Posts Tagged‘sci-fi’

Resonance: An Enthralling Homage To Adventure Games Everywhere.

I’ve definitely developed a soft spot for Wadjet Eye Games over the past year or so. Whilst I skipped their last 2 releases (Blackwell Deception and Da New Guys) because they didn’t really tickle my fancy their other title, Gemini Rue, has ensured that I’ve kept a close on everything that they release. It was a couple months ago now I got an email from them about their upcoming game Resonance another sci-fi point and click  adventure that caught my attention in much the same way Gemini Rue did. That combined with the few reviews I allowed myself to tentatively read was enough to sell me on the title, and many others it seems.

 Resonance takes place in a world not too dissimilar to our own, being set around the same time. Throughout the game you will take control of one of 4 main characters: a scientist working with a brilliant professor on a new technology, a doctor who said scientist meets on the subway, a slightly renegade cop out to find the truth and a blogger (sorry reporter) who’s on the hunt for his next major story. When an explosion destroys the lab that the scientist is working for and mortally wounds his professor friend all 4 of their individual story threads come together as they try to find out the truth behind the accident.

It’s strange to think that this game has been in development for 5 years as at the time (we’re talking 2007) the idea of making a pixel art homage to the old adventure game genre would seem like a fool’s gambit. However Resonance has instead found itself quite at home with the current renaissance of pixel art titles that eschew modern graphics for a more nostalgic experience. Like many other pixel art games Resonance does not use a modern game engine as a basis, meaning that modern overlay effects like we’ve seen in titles like Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery and Lone Survivor aren’t present. Resonance does well without them however and if you’re a fan of the genuine old school adventure then their omission will be a boon rather than a bother.

Resonance starts off with you choosing your own path through the opening scenes of each of the main characters. This helps to provide some of the back story for all the main characters as well as serving as the tutorial for the main mechanics of the game. There’s really no denying that Resonance starts off quite slow in terms of story progression and I found myself putting it down just after I had completed this first section and leaving it for a day. The good news is that after that the story picks up pace quite dramatically and for the rest of my time with Resonance I didn’t stop until I got right to the end.

I can attribute much of this to the near seamless experience that Resonance presents. For most adventure games, especially ones that do not appear to be using modern game engines, the interfaces are usually clunky, the puzzles radically unintuitive and there’s usually a whole lot of back tracking through countless scenes to get that 1 item that you should have picked up but forgot to at the right time. Now Resonance isn’t completely innocent in this regard (something I’ll touch on a bit later) but overall the level of polish in the adventure game experience is incredibly high, rivaling that of its other Wadjet Eye titles. Considering its production time this is somewhat to be expected but we’ve all seen other titles where the same amount of development time leads to horrible things.

The inventory system is unique to Resonance featuring 3 distinct categories of items and information that you will use throughout your journey. The first is your Long Term Memory which basically functions as a replay device for key scenes that you’ll need to reference at a later date and is automatically populated for you. Short term memory on the other hand is populated directly by you by dragging items of interest into them which can then be used in conversations later on. The final section is just your regular inventory, holding all the items you’ll need to solve puzzles and further the story.

It’s a simple system on the surface but the kinds of puzzles it can create can be rather complicated. For the most part the things you have to talk to the NPCs about are usually in the room with you but there are several times when you need to mention something to someone and the only way to do it will be by dragging something into STM then travelling to them. Thankfully this isn’t often and I can only remember 2 times when I had to do some back tracking in order to progress further. Indeed the amount of back tracking required for the entire game was very minimal, something that definitely added much of my enjoyment to this game.

Unlike most other adventure games you can actually end up killing characters or stuffing up the game in a way which would make it impossible to finish it. Thankfully instead of making you reload your save game in order to fix the problem Resonance instead uses a Braid-esque technique of rewinding back time to a point just before the point where you failed, allowing you to retry the puzzle/section. This is by far the best solution I’ve seen to issues like this as whilst you can save whenever you want reloading a game, especially if you’re stuck at one section, breaks immersion completely. This rewind mechanic is a much better solution and definitely kept me playing much longer than having to reload saves would have.

