Time Played: 4 Hours
Relevant Biases: Past criticism of Bioware games, preference for shooters
Mass Effect 2 is far from a perfect game, and it still commits a few of the relevant sins that have long established a Bioware game. It offers an illusion of freedom in a tightly confined world that is ever nudging you toward its desired goals through linear spaces. The world never quite feels real and lived in so much as a set piece through which to absorb the story, and at least through the first few hours of the game the gray areas between good and evil aren’t as conflicting as I might have hoped.
But, where I was always battling with Mass Effect to get past what I saw as its shortcomings, the sophomore effort is so packed with atmosphere and improvements that problems have been barely a blip on my radar. Bioware has rightly stopped futzing around trying to be all things to all people and clearly established Mass Effect 2 as a story-driven shooter first with RPG frosting on top. For me, this was totally the right call.
The game opens with such force, awe inspiring moments that make you stop and simply stare at the world around you as it crumbles in fire and metal from the git-go, that you must actively resist declaring Mass Effect 2 game of the year before even arriving at the splash screen. Like a great episode of Battlestar Galactica where you get to the opening credits and feel like you’ve already watched seven episodes worth of good sci-fi, Mass Effect 2 doesn’t ask you to come in so much as it attaches hooks of pleasure to your eyeballs and drags you through the door by your faceholes!
Yes, I just said faceholes. Deal.
People can talk all they want about graphical improvements and AI teammates, but this game succeeds in what I think is now the most important factor in narrative driven games: acting. Scenes aren’t just set up as instances of action and inaction, so much as they are directed and framed in a theatrical sense. Staging and blocking are considered during crucial interactions, and characters are framed in ways that add weight and tension. All of this is only bolstered by top shelf voice talent including Martin Sheen in a prominent role.
All glory to the directors, artists and animators who breathed life into these characters. Silky smooth performance on my laptop with nary a glitch or bug to be found only helps the case.
I’m an angry, bitter old gamer whose sense of innocence has long since been buried under the memories of countless disappointments. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat at work and daydreamed about getting home to find out what happens next. I wonder how quickly I can get the kids to bed. Commander Shepherd’s gots killin’ to do.