BioWare does make some efforts to help you customize your Shepard in this game by offering an interactive comic which fills you in on the events of the first game. This feature, created by Dark Horse comics, must be downloaded separately from the PlayStation Network and is integrated into the story of the game. The comic occurs as a dream-like sequence during the haze that occurs between your “death” and your awakening aboard the Cerberus' ship. Though the use of this comic is purely optional, it is strongly recommended to both returning Mass Effect players and newcomers to the series. It only lasts about 15 minutes and serves as a good refresher for the previous adventure. The comic also allows you to make some of the key decisions from the original game, further shaping the personality of your created Shepard. Think of it as sort of a “choose your own adventure” book; it doesn’t fully replicate the hundreds of decisions and choices that you would have made in the first game. The experience gives you a little bit of an idea of what the game has in store for you and prepares you for the hard decisions that you will undoubtedly have to make during this adventure.
Dark Horse did a phenomenal job in summarizing the original game in a manner that more than prepares you for ME2. You may not be as familiar with the universe as you would be by playing the original game but you will find yourself learning the basic ins and outs of the Mass Effect universe in terms of the general conflict at hand and the parties involved. If you do want to learn more, the game constantly fills in your character’s personal codex as you progress, which you can access at any time from the pause menu. The codex gives you more information than you could ever want to know about every aspect of the Mass Effect universe. You should also keep in mind that the decisions that you make in this game will carry over to the third entry in the series as long as you hold onto your save data. Remember that as you move through the various missions of the game as you will ultimately decide “who’ Commander Shepard is and the resulting character could be with you for many gaming hours in the future.
Mass Effect 2 is presented as an incredibly gorgeous cinematic experience from beginning to end from both from a visual and audio perspective. Sometimes it is hard to tell if you are playing a video game or watching a movie. The game looks slightly better on the PlayStation 3 than it did on both the Xbox 360 and PC. The main reason behind this is that the team at BioWare did a little bit more than just port the code over to the new system. Mass Effect 2 for the PS3 was rebuilt using the game engine that was designed for the upcoming Mass Effect 3. Long story short, it looks good... damn good. The driving score that accompanies the events of the game is just as impressive, especially when you get into the action. The most impressive audio in the game though has to be the dialogue. BioWare has spared no expense in assembling an incredible cast to voice the 25,000+ lines of speech in the game. The development team went for triple-A, Hollywood talent to ensure the quality was top notch; players will recognize some major talent behind the voices of the game including Martin Sheen, Seth Green, Michael Dorn, and Carrie-Anne Moss. It all leads to an incredible experience that engulfs you and keeps you hooked from start to finish.
Amazingly, the gameplay of ME2 is just as engulfing as the story itself. Players will experience a wide variety of gameplay elements throughout the adventure in order to keep things from ever getting stale. Most of the action will play out as a 3rd person shooter or adventure game, with heavy emphasis on seeking cover and manipulating the environment to your advantage during battle. When the guns aren’t blazing, you will find your self playing puzzle / hacking mini games, utilizing a resource management style side-game of exploring uncharted planets and collecting elements which serve as currency, and even general exploration and research gathering on driving missions using an off-road style hovercraft called the Hammerhead. There is always “something to do” but most of the time you will be running full speed ahead in a story that doesn’t slow down from beginning to end.
One of the great things about the game is that you can progress the story at your own leisure; while the main storyline does drive forward at a breakneck speed, you actually decide how and when it progresses. I often find myself taking breaks from the action and spending time in exploration mode gathering resources or perhaps just visiting the various locale spread across the galaxy and partaking in the various side missions offered by the game. There is a definitive, streamlined course that you can take that will keep your completion time at a minimum but that causes the game to lose half of its charm. As I mentioned above, this is a character driven story and to get the most out of it, you should get to know the characters around you. You are given a chance to dig into their background at every turn of the game. Most of the side missions that you will encounter directly involve the supporting cast of the game and give you insight on their personal stories. Usually when a game gives you opportunities like this, the offerings are hit and miss. That isn’t the case with this game as there wasn’t a single side-mission or optional storyline that doesn’t engulf you as much as the main story. Every aspect of the game is deep, which speaks volumes for the writers at BioWare.
The biggest aspect of the game lies in the dialogue and morality choices that you will be faced with along your way. Every decision that you make, both in your physical actions and your words, will effect those around you. Good decisions will be rewarded with Paragon points that increase your reputation in a positive manner while harsh decisions will increase your Renegade points and hurt that same reputation. Throughout your adventure you will likely earn points in both categories; as you build up points on each side over time, different dialogue options and actions will become available. This is the same system that was used in the original game and will undoubtedly appear in the third. These are decisions that shape your character and will influence the next game (assuming your Shepard lives to see the next adventure).
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