The puzzles are, for the most part, quite intuitive if you grew up on these kinds of titles. Like all adventure games Resonance has its own way of doing things and this does cause some frustration initially as you struggle with rudimentary puzzles until you realize you’ve been approaching it the wrong way. I’ll admit that a couple of the puzzles completely stumped me at the time and had me reaching for a walkthrough guide to get me over that hump. I only did that a couple times however as for the most part the puzzles can be worked out with a little creative thinking (and possibly getting a coffee to take your mind off it for 5 minutes). My only quibble would be with the mouse based problems as Resonance’s mouse support seems to be a little iffy and can lead to some frustration when trying to complete some puzzles (the pad wiring one comes to mind).

Games like Resonance often rely heavily on the story to provide the majority of entertainment value and, whilst it doesn’t disappoint in that department, I found the game play of Resonance quite enjoyable. Indeed after the first hour which felt like a bit of a struggle I never once asked myself why I was playing this or thought to myself that I was just playing this for the review. The combination of polished interface and challenging puzzles is more than enough to carry this game along for its 6 hour duration. Of course the story doesn’t disappoint either, but there are some issues with it that bear mentioning.

Whilst the motivations of all the characters are quite clear, since you’re playing as them, there comes a point in the story where one of the characters radically changes their motivations. This is to serve as a turning point in the story (and is the basis of the major twist) however since you’ve played said character from the start, ostensibly since the point where they had said motivations, you would think there were some clues as to what they was up to. There were none however and the whole scene serves to open up several other plot holes that remain unanswered. It’s the same problem that plagued Heavy Rain and now, with my rose colored glasses firmly placed on the table, I can understand everyone’s frustration. Taken as a whole the story still works but they could have done a better job with the twist so it didn’t riddle the rest of the story with holes.

Resonance really was a joy to play, effortlessly capturing that nostalgic feeling of playing through its pixel art predecessors almost 2 decades ago. It feels strange for me to say that it was the game play that carried this game rather than its story as with games like this that’s never been the case, for me at least. It’s no surprise then that it has garnered very favorable reviews from everyone that’s played it and I’m glad that I can count myself among them. It might not be a flawless experience but Resonance gets all the fundamentals right resulting in an exceptional game that adventure fans will love and us nostalgic nerds will gush over for some time to come.

Rating: 9.5/10

Resonace from Wadjet Eye Games is available on PC right now for $9.99. Game was completed with around 6 hours of total playtime, score of approximately 300 and 63% of the achievements unlocked.

Mass Effect 3: A Dichotomy of Love and Hate.

Ah Mass Effect, a game that inspired so much fanboyism and geek lust within me that I’ve gladly parted with embarrassingly large sums of money in order to play it. My relationship with it started with an excited friend of mine breathlessly singing its praises before sending me a short video clip of it. The second the clip finished I knew this game had to be mine, no matter what the cost. This was the only reason why a Xbox360 graced my home in the first place and was so again when I upgraded to one of the new slim models to play through the final instalment. Today I will review the last chapter in Mass Effect trilogy; a review that’s been 5 years in the making.

Mass Effect 3 puts you right back into control of Commander Shepard of the Normandy. Returning back to the Alliance Navy after the events of Mass Effect 2 Shepard is placed under house arrest due to his work with Cerberus. His warnings of an impending Reaper attack have gone unnoticed and it’s not until a full Reaper invasion starts that they look back to him for help. Earth succumbs to the Reaper invasion rapidly but Shepard reluctantly escapes, only leaving so he can gather support to retake Earth back from the Reapers and hopefully drive them back for good.

First impressions of Mass Effect 3 were quite good. For Xbox360 players you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the graphics updates as there’s a noticeable improvement over Mass Effect 2. Whilst it’s not up to the same level as say Deus Ex: Humand Revolution or Skyrim they’re still quite impressive, especially if you’re playing the game on a massive TV like I was. PS3 owners won’t notice much of a difference however as Mass Effect 3 on the PS3 uses the same engine as 2 on that plaform. PC players will also be somewhat disappointed as the code for the Xbox360 version is basically the same and is unable to take advantage of any additional grunt your PC might have. It’s clear that Bioware’s target platform for this game was definitely the Xbox360 first above all others which is great for people like me, but I can understand the frustration levelled at Mass Effect 3 by gamers on other platforms.

