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Jonzor's Video Game Reviews (41)

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Batman: Arkham Knight 4.5/5
Magicka 4/5
Bravely Default 4/5
Awesomenauts 4/5
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon 4/5
Far Cry 3 4/5
Halo: Combat Evolved An... 4/5
Crysis Warhead 4.5/5
Crysis 4.5/5
Final Fantasy: The 4 He... 1.5/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4.5/5
Borderlands 2 4/5
Final Fight 3/5
Command & Conquer 4: Ti... 1.5/5
Resident Evil: Revelati... 3.5/5
Bastion 4/5
Defense Grid: The Awake... 4.5/5
Borderlands 4/5
Mass Effect 3 4.5/5
Mass Effect 2 4.5/5
Mass Effect 4/5
Batman: Arkham Asylum 4.5/5
Ikaruga 4/5
The Legend of Zelda: Oc... 5/5
Mario Kart: Double Dash... 4.5/5

Next 16
 

Mass Effect 2   PC (Steam) 

I am the very model of a scientist salarian    4.5/5 stars

I often wonder, after playing Mass Effect 2, “What’s the difference between ‘dumbing down’ and ‘streamlining’?”

And the honest truth is... I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me, too. Sometimes, I’ve enjoyed a game that harshly punishes you for mistakes or possesses a cumbersome interface that can take a couple hours to get the hang of. Those are usually the first things to get the axe when it comes to “streamlining” and when the game is released we all call it “dumbed down”.

Two examples come to mind when I think of games that some might say got streamlined, but I felt suffered from the decision: Supreme Commander 2 and Crysis 2. You’ll have to read those reviews (when I write them) if you’d like further insight.

Mass Effect 2 is not on that list. On the whole, Mass Effect 2 was streamlined from the original. There were a few areas where I felt a bit too much was trimmed, but any honest person would say a lot needed to be trimmed from those areas in the first place.

But let’s lay a little groundwork, first. You SHOULD play the original Mass Effect before you play Mass Effect 2. You should do it on PC, too. But here’s the most important thing: if you’re planning to play all 3 of the games, pick your platform now. Importing save data each time you start the next game makes the series much more enjoyable and personal, so be ready to make your bed and then sleep in it. I’ll lay out my personal pros and cons to aid your decision:

PC pros - better control w/ mouse and keyboard, avoids terrible inventory system from Xbox 360 version of first Mass Effect game

Cons - if you upgrade your computer or operating system, be ready to do a little legwork to preserve your save files.

Console pros - MUCH easier management of save data, PS3 version will allow people in a hurry to view a comic to catch up on the story and make the major decisions from the first Mass Effect without having to play it entirely.

Cons - Xbox 360 version of the first Mass Effect had some flaws that were fixed in the PC version, combat is easier with a mouse and keyboard.

But again, the most important thing, if you ask me, is to pick a platform you can stick with for all 3 games.

Just like you SHOULD play the original game before playing Mass Effect 2, you SHOULD go read my review for it. After playing them all, it’s hard to talk about any of them as single entities, which means I’ll frequently be bringing up the other game.

Mass Effect 2 takes place 2 years after the events of the original Mass Effect. Commander Shepard and his scruffy band of misfits successfully prevented the Reaper invasion, and humanity’s status in the galaxy is at an all-time high. Reports are coming in that human colonies are being attacked by an unknown enemy, and you’ll be tasked with uncovering the mystery.

Throughout the game, you’ll be given opportunities to see the results of your actions in the first game and they’ll set the stage for the adventures you’ll be having the 2nd time around. The leader of the Krogan race will be a familiar face... or not... depending on your negotiation skills (or your temper) in the first game. The ruling galactic council could be the thankful council members you saved... or the replacements for the ones you left to die. Major plot points, as well as the missions, will remain unchanged, but regardless of if A and B have changed, how you get from A to B could be quite different. Sometimes the effects of your choices will be beneficial, such as a survivor from the first game eager to show some gratitude. Or you could find yourself in an ambush set by vengeful comrades blaming you for the death of a loved one.

You’ll also have to recruit a new squad of adventurers for this mission. I was thankful to see a few friendly faces back aboard the Normandy, and I’m also able to say that I largely approved of the new characters that you were able to recruit in this game. Not surprisingly, there’s a selection of aliens and humans, and a good selection of character classes to make a well-rounded away team.

Character classes have been tweaked from the original Mass Effect. Hybrid classes now can have abilities of their own and not just a sampling of each of their two parent classes. Each teammate will have a special ability of their own, as well. Engineers have been given a tech drone that acts as a helper in combat, adepts’ abilities have been modified to make them easier to use on enemies in cover, and the soldier is now the only class that can equip all weapons, whereas previously the class was merely the only one that could expect to be proficient in all weapons. I enjoy the changes made, and feel they help the combat in the game all around to become more enjoyable.

