat that might just be linked to an old one. From the start, there’s a sense that dark days are ahead, and that the going is going to get tough.
After the epic struggles of Mass Effect the new plot might seem a bit low-key, but the amazing thing is how well Bioware layers the main quest together with contributory side-quests, character focused missions and vast quantities of background detail to produce something with a quicksand-like ability to suck you in. And where both Mass Effect and the developer’s last effort, Dragon Age, had problems with pacing in the early stages, Mass Effect 2 keeps you moving from area to area and action sequence to action sequence at a rip-roaring pace. This is still a game that finds ample space for character development and subtlety, but it doesn’t do so at the expense of slowing down the game.
Two things play a key role here: Bioware’s outstanding conversation system, and the feeling that you’re developing your hero or anti-hero, and that his/her choices, friendships and alliances make a difference. As before, you flick from conversation option to option with a simple shift of the left-stick, with Shepherd transforming basic thoughts into appropriate lines of dialogue when you choose.