The combat of Mass Effect 3 is just as exciting, fluid and challenging as it was back in Mass Effect 2. I was very tempted to try out yet another class as my switch from Soldier to Vanguard in Mass Effect 2 made the game that much more interesting but discussing it with my friends showed that the Vanguard was probably the most fun class out of the lot of them. With the new weapon/upgrade system the Vanguard could easily be made into an incredible weapon of destruction, one that didn’t actually need to carry any guns with him if you played your cards right.

So unlike its predecessors Mass Effect 3 gives you the choice of what weapons to equip, allowing you to carry around up to 5 different weapons. The downside is that the more weapons you carry the slower your powers will regenerate. So for weapons based classes like the Soldier you’ll probably still walk around armed with every single weapon you can carry but my Vanguard spent most of his time with only 2 weapons (later I carried 3 once I had the right upgrades), favouring the 200% buff to power recharges instead. This meant that past a certain point I was basically invulnerable as no enemy could wear down my shields before I could charge again, recharging them back to full.

Still though there were several fights that I found challenging to the point of frustration. Now I’m willing to blame this on the fact that I’m not a console gamer, the PC is my usual platform, and the many deaths I experienced early on where a combination of me not being able to aim properly and a bad talent build. However for most of the really difficult fights there was usually a heavy weapon hidden somewhere which I wouldn’t find until my 4th or 5th time attempting that particular combat scene which made the fight trivial. There are also some particular enemies that will 1 shot you from full health and shields with no way to get out of it (even with upgraded health that left me with 1 bar afterwards, I’d still die). It’s a real shame as apart from these 2 faux pas the combat is really quite enjoyable (the latter making the last couple hours annoyingly torturous).

The talent tree system received a massive revamp since Mass Effect 2 and the improvements are quite nice. Whilst it still retains the base idea of adding points into a certain ability to make it better once you get past the first 3 stages you’re then presented with choices as to how to improve the ability. In doing so you’re able to craft your character along very specific lines, much more so than you were in the previous 2 games. With a little bit of looking around its very possible to create a character that is nigh on unstoppable, but it’s the improvements that Bioware made around the talent system that are most welcome.

The inclusion of a respec system in Mass Effect 3 is probably the most welcome addition. When you start off many of your talent points are allocated for you. Whilst this is a great way to introduce you to the character class it does mean that your character might not play the way you want it to. Thankfully the first respec is free and that will allow you to craft your character in the way you want. Additionally you’re able to choose 1 ability from your companions to include in your talent tree for a small sum. Yet again this allows you to augment away any of your character’s weaknesses or push them further into unstoppable territory.

The Galaxy Map remains basically unchanged from Mass Effect 2, keeping the same navigation elements whilst changing up the mini-game aspect of it significantly. Instead of going to every planet and scanning them for 5 minutes just to find the resources contained within there you instead scan around the current solar system, looking for little pockets of treasure. If one of the assets happens to be on a planet you then do the familiar scanning mini-game again but at least now it has a pointer to where it is, saving you countless pointless minutes scanning around. There’s also an indicator as to how many assets you’ve recovered so you don’t waste time looking for that one last thing.

You can’t scan around indefinitely though as scanning alerts the Reapers to your presence there. It’s supposed to make you scan smartly around, using the minimum number in order to recover all the assets. If you do alert the Reapers they’ll invade the system and try to hunt you down but they can’t really catch you unless you stay still for more than a couple seconds. Realistically you can just scan to your hearts content then exit/enter the system repeatedly to get the assets, which is what I ended up doing after alerting the Reapers for the 20th time.

WARNING: Mild plot spoilers follow. (There’s a second warning about the MASSIVE ones if you want to keep reading).

Of course where Mass Effect 3 really shines is the grand story that they’ve crafted over the past 5 years. Ever since the first Mass Effect there’s been a terrible sense of foreboding about the coming Reaper invasion and whilst there are some major plot holes (why did the Council ignore Shepards warnings after a GODDAMN REAPER ATTACKED THEM is beyond me) they’ve managed to keep the story moving through 3 games, even with the wild amount of control that the player has over the plot elements.

