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Mass Effect 2 for Xbox 360 and PC continues the exploits of Commander Shepard in this epic space-opera sequel that delves into darker territory as the fate of humanity and the entire galaxy hangs in the balance. With an improved combat system that puts the emphasis on action rather than menu fiddling, a more dynamic dialogue system and some intense storytelling devices, Mass Effect 2 is a perfect action/RPG that delivers an amazing experience.
The epic universe founded in the first Mass Effect game continues in this sequel, Mass Effect 2 for Xbox 360 and PC, and improves the game in nearly every aspect for a superior experience. The second part of an intended trilogy, Mass Effect 2 takes a much darker turn both in tone and visual style from the very beginning - this is very much the Empire Strikes Back entry in the Mass Effect canon.
As such the game takes on adult themes and isn't afraid to show the brutality of its world with uncompromising style. There are some grim choices that you'll have to make along the way and even your own character may not escape a grisly fate by the time the game ends. All this dark and mature content gives Mass Effect 2 an incredibly weight and legitimate melodrama that the first game couldn't come close to portraying. The ability of the game to make you care about the characters you'll come across means that when bad things happen in the world the emotional weight that comes with them is astounding.
Story isn't the only aspect of the game that has seen some improvements - the much maligned inventory system of the first game has been overhauled and the combat engine streamlined to give you a much more action-orientated environment. Rather than feeling like a clunky 3rd-person shooter with frustrating inventory and weapon-equipping features issues, Mass Effect 2 is now a seamless and versatile shooter that plays as smoothly as Gears of War. The management of team-mates has also been improved and the need for constant pausing to issue direct orders has been eliminated. You could quite conceivably play Mass Effect 2 as a pure action/adventure and forget the RPG leanings it has going on in the background.
As a huge fan of the first game I was really pleased to see how Mass Effect 2 took my completed save game from that experience and transferred a lot of my decisions into this new game. Characters remembered me and my actions from that play through and the sense of continuity from one game to the next made this experience feel completely unique to me. Some characters just won't appear if you did things a certain way in the first game and the way returning team-mates come back into your life led to some truly moving moments.
Almost without exception Mass Effect 2 for Xbox 360 and PC improves on the original by a significant margin. Given that the first game was such an impressive achievement on its own then it elevates the sequel into lofty territory. Simply put - this is the best action RPG you're likely to play until Mass Effect 3 comes around. If you have any interest in sci-fi, great storytelling or just great games then this is an experience you simply have to have - from beginning to end it will enthral, entertain and shock.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: