Wednesday, 25 September 2013

My PS3 Highlights #5: Mass Effect 2

"We're at war. No one wants to admit it, but humanity is under attack" - The Illusive Man

With the fourth incarnation of the PlayStation due to hit stores this holiday season, I thought it was a good time to reflect upon some of my own most cherished and memorable gaming experiences with the PlayStation 3

Each entry into this brand new column will give you my thoughts on some of my favourite PS3 games and the enjoyable and grabbing gaming experiences they have brought me. 

After focusing on classics such as Uncharted 2 and Arkham City in Parts #1 - #4, Part #5 is all about the Bioware science-fiction opera, Mass Effect 2. 

Thane is one of but a few new character introduced in ME2
I had attempted to put off writing about Mass Effect 2 in this column until much later; you know, save the best until last or however the saying goes. Annoyingly however, it has only taken me until the fifth entry in this feature for me to fold and give my thoughts on ME2, quite possibly my favourite game I have ever played, let alone on PS3.

For me, I find the middle third in a trilogy to be the most strongest. Mass Effect 2 is built from the same mould as the Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight or Catching Fire - the stakes are higher, the characters are established and the narrative is firmer but there is still that incentive, that drive that things are not yet resolved by the end of the game. There is no resolution and, more often that not, evil still lurks undefeated by the end of the narrative. 

Very few games manage to provide such a deep and intimate backstory for their supporting cast. In Mass Effect 2, every character from an 11 character squad feels integral and influential in the outcome of the game. Keeping each and every one of them alive by the end of the game isn't easy, but when you do it, it is one of the most satisfying conclusions to any video-game I have played.

Martin Sheen adds a certain gravitas to playing The Illusive Man
Much like Empire Strikes BackMass Effect 2 is deeper, darker and better than the first entry into their respective trilogies - by this point the story, human colonies have started to mysteriously disappear as the Collectors sweep the galaxy and hunt comb the outer reaches of space for isolated human settlements.

By the games end the Collectors have been stopped but the biggest threat is still to come; the final shot is of the advancing Reaper fleet, readying itself to launch an all-out war against the galaxy. The final two hours of Mass Effect 2 always leave me breathless; the mixture of full-scale action, influential character decisions and a mouth-watering cliffhanger ending makes me want to instantly chuck in the disc for ME3 and go again.

Like I mentioned earlier, the game really does a fantastic job of making everyone on your team feel like an integral cog. Losing just one tugs at the heartstrings; from the lovingly adorkable Mordin to the gruff and scareed Zaeed, seductive Miranda and cold-hard killer Thane, each and every character feels complete and three-dimensional.

They each come with an individual set-up level and loyalty mission; each mission delves into their character in a way that some games fail to do in a full eight-hour campaign. Add in the love stories that can develop between characters throughout the game and a whole host of endearing (or chilling) characters who jump in and out of the story (Joker, Liara, The Illusive Man) and you've got a multi-layered story that has more to explore after the third or fourth play-through.

Yvonne Strahovski plays the
cold as ice Miranda Lawson
What Bioware also succeeded in is giving the game world depth. The backstory of the various alien races (turian, salarian, drell) is fully fleshed out and coherent with one another. Picking up Mass Effect 2 feels like stepping into a completely immersing and realised world akin to Skyrim or Star Wars.

Bioware also too great care in crafting improved mechanics for this second chapter. Whilst not perfect (ME3 really smooths out the combat more), ME2 flows a lot better than the first game. Shepard deals out damage with a variety of sci-fi weaponry that compliments the customizable biotic and combat abilities and traits you can designate to your character and upgrade.

Mass Effect 2 is quite possibly the grandest scale sci-fi actioner of this generation; I'll stick my neck out and argue that is is better that Halo, Resistance, Killzone, Dead Space, Crysis and Lost Planet. With slick action, an in-depth and rich universe and a whole rostrum of fleshed out characters, Mass Effect 2 is one of my most memorable PS3 highlights and fully deserving of your time.

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