As always I decided to play Shepard as a Paragorn and whilst I’d agree with the way he acted about 90% of the time there were some definite moments when he’d go off the rails completely. This is mostly due to the paraphrasing that’s done in order to make the dialog wheel work, making it hard to accurately judge what he’s going say, but when the tough-as-nails by-the-book Shepard I spent the last 5 years crafting started acting out of character it really dumped me out of the game. Thankfully those moments were few and far between, but happened often enough to cause me frustration.

Now I don’t know if this was due to the choices that I had made in the previous games or not but the romantic relationships in Mass Effect 3 felt kind of…weird. In Mass Effect 1 I romanced Ashley who makes no appearance in 2 at all. In 2 I romanced Miranda and when I came face to face with both of them again I set my eyes on Ashley, her being Shepard’s first love. What got me however was the fact that Ashley seemed wholly unresponsive to my advances even though, as far as I was aware, there was no way of her knowing what I got up to during Mass Effect 2. Indeed she never confronted me on the fact, instead just giving me the cold shoulder. Miranda on the other hand was extremely responsive to the point where I basically fell into the romance scene which was a total cop out (when did Mass Effect become PG?). I mean I did feel something for Miranda but it felt kind of odd that Ashley would shut Shepard out like that, especially after the first few deep conversations.

It gets even more interesting as the token gay NPC, Steve Cortez (who’s done brilliantly by the way), ended up in a rather deep relationship with Shepard without me really trying. It could just be because it wasn’t possible to have that kind of relationship before Mass Effect 3, thus having to accelerate the emotional attachment, but it still made me think that Ashley’s behaviour was odd in comparison to everyone else. Not odd as in “Why doesn’t she like me”, more like there was something either unfinished or broken in the story line that I was playing through. I could’ve just stuffed up a critical dialogue option and not realised it, but I’m usually pretty good at noticing those kinds of things.

The rest of my relationships with the crew were just as good as the one with Cortez. Whilst towards the end there are many scenes that are pretty much “This is the last time you’ll get to see them here, better make the most of it” kinds of deals they do feel genuine. I personally found the scenes with Liara, Garrus and Legion to be especially touching, giving me the feeling of a true bond between comrades who had been through heaven and hell together.

WARNING: I’m going to spoil the ending here like crazy. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I’m not going to pretend that this review exists in a vacuum but I did my absolute best to avoid all the articles about Mass Effect 3’s ending prior to finishing the game for myself. All I knew before going into this is that there were people who weren’t happy with it and thanks to my information black out I figured it was just a minority. However after playing through to the ending myself, being able to get the good (read: Green) ending and choosing the Synthesis option I can unequivocally say that Bioware completely and utterly bollocks the ending up, and not just for the reasons that many others have cited already.

For starters whilst the story introduced the deus ex machina ending early on that doesn’t detract from the fact that it is a deus ex machina. Granted there are few ways that such an epic story could come to an ending without resorting to this kind of plot device but it’s obvious that the entire plot wasn’t created back when Mass Effect was originally created. Indeed accounts from Bioware employees corroborate this meaning the true ending wasn’t created until just recently. This then feeds into the larger problem, the actual ending itself.

The whole idea of the Star Child, the devices to control/destroy the Reapers and the requirement of Shepard to sacrifice himself are things that don’t line up with the Mass Effect world or the characters within them. Shepard is not a tragic hero and indeed should you have been a tragic hero in Mass Effect 2 (where not enough of your team members survive) you in fact can not import that game into Mass Effect 3 as Bioware has deemed that ending non-canon. The idea then of Shepard making the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of the universe is completely out of character, as well as being completely non-sensical in terms of the Star Child’s solution. Indeed, whilst the Star Child is ostensibly of synthetic origins and thus can be assumed to be completely rational it acts in ridiculously irrational ways. I would go on but many people have dissected it better than I ever could and my sentiments echo theirs closely.

Now I wrestled with the ending for a couple days before talking to my friends about it but the conclusion I came to was always the same. I really do hate the ending of Mass Effect 3, not because it’s the ending or because its tragic (indeed I hated the ending of Red Dead Redemption, but it was good because I was grieving for the loss) but because it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the Mass Effect universe. Instead of the ending being driven heavily by your choices made throughout the game you’re instead treated to different coloured explosions with 1 of 3 endings based on your choice right at the end. For a universe that managed to incorporate so many of your choices into every aspect of the game this ending feels like it was done absent any thought for the rest of the universe and it really shows.

