- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2011

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Mass Effect 2 (from Electronic Arts and Bioware, reviewed for PlayStation 3, rated M for mature, $59.99).

One of the best action role-playing games of 2010 finally debuts on Sony’s multimedia console, delivering a lengthy adventure Captain James Tiberius Kirk would envy.

Within this riveting science-fiction saga, a solo player controls a resurrected hero in the year 2185 and helps define his path to glory.

What’s the story? From the product literature: Two years after Commander Shepard repelled invading Reapers bent on the destruction of life, a mysterious new enemy has emerged: the Collectors. On the fringes of known space, entire human colonies are silently being abducted. Now Shepard and his elite team must work with Cerberus, a ruthless organization devoted to human survival at any cost, to stop the most terrifying threat mankind has ever faced.

Play the role: A gamer creates his own special version of Commander Shepard (male or female), customizing facial features and combat and casual uniforms and using one of six character classes, including soldier, sentinel or engineer. By the way, the Terminus combat armor is stunning  it makes Shepard look like Baron Karza from the Micronauts.

With help from the cigarette-smoking Illusive Man (the grouchy Cerberus leader with a Rod Serling vibe) Shepard controls his own massive starship, the Normandy SR2, and sets out to assemble the “best of the best” soldiers, scientists and mercenaries that the galaxy can offer to stop the Collectors.

Recruiting always involves lengthy assignments, such as persuading the fast-talking and brilliant Salarian, Dr. Mordin Solus (a biological weapons expert) to join only after helping him stop the Omega plague.

While on board the SR2, a player can move Shepard around the ship’s various levels. When looking around, he can stop by the Captain’s Cabin to view medals or change uniforms, check in at Engineering and talk to Kenneth Donnely (a fellow with a very “Star Trek” Scotty accent) hear some war stories from bounty hunter Zaeed Massani in the cargo area, and even compact and eject some of the ship’s garbage into space.

Get to the action: Sandbox exploration, character interactions and item collection combine with linear third-person firefights across a variety of locations around the galaxy, ranging from a crumbling starship bridge to the icy planet surface of Alchera.

The multitiered journey will find the player controlling all major tasks involved in managing a crew and selecting and executing urgent assignments.

They include mining planets from afar, exploring worlds from the ground, taking part in long-winded conversations, buying fuel for the starship, killing a variety of organic and robotic enemies, researching and upgrading new weapons, cracking safes, hacking door locks and making decisions as a compassionate — or unsympathetic — leader, ultimately affecting the path his epic journey takes.

A pair of incredibly helpful team members accompany Shepard on most missions, and the player can offer them limited direction, such as moving them into position for attacks or defense. Each team member has a unique skill set — look to Jacob Taylor for telekinesis and Thane Krios for sniping — so choose combinations wisely.

Memorable moments (in no particular order): Watching steam rise from an icy waterway; walking along frozen cliffs to collect fallen soldiers’ dog tags; looking into the beautiful eyes of the blue-skinned female Aria T’Loak; admiring as Jack, the powerful female human biotic (a supertelekinetic being) breaks out of her cryo cell on the space prison Purgatory; and seeing the exotic scenery and life forms hanging around the exclusive club Afterlife.

Violent encounters: Saving humanity will require engaging in numerous battles in third-person-shooter mode.

Shepard’s team (depending on members’ skills) eventually can access up to 19 weapons broken into six types, including the daunting heavy weapons (Collector Particle Beam and ML-77 Missile Launcher) sniper rifles, shotguns and submachine guns.

Story Continues →