Mass Effect 2 game review: wins and fails with Commander Shepard

AFTER doing nothing else in my free time this week, I finished Mass Effect 2 and can now speak to my family again and break the cycle of work, commute, play ME2 I was locked into. If you want to buy the game, click here.

But having said goodbye to Commander Shepard, the Reapers, the Normandy et al – and after having read endless reviews praising it to the hilt – how good was it? Read on to find out.

I’ll start with the wins.

The wins

It’s addictive

I played it for four days straight, whenever I had free time at home. Regardless of the holes I will pick at later on, it clearly had something that kept me coming back for more.

The characters

As in the first game, you have to assemble a team and then interact with them as the game goes on – choosing them for missions and chatting around the ship. You can even have relationships and romantic tiffs, arguments – you name it.

This time around, you can also win their loyalty by helping them on personal missions, or lose it by choosing not to. If you do help them, they develop a cool new attack or power, so it is well worth it.

Overall, they feel much more real and nuanced as the voice work from actors like Chuck‘s Yvonne Strahovski and Martin Sheen, the animation and the script really pay off.


While all the characters are noticeably more rounded this time around, it is the foul-mouthed, shaven-headed psychopath wearing a mini-bikini and covered in tattoos who stands out, because she is possibly the most smoking hot game character ever.

If your Commander Shepard is a dude (the character can be a man or woman) Jack is one of the possible romantic partners, along with Miranda (the buttoned down repressed one) and Tali (always wears a mask) so there is no competition really.

Typical of the game however, you don’t just swan in and make merry – relationships take time to develop and are governed by what you say to the character during your regular conversations. The wrong answer and they tell you to piss off.

Luckily for me – and other gamers everywhere I’m sureĀ  – I made it well past first base.

It’s intricate

Playing Mass Effect 2 is a constant balancing act – how do you behave? Who do you recruit for your team? How do you speak to them? What is their hidden agenda? You always have to think.

For instance, you can explore planets to collect resources, which are used to upgrade your ship and weapons. This can be time consuming, so do you blow it off to carry on with the game? Chances are if you do, a good number of your team will die because you are not prepared enough.

However if you take too long, other people may die because you were not in a certain place by a certain time. Your every action has consequences which you have to consider every time.

It’s better than Mass Effect

I LOVED Mass Effect, even though I never finished it thanks to the red circle of death on my X-Box.

This time around Bioware have clearly upped the ante, from the first instance where you can transfer your saved game files to the new game, setting up the universe according to how you finished the last time.

The game itself is huge and they have worked to get rid of the bugbears from the first time around, like the interminable scenes of your characters standing in a slow moving lift or driving a car across drab alien planets.

As a total package, it is a definite improvement.

The fails

I’ve seen it before

When I was a younger man, I could often be found sitting at my PC for hours at a time. The reason?

Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and KOTOR2 – where you had to cross the galaxy to assemble a team and complete tasks using weapons and Force powers against a seemingly invincible villain. Sound familiar?

Bioware developed those games too and have obviously taken the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach this time around, albeit with the greater possibilities afforded to them with the advances in gaming technology.

Both KOTORs were wonderful and engrossing to play so it is not necessarily a bad thing, but moving the gameplay on a notch would have been nice too.

The combat – yawn

Some games are all about combat. ME2 is more than that, but that doesn’t explain why the combat is so repetitive.

In some levels where you have to fight your way to an objective, I felt like I was playing the same section again and again of getting into cover, peeking out to shoot or throw a power at someone, then hiding again.

On top of that, zombie like creatures called husks run towards you and hit you instead of shooting you. Would it be too much to ask if the guns we used had a bayonet for instance, and that our main option in melee was not just a forearm smash?

The combat was mostly saved by the final levels which introduced some real variety and challenges at last, but up until then I enjoyed the talking parts much more, which is wrong.

Don’t fence me in

It is a bit churlish to complain about level restrictions when they are generally so huge and involving, but at times your character might as well be on rails.

There is generally one way through a level to reach your goal that I thought had gone out with the ark in game design. That means your all-action character can reach a shin high piece of debris but is incapable of getting over it as the game developers don’t want him to.

I also felt it when we returned to the Citadel, a massive structure in the first game which you could walk around at will. This time huge parts of it have been left out and those that are in are not accessible all the time, depending on story.

Obviously you can’t have open ended levels, but I just felt we deserved better than this.

Final judgement

Mass Effect 2 is a great game with some wonderful features, great storytelling, real depth and class. However, its flaws prevent it from being a classic.

Here’s hoping Mass Effect 3 steps up and tops the lot.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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