SPOILERS OVER

As a game Mass Effect 3 was almost everything I had come to expect from the series. The combat was fun and engaging with just enough challenge to make sure that I wasn’t powering through the game. The characters were (apart from one) believable and relatable and I felt a real connection with them. Right up until the final couple hours the plot and pacing of Mass Effect 3 was magnificent and it makes me very ashamed to say that the ending just simply didn’t stack up with the rest of the game, and the rest of the series for that matter. Still I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Mass Effect 3, even if the ending left a sour taste in my mouth.

Rating: 9.0/10

Mass Effect 3 is available on Xbox360, PlayStation 3 and PC right now for $78. $78 and $99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the Xbox360 on the Hard difficulty with around 24 hours of total play time and 80% of the achievements unlocked.

 

Gemini Rue: An Enthralling Cyberpunk Adventure.

It’s been a long time since I played a good point and click adventure, but probably not as long as you think. It was only 5 years ago when Dreamfall: The Longest Journey was released and many of my friends told me that I had to play its predecessor, The Longest Journey, before I played through its sequel. I’ll admit at the time I wasn’t enthralled with the idea of playing through a point and click adventure that apparently had well over 40 hours worth of gameplay in it (rivaling that of traditional RPGs) but the plot hooked me enough to keep me playing right through until the bitter end. Gemini Rue brings back the point and click adventure and caught my attention due to its close resemblance to another sci-fi point and click adventure, Beneath a Steel Sky. With little more than a few screenshots and a recommendation from a friend I bought the collector’s edition of the game (which I’m still yet to receive) and dived right into this neo-noir world.

You start the game as Azriel Odin, a Boryokudan (a large and brutal crime syndicate) ex-assassin looking for his brother who’s been taken captive. Your quest starts on the planet Barracus, a mining planet that’s fallen under control of the Boryokudan, waiting for one of your former colleagues Matthius Howard. When he doesn’t show you begin your search by attempting to track him down. Simultaneously you also play the character Delta-6, a man trapped in a facility where everyone has had their memory erased including his own. Everyone is also subjected to training under the watchful eye of The Director, a disembodied voice that only speaks to you through the center’s PA system. You can switch between either character for most of the adventure although I chose to follow both as far as I could before it forced me to change.

The first thing that Gemini Rue should be commended for is its brilliant pixel art renditions of the various places you’ll visit. Whilst it might be a far cry from the graphics that computers are capable of generating these days it speaks volumes for a game when its able to invoke a certain mood and feel about an area when working in such a limited space. I’ll admit this could very easily be my sense of nostalgia doing quite a lot of the work for me but still the menu screen of Gemini Rue invoked that same sense of foreboding that I got when I first started up Heavy Rain.

The gameplay itself deviates slightly from the traditional point and click adventure genre. Whilst most of the interactions are your typical affair of finding which bit to click on or what item goes with what there’s a few elements that have been added in to break up the monotony of playing hunt and peck for hours on end. Most notably is the inclusion of combat and the potential for your character to die. There are several gun battles in the game and failing to execute them correctly will see your character dying, sending you back to the last checkpoint or place that you saved. Additionally there are a couple points where should you not complete a task quickly enough you will also end up loading up from your last save point. These both serve to add tension to an otherwise blasé genre that’s usually content to let you take as much time as you need without the threat of imminent demise.

Thankfully Gemini Rue avoids the traditional trap of point and click adventures that suffer from inventory overload. Whilst there are many occasions where you won’t be able to progress without a specific inventory item you’ll never find yourself at a point where you have to backtrack or reload a previous save in order to get an item you missed on your first pass through. Additionally the inventory is quite small with the most items I was carrying at any point in time numbering in the single digits. The communicator is also a nice touch as well, basically serving as a portal to other characters whilst also automatically picking up on critical pieces of information when you come across them.

 

Even though Gemini Rue deviates from the point and click formula of old I still think that fans of the genre will still find a lot to love in this indie title. Many of the puzzles require lateral thinking and there’s enough easter eggs¹ in the game to keep you coming back to the same locations again to see if there’s an unexplored area that you might have missed previously. Of course there are also the traditional frustrations of the genre as well sending me to look up a game guide on 3 occasions when I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to do next. Most of the time though it was just not mousing over a certain location to see an item was there, so I’m sure the game could be easily completed without the aide of a guide.

