- 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.

Be it terminating the Blood Pack led by Krogan battle master Ganar Wrang or fighting through Warden Kuril’s Blue Suns thugs, multiple colors of blood will spill, with profanity added throughout.

Read all about it: The PS3 version of the game uses an interactive comic (courtesy of Dark Horse Comics) at the beginning of the prologue to explain what happened in the first Mass Effect. Players can make choices that will influence the story.

Fans looking for more background will find the four-issue Dark Horse comic-book series Mass Effect: Evolution ($3.50 each) developed by Mac Walters, the lead writer of the video game, and featuring the secret origin of the Illusive Man.

Pixel-popping scale: 8.5 out of 10. An upgraded game engine combines with some spectacular lifelike cut scenes to dazzle on a high-definition screen. The alien species designs are incredible and as impressive as anything seen in a “Star Trek” movie.

Most impressive are the numerous conversations started by the player with a wheel-menu question system. The hundreds of possible dialogue paths are all animated with characters reacting and lips moving, playing out as miniscenes as various interrogations unfold.

Star power: The compelling story and wonderful voice-over work shine throughout — just consider how much dialogue must have been recorded for the lengthy conversations.

Unlockables and extras: A welcome encyclopedic Codex continues to fill with new entries as a player progresses, revealing all of the mythology of Mass Effect, including lengthy text and spoken information on all species, planetary systems, technology and governments with minutiae so precise it drills down to topics as specific as “Asari: Military Doctrine.”

Additionally, to make up for the unforgivable delay in bringing this game to PS3 owners’ sweaty hands, the Mass Effect 2 package contains a code for a small treasure chest worth of downloadable content to extend the adventure. Besides the aforementioned comic, the player gets the mission packs Kasumi: Stolen Memory, Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker.

What’s it worth? A comic-book bridge cannot make up for PlayStation 3 owners never getting to enjoy the original Mass Effect experience. However, once one is aboard the Normandy SR2, those grumpy thoughts will dissolve into sheer bliss as this time-devouring epic unfolds.

Bioware’s Mass Effect 2 is one of the best examples of interactive storytelling ever created for the video-game universe.

* Send e-mail to jszadkowskiwashingtontimes.com. 

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide