Mass Effect 2

History is chock full of great combinations: Adam and Eve, peanut butter and jelly, Gilbert and Sullivan, Beavis and Butt-head. One combination that typically doesn't come to mind, however, is shooters and role-playing games. While some attempts at combining the genres have met with mixed reception, for instance, Square-Enix's Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, others, such as Canadian developer BioWare's Mass Effect, met with great acclaim. It was unsurprising, then, that they ultimately produced a sequel, Mass Effect 2, which provides an experience on par with its predecessor.

Like its predecessor, Mass Effect 2 is essentially a shooter/RPG hybrid, albeit with a much greater emphasis on the shooter aspect than its predecessor has. Commander Shepard still has a variety of weapons from which to choose, although in the sequel, each has a limited amount of ammunition, but fortunately, the player finds plenty of extra ammo for Shepard's most commonly used weapons during the game's various missions. An improvement over the original Mass Effect is that weapons no longer overheat after excessive use, with streams of attack only broken by occasional ammo reloadings.

As in the first game, Shepard and his allies can take cover behind objects and walls and such and then break cover to shoot the enemy. Shepard and his allies have both shield and health gauges that gradually recover when they're doing nothing. As the player takes out enemies, Shepard and his or her allies obtain experience for occasional level-ups, with points acquired with which the player can invest into various abilities, with these abilities having an initial cost of one point, becoming one point more expensive to obtain after each upgrade.

The player may also occasionally find credits from safes and terminals, in which case the game may make them play a concentration-type minigame to uncover and match nodes, or another where the player needs to match scrolling blocks of text. Credits allow the player to purchase items and upgrades from various shops, with the player also needing to harvest minerals from planets across the galaxy to purchase some upgrades aboard the Normandy. Ultimately, the battle system works just as well as it did in the original, with the only real hangups being the long loading time incurred if the player dies and chooses to "resume" the battle in which they died, and a few mildly annoying missions, for instance, one where the player briefly controls a character other than Shepard.

Controls are just as solid, with easy menus and a journal that keeps tracks of story and side missions, allowing the player to brush up on how to advance the game if lost, with the player also able to bring up a compass pointing them in the direction of the objective). Always welcome, moreover, is the ability to save the game anywhere outside of combat and cutscenes. Granted, there are a few Guide Dang It moments with regards to many of the optional missions, not to mention long loading times, but otherwise, interaction helps the game far more than hurts.

The story is just as superb, continuing the adventures of Captain Shepard and his or her crew, with the player, as in the first game, able to customize Shepard's gender and backstory. There are also plenty of choices the player can make during the game that lead them down a Paragon or Renegade path, with some occasional quick-time events with the L2 and R2 buttons that respectively earn extra Paragon or Renegade points, not to mention extra choices if the player has advanced far enough down either moral pathway. The script does have some minor grammatical errors, for instance, occasional places where "whom" should substitute for "who," but otherwise, the narrative is one of the game's high points.

The only real low point of Mass Effect 2 is its soundtrack, which is largely forgettable, although there are a select few good tracks, and the general ambience is nice, and the voice acting, like in the first game, is superb, with talent such as Martin Sheen as the Illusive Man. The visuals are, as well, in spite of some fuzziness and bland textures when viewed close-up, and ultimately, the game is easy on the ears and eyes.

Finally, the sequel is about ten hours longer than its predecessor is, with plenty of sidequests and things to pad out playing time such as collecting all PlayStation 3 Trophies, not to mention a ton of replay value given the different plot decisions. Ultimately, Mass Effect 2 is generally what a sequel should be, inheriting its predecessor's high points, although there are some minor hiccups such as the somewhat forgettable soundtrack. Even so, the second installment stands as one of the best shooter/RPG hybrids, not to mention one of the best Western RPGs.

The Good:
+Solid shooter/RPG gameplay and control.
+Stupendous story with plenty of variety.
+Superb voicework and visuals.

The Bad:
-Some long loading times.
-Some missions are mildly annoying.
-Soundtrack isn't memorable.

The Bottom Line:
Solid sequel and one of the best shooter and Western RPGs available.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 9/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 20-40 Hours

Overall: 9/10

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