Of course the real hook to this entire game is the story. As the game plays out and more information becomes available to you the story begins to take twists and turns that you just wouldn’t expect. Things I was certain of early on in the story began to change rapidly as the story progress with everything ultimately turning on its head as the story rampaged towards its final conclusion. Whilst I only played the game in fits and bursts over the first few days the last 3 hours of the game had me firmly planted in my seat, anxiously clicking my way through. The end is satisfying whilst still leaving it open ended enough should Wadjet Eye games consider making a sequel to it.

Gemini Rue is one of those games that uses its chosen medium expertly to deliver an extremely powerful cyberpunk story. Whilst the point and click adventure might not be as popular as it was a decade ago this game shows that it can still be used to deliver a compelling game. If you’re a fan of the neo-noir cyberpunk worlds like Bladerunner and Neuormancer then you’ll love the dark futuristic world that Gemini Rue lays out before you.

Rating: 9.0/10

Gemini Rue is available right now on PC for $14.99 from Wadjet Eye Games. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 7 hours of total play time.

¹My favorite of these was the Cowboy Bebop easter egg. Which is rather fitting considering the setting of this particular game 🙂

Mass Effect 2: Devastatingly Good.

Mass Effect will always have a very special place on my shelf of games. Way back in the day I remember reading a couple previews of it and being semi-interested but no more than I was in say Bayonetta (which is currently gathering dust, but more on that another day). Then I saw a video of the game play and was instantly captivated. I spent a good couple hours scrounging up every single shred of detail that I could find, becoming ever more entranced in the Mass Effect universe. It got to the point where I said that right before Mass Effect came out I would buy a Xb0x 360 just to play it. My friends told me I was silly for doing so as the game would eventually be out on PC. For me however the 70+ hours that I got out of the game many months before they got to play it was worth every dollar I had spent on purchasing an entire console for just one game. I still do not regret it to this day.

I knew from the start that Mass Effect was destined for a trilogy and immediately after finishing the first I was anxious for the second. Bioware was very tight lipped on the subject for quite a long time and the ravenous sci-fi RPG’er in me was quelled until rumours starting popping up again. For the most part I steered clear of them, not wanting to spoil the narrative that I would soak myself in. So when the day finally came for me to walk into my local EB Games and pre-order the collector’s edition you can imagine how excited I was, which was only matched by the day I picked it up.

Mass Effect, just like Dragon Age: Origins, let you alter your appearance in such detail that you could almost recreate any face in the game. My initial attempts to recreate myself were a bit of a failure, that was until my wife and ex-room mate took it upon themselves to do it for me. It was a decent representation and made for some fun moments when Shepard was doing the horizontal mambo with his various alien conquests. For most of Mass Effect 2 however he looked as he does above since this was the best armor available (part of a pre-order deal with EB). I would’ve liked the ability to turn the helmets off on any armour and not just the default, but it seems it was not to be. Still there were some amusing scenes with Shepard attempting to be comforting in a rather evil looking set of armour.

From the very first scenes of Mass Effect 2 you’re thrown into an increasingly tangled web of loss and sacrifice. The opening scene was heart wrenching to see as all you built up in Mass Effect was destroyed in front of your eyes, including your rendition of Shepard. His resurrection is far from a glorious rise from the ashes where upon he is thrust into the fray instantly upon awakening met with both suprise and cold disdain. This sets the scene for the rest of the game as you struggle with the fact that 2 years of Shepards life have disappeared and everyone you once knew has moved on.

To be honest I was angry with the opening scene for a good while as it felt like a cheap Modern Warfare 2-esque attempt to inspire feelings of shock and loss. However I came to realise that, apart from it setting the scene for your love-hate relationship with your new employer Cerberus, it gave the developers a good “in” to make some much needed upgrades to the layout of your base camp (The Normandy) and to make room for the expanded crew size. Additionally it allowed them to rework and evolve many of Shepard’s past companions without having to do it painfully throughout the game. It’s much easier than the usual attempt of having a screen saying “2 years later” and then everyone has a moustache or another time-has-past telltale sign.

