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Mass Effect 2 puts right disappointments from the first game on the 360. But, for all its nuanced storytelling, it still struggles to escape from being an awkward and lumpy middle child. Whereas Empire Strikes Back managed to revel in its position and be its own film, Mass Effect 2's heavily treaded storytelling wants to get us to part three.
After a slow start I found myself wanting Mass Effect 2 to never end. The more I played, the more involved I became with the characters and their back stories. A stark contrast from my time with the original Mass Effect which left me disappointed at the lack of identifiable characters. Mass Effect 2 was an experience that really resonated with me thanks to the side quests that focused on issues I could relate to due to my own life experience. It's just a shame that at times it felt uneven and clearly the second part of a trilogy rather than an individual title in its own right.
Now, to engage in a considered way with Mess Effect 2 as I do in all my reviews, I'm going to need to get specific. So spoilers are likely, proceed with caution.
It was great to see that after many hours of developing my character in Mass Effect 1, I was able to import them into the sequel and continue my journey with memories and decisions past. This changed events throughout the game as my choices last time affected things - an extremely pleasant touch. Within minutes I could see that in order to get the full effect of the game, I really needed to have played the original even though there are numerous examples of retelling of past events.
Because of this I was particularly surprised to see that during the prologue my much loved Commander Shepard was 'killed' saving his crew mates. Fortunately he was resurrected shortly after (albeit two years in the game's universe) by an extremist organisation that featured previously in the Mass Effect world. While I was surprised by the dramatic turn of events, it felt a little disjointed that none of the characters in the game seemed overly surprised by his return despite presumably grieving for him.
The narration of the events that unfold are surprisingly powerful and although it forms a relatively small part of the full game, it renewed my respect for the storytelling.
The true strength of the storyline is in the acquisition of various playable characters. I was apprehensive that this would spread the narrative too thinly as I spent much of my time collecting various new characters before undertaking the main quest. Although in the main this works, it is a slight problem in the early stages where I felt as if every time I finished an acquisition quest, another one would pop up.
However as time went on, I found myself warming more to the characters available, particularly once I found the loyalty side quests. As in Mass Effect 1, there is a lot of talking to each character to learn about their past and inevitably help them in some sort of personal quandary - thus gaining their trust. Although from a game mechanic perspective I felt the structure of the game to be rather predictable, it never stopped me feeling emotional attachment to a few characters in particular.
All of the characters seemed to have suffered from some form of loss - with a common theme of family members and loved ones. I was most affected by Tali's story, a character who had previously appeared in the original game. A quest caused her to be arrested for treason by her people. While clearing her name, she discovers that her father has been killed and is also a traitor. The narration of the events that unfold are surprisingly powerful and although it forms a relatively small part of the full game, it renewed my respect for the storytelling. Similar tales are told with tales of revenge and justice especially prominent.
The morality debates which made Mass Effect 1 so memorable are here once more and I found it much more potent. I struggle to be truly evil in games of this type but the option is there with even ruthless murder being possible. Fortunately the ability to show great sensitivity in difficult situations is also available and strengthens the emotional connections hugely. True compassion is evident at times which felt very refreshing to see.
It is a tremendously emotional experience and one of the more powerful games I've played in recent months.
As the game reached its conclusion, I found events increasingly disturbing with the storyline switching to the saving of the galaxy rather than personal quarrels. The enemies I was pitted against felt more alarming in their robotic determination to destroy everything in their wake.
One sad and alarming sequence was the kidnapping of all my crew. I was left alone to explore the ship, attempting to escape from monsters. The late stage of the game meant I'd become attached to even the incidental characters, so their absence felt as if my world had been removed - instantly putting me on edge within the game’s finale.
There are many thousands of words that I could continue to expel as to the virtues of Mass Effect 2. It is a tremendously emotional experience and one of the more powerful games I've played in recent months. It's unfortunate that it does suffer from being the middle game in a trilogy, making for some heavily retreaded storytelling at times. However, despite this, it still makes for a highly emotive experience and a title that makes me excited for the third in the series already.
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: