Mass Effect 2 PS3 Review
Despite a lot of uncertainty on the part of Sonyís security and a rather lukewarm reception to the PS Move, I still think the PS3ís best days are ahead of it. And one of the good signs is to see a previously exclusive franchise start making its way to a console for the first time. Maybe the biggest of these in the last while is Mass Effect 2 - while Microsoft is holding onto the publishing rights for that game, meaning we wonít likely ever see a PS3 port, BioWare did a pretty good job setting up players - who may have no idea what this universe is all about - to start off by playing the second game in a trilogy.
Of course, it turns out that the first Mass Effect wasnít a triumph in every way, no matter how fondly that fans like us look back at it. The action was a tad wonky, the side missions were dull compared to the main quest, and the interminable shuffling of weapons and armor in oneís inventory (without ever committing to things like separate pieces of armor, or even, at that point, actually changing out a characterís weapons) meant that as an action game, it wasnít 100% there, and it didnít really have everything you expected out of a serious RPG, either.
And in Mass Effect 2, it could be easily argued that if an RPG developer were to pick one of those two genres to push to that full 100%, the better choice would be the RPG and not the action game, but BioWare chose the latter. Mass Effect 2 removes some of the RPG choice you had, infuses it back in in different ways, then sort of closes off the experience (especially with that ďmission completeĒ screen, making the game feel more linear than it actually is) in a way that can frustrate the kind of RPG fans that hate this whole action game foundation we find in lmost everything with the RPG tag tossed onto it.
But for PS3 gamers, youíre not likely to find a game quite like what the Mass Effect world delivers, which is to say, an emotional weight behind every mission and a fun to the action that you, frankly, didnít really ďmissĒ in the first game. It is kind of annoying that one of the unique features to this game on PS3, the Genesis interactive comic book add-on, can only be gotten through the Cerberus Network add-on that comes free with new copies of the game. Thatís not really a concern for people who buy new, but if you get ME2 used and want that part, be prepared to pay $15 for Cerberus Network, which will get you collection of some of the earlier DLC as well as the comic book.
So, as one of the major features of the PS3 port, itís probably a good idea to cover Genesis. The art is done by Dark Horse comics and itís narrated by either the male or female version of Shepard (this comic book starts up after you pick Commander Shepardís gender and do the intro level), and it generally does a good job covering the major decisions you could have made in the first game. Unfortunately, some of the choices you could have made were left out, like Conrad Verner, but I donít blame BioWare as the comic does get pretty long. With only a few dialog wheels to select various story choices as the only real interaction, the comic still takes a good 15 minutes or so.
We should probably talk about what some sites and forums have called the ďMass Effect 3 engineĒ that the PS3 port of ME2 runs on. Itís important to note that both games and all ports run on Unreal Engine 3, so all youíre seeing is a few tweaks to how it runs. You will definitely see some moderate improvements in texture quality and lighting over the Xbox 360 version of the game, but itís important to note that the PC version is superior when it comes to outputting the sharpest resolutions and smoothest frame rates. Even a modestly-equipped gaming PC built in the last couple years should be able to push out 1080p graphics at nearly 60fps in ME2, and while the PS3 port still has marginally better shadows and lighting overall, I think the PC version gets to hold onto the image quality crown.
Itís been almost 800 words now and I havenít even talked about the game itself. Mass Effect 2 puts forth one of the best stories seen in any sci-fi video game, and it builds it all on excellent voice acting along with interesting meetings with a wide range of intriguing characters. Unlike with many action games, BioWare has really put motivation behind you starting work on the next mission; they give you a damn good reason to fight as you eventually begin to realize that Commander Shepard and company are going to have to get the support of the whole crew if they want everyone to survive the mission.
Most of the game is spent in interesting and unique firefights, exploring a vast range of unique planets and locales, and conversing with denizens as well as with your crew. In fact, most of the time you spend in the game will be centered around building your crew up and helping them get ready for the big suicide mission, and while the developers took flak for having a relative few actual main story missions, the task of getting your companions together is not a side quest like some have said; not at all. So yeah, you can play ME2 like an action game and itís a pretty damn good one just like that, but digging deep into your companionsí minds is where the gameís true appeal lies.
As the middle installment in a trilogy, unfortunately it is a rough start for people coming into this for the first time. You wonít know much about the quirkier alien races, like the jellyfish-seeming Hanar or the all-female Asari, and some of ME2ís most interesting conversations (and more amusing background references) only come if you have at least a serviceable knowledge of the first game, something that the Genesis comic couldnít possibly do in fifteen minutes. Simply put, if youíre coming into ME2 fresh and have at least the time (if not the Xbox 360 or gaming PC) to get the full experience, you might want to sit back for a while to watch a Letís Play series of videos or something.
Itís possible that BioWare might have actually made a mistake porting this middle installment, or at least in the way they chose to bring in the backstory. PS3 gamers, dropped in right in the middle of a trilogy, arenít nearly as likely to get attached to the Mass Effect universe the same way the rest of us have, because the first game was so vital for laying the groundwork for a new sci-fi universe - something that a relative few hand-drawn panels and a bit of new voice narration canít possibly substitute for. I wonít go so far as to say BioWare shouldnít have even tried to port this game to the PS3, but I just donít see them instantly picking up a rock-solid new fanbase on Sonyís console. Mass Effect 2 is one of the best games made in recent years, but itís at least partially because it was built on top of a solid foundation two years before, and this new target audience only gets to scratch the surface of that foundation before being thrust into a war with the Collectors.