When Mass Effect 2 (ME2) hit the shelves I almost instantaneously went out and picked up a copy from my local Gamestation. From the trailers and dev blogs I had read I knew this game was going to equal, if not surpass its predecessor in every way imaginable.
From the word go this game is on another level to every other game that tells a story. The opening sequence of events that lead to the destruction of the Normandy is impeccably crafted to give that sheer sense of urgency, desperation and finally, devastation that so many game developers strive to achieve.
The overall plot is really strong. The player can choose how in-depth he or she plays the game by choosing to interact with your crew or to simply continue through the storyline, but there are benefits to playing to the very last detail, as with most RPG titles these days.
The only thing I found to be a slight disappointment in the plot was how much it built towards the next game without ever reaching that plateau of excitement that we experienced in ME1. Sure, the same "make a choice that will affect the sequel" system was present, but for me personally I didn't feel the final battle was on par with the ME1 finale.
ME2 is all about recruiting a team of specialists but there is an added element of making each individual loyal to you before embarking on the final confrontation. This element made for some repetitive game play but helped clock up the hours which were missing as a result of the somewhat short storyline.
Graphically the game is outstanding and runs very smooth on my system. I thought I may have to turn the settings down a little but to my surprise I was running the game at the highest without any issues.
A feature I particularly liked about ME2 is the morality/karma system which is similar to the Fable series but slightly more subtle. If you play as a bad guy, or "renegade" your scars show through from the facial reconstruction you received courtesy of Cerberus and if you play as a good guy or "paragon" your face heals up and you can once again be within 100ft of schools and not be arrested.
The choices you make also have an impact on how situations are resolved, and each path has pros and cons. I'd like to see some development on this system for ME3 to better explore the possibilities.
The control system has been streamlined somewhat from ME1 and this does make the combat a little more intense but there's certainly room for improvement. Perhaps a console player would disagree, but ME2 on the keyboard + mouse format felt like I lost a little immersion especially when trying to sprint round corners. That being said ME2's control system doesn't detract from the quality and overall entertainment value of the game. In an industry where control systems are sometimes in a bigger spotlight than the actual games themselves (see wii, Kinect etc...) it's a tiny issue for ME2.
Fortunately for ME2 there is a huge open world full of experiences and choices which do make up for the lack of complexity in the combat system. I decided to exploit the stealth class' headshot damage bonus by equipping every + headshot damage item and armour I could find. This coupled with the highest damage sniper rifle made the game too easy, but games that utilise the cover and fire system are somewhat easy, as the only times you can possibly be killed are when you have been impatient or the enemy has somehow outsmarted you and gained a better position on your team. Fair enough, this happened to me a few times early on in the game, but you quickly learn how to exploit the lack of AI shown or simply headshot every enemy from half way across the level.
The mineral harvesting and research area of the game was strangely satisfying. I would find myself on mineral hunting tangents which took me to the far reaches of the universe. I had an uncharacteristic anal retentive tendency to need to research absolutely everything possible as well as make sure I harvested 100% of the minerals on every planet I visited. Perhaps this is what made the game so easy for me? Again, I can't wait to see how this area of the game improves with the next instalment.
To conclude, Mass Effect 2 is a must have for every gamer. There is a wealth of side quests and other things to keep you playing this game long after your other games have kicked the bucket and ran out of budget. The control issues and slight repetitiveness of the game don't detract in the slightest from the overall value and it's everything and more than Mass Effect 1 was.
The standard of RPG's has been set but I fear a lot of new releases will fall short of the bar. I can't wait for Mass Effect 3 so I can once again take my sniper rifle and my bag full of renegade behaviour with me to the limit of sleep deprivation.