The combat and inventory in Mass Effect 2 is a great evolution of the system that they had in the original Mass Effect. In the original it was very much closer to a traditional RPG with countless items, upgrades and stats to choose from. If you’d played any other Bioware RPGs before the interface would’ve been familiar enough to get around it without too much hassle. Still when playing on a console item management easily became quite a chore and gearing up your party before you left could take quite some time. Combat still retained a lot of RPG elements with the ability to pause the game to queue up abilities, Medi-Gel being the health potion and special abilities having separate cool downs.

Mass Effect 2 on the other hand has taken cues from other great console games on the Xbox 360 like Gears of War, replacing theold health bar with the typical unlimited health so long as you take cover when your damaged system. This then changed the focus of combat quite significantly as it put a much higher value on cover than it did in the previous version. That also had the effect of giving you a pretty good indication when a fight was coming up, since there would usually be boxes or crates strewn across the level for you to hide behind. One thing that I can’t remember if it was present in Mass Effect 1 or not was the mapping of abilities to buttons so they could be used in real time. After discovering that (through the in-game tips section) the game took on a much faster and thrilling pace.

My first play through with this character on  the original was a soldier built to run up to people and smash them into the ground with his bare fists. Not being able to find the melee button for quite a while (it’s B on the Xbox) I had thought they took melee out. After rediscovering it my new Shepard, who was a Vanguard, became an iron fist of destruction, charging any enemy he could and punching them into submission. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to punch Harbinger into submission time and time again, as well as any minion who would dare get in melee range.

It wouldn’t be Mass Effect (or a Bioware RPG) if there wasn’t a chance to get intimate with your crew mates. From the start I had my heart set on Miranda as her cold disdain towards me only served to get me more interested. It seemed that over time she began to trust me with more and more information about her personal life. The scenes with her remembering stories of her childhood and father are heart wrenching, and her loyalty mission only served to cement the bond that I wished to share with her. Of course Shepard got what he wanted and whilst, in true Mass Effect style, there’s little opportunity to talk with your new found lover afterwards before sending yourself on a suicide mission it was still a romantic scene. I’m looking forward to seeing how this relationship develops in Mass Effect 3 (and really, how it will go down with Ashley who was my conquest in Mass Effect) but the effect of these relationships always seems a bit secondary and doesn’t really influence the rest of the game. It could be that they’re playing directly into the hands of the majority of gamers out there (I mean really, the majority of them are just going to go after them for the doink scene, nothing more) but the characters always seem more emotionally involved with each other up until the point where they consummate their relationship, where it usually takes the turn to back to normality. I can understand this level of depth is hard to achieve in a game like Mass Effect (I’m looking forward to Heavy Rain’s take on this issue) but I think the medium and the majority of consumers are mature enough to handle it.

I was hoping to give Mass Effect 2 the coveted perfect 10/10 as the original was one of my favourite games of all time. However I can’t let my inner fan boy override the reality that there are some points of this game that could do with a lot of improvement. The mineral scanning is one of the worst time sink aspects of the game and while I can understand that they have to make the upgrades mean something but wasting the player’s time really isn’t a good way to go about it. Adding in the ability to buy and sell minerals would’ve alleviated this somewhat, as would have say a scanner that would do a radar like sweep across the planet highlighting resource points.

In my 32 hours playing through as my the Vanguard Paragon Shepard I struggled to find times where I had had enough of the game and wanted a break from it. The story was infinitely captivating, the combat engaging and thrilling and the ultimate end was a climatic ending that has me begging for more and eyeing my second Renegade playthrough save with a keen eye. As with any Bioware RPG I can see myself discussing this game at length with all my friends for a while to come as we revel in the little differences that made our playthroughs unique. It is this which is what makes Mass Effect 2 one of the greatest games to grace us as gamers and I can’t recommend it enough to everyone out there.

Rating: 9.75/10

Mass Effect 2 is available for Xbox360 and PC right now for $AU108 and $98 respectively. Game was played on the Xbox 360 on Hard difficulty with around 32 hours of playtime total. Majority of the decisions where along the Paragon lines with the occasional Renegade snap decision.