Mass Effect 2 (Shep Harder) takes place a couple of years after the events of the first game. In general, it’s an improvement. As usual with a review I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum.
After suffering a prolonged spacewalk, FemShep (or ManShep if you opt for the male version) wakes up in a Cerberus facility. Cerberus are, of course, a bad guy faction of human fundamentalists who prefer dominance to co-operation for humanity. Owing them her life, and faced with a new threat to the galaxy (and, specifically, human colonies) she agrees to work with Cerberus to protect both humanity and the galaxy.
It was pretty bloody galling not to be able to import my old FemShep directly, largely because almost every decision I made was contrary to the default setting of the game. I remember reading that the original ME2 release for the PS3 had a little comic at the start to enable Mass Effect decisions to be chosen pre-game, but that’s absent here. So, I was lumbered with almost everything being different.
[However, I have (after several efforts) since managed to save my Mass Effect PS3 file. I had to change a few settings, namely: putting autosave back on, getting rid of graphical enhancements, changing difficulty to casual, changing graphics to the intermediate setting and reinstalling the game data twice. Hard to say for certain what made the difference, but it’s a lot of faffing for something that shouldn’t’ve been a problem to start with].
There are some pretty cool moments in the game, when finding new (or old…) companions, and near the end there’s a fantastic shock discovery. The ending isn’t quite as trouser-explodingly fantastic as the climax of the first game, but it’s still pretty bloody good.
It was notable immediately that the game takes a more arcadey approach to gun battles. The skill system has been slightly rejigged but is similar enough to the first game that it won’t take a moment to adapt to. In addition, even an Infiltrator (sniper) gets to have every weapon type. I did play ‘in character’ and used my sniper rifle a lot, but it was handy being able to use heavy weapons on occasion.
Sadly, the overheating mechanism of the first game has been abandoned in favour of ammunition. I really liked the overheating system, and missed it. Ammunition is usually fairly plentiful.
Oddly, the Citadel was far smaller than in the first game. It’s easier to navigate and simpler, but it seems a bit weird. Navigating the galaxy map was slightly clunkier than it could’ve been because from each cluster a label would spring with important info (critical worlds and active quests) and they could sometimes be so close together that it telling which referred to which cluster was difficult. However, I was pleased the loading screen when flying from system to system or cluster to cluster was no more.
In addition, the Mako (a moon buggy/tank hybrid) is gone. Instead, you scan planets from orbit, plunder their resources with probes and occasionally land if there’s a mission or you pick up an anomaly. Although I was a bit rubbish with Mako-combat I did quite like cruising around alien worlds. However, the anomalies do present more interesting and varied missions than were present in the first game.
I think there’s a slight flaw with the number of companions. As with Mass Effect, your away team is just Shepard and two others. But the number of companions is about 10. It seems excessive, and also means that there’s a large number of missions that are simply recruiting them and improving your relationship with them. In their favour, the writers have done a fantastic job of making them all distinctive and interesting characters despite the large number.
One problem with gameplay is that the Cerberus Pack meant to be available for free download simply isn’t there. Neither through the main menu (as instructed) or through PSN directly.
As mentioned in my Mass Effect review, I was unable to import my FemShep into ME2 [at the time of playing] because the first game froze immediately after my glorious victory. This pissed me off quite a bit, but, happily, it was pretty easy to recreate her face to a high degree of similarity. The character creator is almost identical in structure but improved in quality. As my FemShep was quite close to the first preset (albeit with blonde hair and purple eyes) it was easy to recreate and looked significantly better.
In all areas the graphics are markedly improved. Textures sometimes taking a while to load recurs as an issue, but it’s less frequent than in the first game and still not a serious problem.
Whether in cutscenes, dialogue, or anywhere else, the graphics are a big step up.
The voice acting seems better. I really liked Jennifer Hale’s performance in the first game, and this time it seems even better (possibly due to improved writing). The rest of the crew (of which there are quite a lot) are a very strong supporting cast.
Sound effects seem to be slightly improved, and the music seems to be more or less the same.
Bugs and Other Issues
I suffered no freezing at all during the game, and no lag or hangs (a hang is a temporary freeze of a few seconds). In fact, beyond the very minor issue of textures occasionally taking a while to appear the only other problem seems to be the absence of the Cerberus Pack DLC.
After further research, it emerges the Cerberus Pack does exist. It isn’t visible from the DLC link in ME2’s menu, and it doesn’t appear on the list of add-ons, but you can see it if you search PSN for Cerberus. However, even more annoyingly, I still couldn’t download it (there wasn’t even an option for a paid download) because it claimed I didn’t own ME2.
A very good game, better even than the first one. There’s a stronger emphasis (relatively) on gunfighting over roleplaying, but it’s still got a good storyline and fantastic voice-acting. Such flaws as there are tend to be technical and minor (DLC being absent, for example) and there’s no serious issue to criticise.
I’d give this 9/10.