The combat is extremely familiar if you’ve played the first game, fairly standard third-person perspective shooting and utilizing the abilities of your class. You’ll earn experience completing missions and level up your powers using the ability points a level up grants you. Generally, there are fewer abilities to fret over spending points on, an example of the streamlining I brought up earlier. Though, you can expect to not max out all of your abilities, thanks to the limited amount of enemies in the game again setting a soft level-cap on the player, so you’ll still want to put some thought into what you’d like to do.

BioWare heard the massive complaints about the inventory of the first game, and decided that instead of designing a good inventory system, they would just very nearly abolish inventories all together. This is one of the areas I felt like got “streamlined” a bit too much. You’ll find new weapons slowly throughout the game, but it really tends not to matter which one you’re using, and there won’t be many options anyway. Ammo types are no longer an inventory item but were moved into character abilities, and grenades have been removed completely. The only real decisions I felt I made concerning weapons were choosing a “heavy” weapon that Shepard will carry regardless of class, which is usually something like a rocket launcher, and is always fun to use. There are also armor choices, but again, it tends not to matter a whole lot what you pick, you’ll still be fine. This reduced inventory brings the game dangerously close to losing its classification as an RPG, but enough other elements remain that the game doesn’t truly hop genres from the original.

Again, aside from combat there’s the standard talking to everyone and doing side quests. Most of these are picked up at the Citadel, which has gotten a serious makeover since the first game and is another example of the heavy streamlining that went into the game. What was before a sprawling and open space station that sometimes felt a little TOO sprawling and open has become a downsized and more efficiently labeled space station, meaning you’ll spend much less time wandering around trying to find a contact... but it also starts to smack of why even bother making you go and talk to the person at all if it’s THIS EASY. At some point, just cut out the go-find-talk portion entirely, eh?

The biggest streamlining done from the original game comes from resource gathering. Well... kind of. Maybe. I don’t know. BioWare tried to trim the fat, but might have ended up tacking on a bunch of new fat instead. In the previous game, you explored planets by actually going to the planets’ surface with an armored vehicle and driving around. Now, all of that is done in space. You’ll “scan” planets with your mouse and watch your readouts for spikes in certain resources. Sending a probe to the chosen location will mine the minerals and bring them back to the ship. These minerals will be spent on ship upgrades or combat upgrades for your team. Sounds easy enough, but man... there are a LOT of planets, and a LOT of scanning to be done if you want sufficient resources to... well... I won’t spoil it for you, but just remember chance favors the prepared. It’s pretty tedious, and a surefire way to HATE this game is to just blow through the missions and save all your scanning for the end of the game. I managed to properly space out the scanning throughout the course of the game, which is highly recommended.

Mass Effect 2 contains a story nearly as rich as its predecessor. Characters are just as likeable when they’re supposed to be and just as easily despised when the writers call for it. The ending of the game, which is to say, the reason for the attacks on human colonies, doesn’t have quite the payoff as the end to the first game, but the end itself it equally as thrilling, and the journey to get to the end is just as interesting. Voice acting is again top-notch, with the addition of Martin Sheen to the cast being a fantastic decision, and the writing makes the most of the talent at the microphone. There is another very personal adventure here, if that’s what you want, and getting emotionally involved with the conversations is as easy as ever. Picking angry responses feels like a good way to blow off steam, and picking pleasant ones does a good job of making your character truly likeable, if that’s the personality you’ve chosen for YOUR Commander Shepard. You can gain the trust and companionship of all your teammates if you so choose, and be rewarded, or if you’re not attached to them, you can use them like so many pieces of tissue paper and discard the consequences.

The graphics got a small upgrade from the original, but nothing major. The textures will age better than those in the original, but the style remains largely unchanged from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2. The sound is as familiar as the graphics, grand and heroic when the situation calls for it, and at other times moody and mysterious.

But as with the first game (this will sound familiar if you read the previous game’s review), the thing Mass Effect does best is the culmination of all of these elements into a setting, scope, and level of tension that most games fail to match. The combat was good, and at times it was great, but Mass Effect is at its best when it becomes a hybrid of video game+movie. The voice acting, the music, the cut scenes, the action... Mass Effect leverages ALL of these to make a complete experience that can actually have me on the edge of my seat in a way that can rival the best high-action, high-tension movies I’ve ever seen, and VERY few video games can match it. Imagine those scenes in great movies where you find yourself hungry for the payoff at the end of a long action sequence to see the results, but are simultaneously just enjoying how well the scene itself is created as you ride on that level of tension. And when a Mass Effect action sequence wraps up, the catharsis you get from making it through the scene is all the more rewarding from the feeling that you actually had to jump through those hoops yourself as the person controlling the game.

On the whole, I’d say Mass Effect 2 was an improvement over the first one, despite my own internal debate over dumbing-down vs. streamlining. When it all comes down to it, I’d prefer the inventory from the 2nd game over the 1st, and the small Citadel over the larger one, so I guess I can’t complain too much. Hopefully BioWare can find a middle-ground between the two games.

(Here’s a preview of my Mass Effect 3 review - they DO)

Mass Effect does “big” better than almost any game out there. BioWare proves with Mass Effect 2 that their process for developing games is not only something special, but repeatable and capable of turning out games that hit high notes on every level.

 

 


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