Mass Effect 2 Preview
Mass Effect 2 box art
System: X360, PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: BioWare 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: EA 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Jan. 26, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Humanity's Shepard
by Jonathan Marx

June 5, 2009 - At E3 2009, I was very fortunate to go behind closed doors for a guided demo of Mass Effect 2 at the EA booth. From just the 25 minutes of gameplay I was witness to, I can tell you with absolute certainty that this will be one amazing game when it releases at the beginning of next year.

Mass Effect 2 screenshot

If you were a fan of the first title, know that "Mass Effect 2 combines the very best parts of the original with improvements in literally every single area of the game; and, of course, a stunning story." These are the words Project Director Casey Hudson used to describe the sequel. He did so in a very matter-of-fact way; it's obvious that confidence breeds serenity.

One huge advantage the folks at BioWare had going into the development of Mass Effect 2 is a quality game engine and an extensive familiarity with it. In other words, the vast majority of the technical work has already been pioneered. This has freed up the developers at BioWare to clean up a few of the hiccups and concentrate on the creative aspects of the title, essentially adding multiple layers of detail to all facets of the game. To top it all off, BioWare has committed the exact same budget to the game's production as was devoted for the original. Again, whereas vast resources were committed to technical endeavors in the past, now the money is being injected directly into polishing and refining the game. Combine these factors with a lengthy development timetable (they've already been working on the new project for over two years), and the results are stunning.

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If you played Mass Effect, you'll remember just how important decisions were throughout the game; acting as a Paragon or a Renegade determined the way the story unfolded. Because the devs at BioWare are masters at crafting and understanding the ins and outs of RPG creation, they're allowing players to carry over their game saves in order to provide true continuity between the first and second (and eventually the third) games. That means fallen comrades remain dead, Commander Shepard's unique outlook persists, and the way the galaxy perceives the protagonist will also maintain.

Mass Effect 2 screenshot

Though Saren and the Reapers were roundly beaten in the first chapter, the Reaper threat still persists in Mass Effect 2. "Mass Effect 2 is the dark second act. It is a high action descent into the most brutal parts of the Mass Effect universe." Hudson continued, "Humans are going missing from all over the galaxy, and you're working with a shadowy, pro-human group called Cerberus to find out why." The mission that Shepard takes up is considered to be suicidal, but that's not enough to stop the Spectre. Of course, Shepard's no dummy. He'll have to put together a supporting squad of "the most dangerous and powerful individuals from around the galaxy. You'll search the darkest reaches of space to find them, recruit them, and make them loyal." After finally putting together this elite team, you'll lead them on one final mission where your actions throughout the game will impact your crew's success or failure at every stage.

We were shown several scenes that followed Shepard on a highly dangerous quest to wrangle up the services of the galaxy's most lethal assassin, an alien named Thane. One thing that became immediately apparent is just how smooth transitions between cutscenes and action segments have become. Also, conversation segments are no longer static; they are dynamically introduced to the player in the form of real-time dialogue. Additionally, BioWare has instituted a new interactive conversation interrupt system to allow you to seize control of the conversation to inject a bit of Shepard in to various situations if you don't like how things are proceeding. This will undoubtedly enhance the role-playing side of the game by ceding more control to the player. Further adding to the cinematic experience are the pristine character animations and lip-syncing. This level of polish really amps up the immersion factor - the 25 minutes we spent staring at the screen were captivating.

Mass Effect 2 screenshot

Of course, as pleasurable as machinima can be, the developers have not neglected combat. In fact, the third-person action has been greatly refined. The shooting mechanic in particular appears to be far more vibrant, gritty, and user-friendly. The devs describe it as being modeled on a "precision shooter feel;" weapons are more powerful and accurate right from the start. There is also a new location-based damage system in effect, so headshots are now a prized commodity in Mass Effect 2. Finally, there are several new weapons classes in Mass Effect 2, including a new heavy weapons system that allows players to tote around arms such as a missile launcher. All this refining and enhancement of the combat system should make Mass Effect 2 extremely appealing to even non-RPG players.

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