Reviews - Xbox 360
Written by Jayce Diaz Tuesday, August 24 2010 11:52
[SPOILER ALERT. Glitchytasty.com features Retrospective Reviews on many top titles. A "Retrospective Review" for a game is a sort of "look back" at the title, and will typically take place several months after the games release to see if it stands up and shines just as brightly once the initial hype and fanfare wears off. Please be warned, though, that unlike our standard reviews, spoilers are laid throughout these types of reviews and you can expect to hear about all sorts of plot points, game mechanics, and other spoily things that spoil. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.]
So February has come and gone, the collectors have been stopped, and the universe is temporarily safe. Mass Effect 2 is beaten. Amidst the crazy hype of launch madness, you may have found yourself swept up in all the space drama, and with good reason. Mass Effect 2 is an ambitious title with a lot to love. Looking back, though, one will notice that several elements of the story, game, and design are pretty broken. In fact, several parts of the game are just plain bad.
The odd thing about this is that I absolutely love Mass Effect. I have played the first game about a million times, I own the novels, and I even bought the iPhone game. All of this makes talking about ME2 in a negative light all the more difficult, but it must be said; In a lot of ways, Mass Effect 2 is a major disappointment.
Going back to the game after such a long break, it seemed like all of these now-glaring problems jumped up and poked my eyes out. Speaking of the eyes, let's touch on the graphics. While most of the ME universe is either beautiful or almost beautiful, I have to ask; What the hell is wrong with the people? Making your custom character will inevitably degrade into a "make-him/her-less-ugly" competition against the myriad of sliders, and it is a contest that you will definitely LOSE. It is the fairer sex that really suffers in this regard, however. These are some of the fugliest chicks I've ever seen, and I created them. Even Miranda, the games' titular (har har) femme fatale looks kind of goofy. Like, I-can't-even-picture-her-face-in-my-mind-without-clown-makeup goofy. At least the aliens look neat, though the Vorcha are kind of lame.
Level design is also a sore sight for eyes here. The layout of some of the environments in the game range from plain to seemingly incomplete. The first human colony you go to with Miranda and Jacob, for example, is the most unattractive, boring piece of land I've laid eyes on. We're supposed to believe that people lived and worked in this area, and furthermore, that they were violently and quickly plucked from the place in the middle of their day. Yet, when we arrive, it looks like no one has set foot there for ages, and everything is nice and neat. The cardinal rule every world builder needs to follow is to MAKE THE WORLD LOOKED LIVED IN. I understand its the future, and that there is a style or aesthetic that needs to be followed. But this isn't something new to Bioware. Even in the original Mass Effect, the Citadel looked awesome. What we could see of the Citadel in the sequel was well made (if a little small), but I was especially disappointed with level design everywhere else. About two thirds of the area known as Omega was supposed to be a city, but it sure as hell didn't look like it. In fact, I didn't even realize it was a "city" until the game specifically told me so. It looked nothing like the way the novel(s) depicted it, resembling the hallways of a large space ship more than anything else.
Moving away from the visuals, let's go into what apparently was the design mantra coming in from the first game: CUT IT. Frankly, it seems like instead of solving problems from the original, they removed it outright. Some gamers absolutely hated the elevators in the original game (I loved them, except for the Normandy elevator). The solution could have been a few things: faster load times? The ability to at least move your character while waiting? More amusing dialogue bits? NO. They completely took it out and left an outrageously long loading screen in its place.
This may be fine for some, but look at it from this perspective. If you get a turkey sandwich, and found the turkey a little dry, what could you do to fix that? OMG LET'S THROW IT OUT. The problem here is that it doesn't actually solve the problem. It merely removes it. The sandwich is missing the broken element, sure, but that's just it; it is now missing something. This is seen across numerous parts of the game. I loved choosing armor and ammo types for each of my squad mates. However, this created the issue of organization with your inventory. Their solution? CUT IT. Instead of categorizing more efficiently or removing the inventory limit, they simply removed the players ability to personalize their play. And for any game calling itself an RPG, this is a major offense. Another glaring issue is the absence of space exploration, which they tried to rectify (with mixed results) via the Hammerhead DLC. In Mass Effect 1, There was a certain feeling of adventure with some of the uncharted planets you could visit. The ability to go in and out of your MAKO vehicle was pretty cool, and allowed for some varied mission types. The problem with this is that it was controlled like a tank with a giant rollerball under it. To be frank, it sucked. Also, many of the areas you explored looked exactly the same and were all overly bland. Their solution? NO VEHICLES OR EXPLORATION. The aforementioned Hammerhead DLC was released sometime later with some vehicle missions, but they were far from versatile and they didn't allow you to actually exit the damn thing. These (and many other examples) all add up to make the game feel like it's smaller than the original game, even though it isn't.
The story has a few problems as well. For one thing, anyone who hasn't played the original game is stuck with nearly every awful choice available in the original. For instance, I hated Ashley, but Kaidan was sacrificed on Virmire. I loved having Wrex on my squad, but he was killed (by Ashley, I might add). And I wanted to save the council, but they were sacrificed. Bleh.
While having the benefit of playing through the first definitely helps, it really does not matter at all in the grand scheme of things. Regardless of who you save on Virmire in the first game, the outcome is unchanged; the surviving character shows up as an NPC in the game for about 5 minutes, and in no way effects the story. If you manage to save Wrex, all that happens is a glorified palette swap with another Krogan on Tuchanka. And while saving the council ultimately leads to them ignoring your call for assistance in the sequel, letting them perish only replaces them with a group of humans to pretty much do exactly the same thing. All in all, the seemingly monumental choices we made in the first game lead to jack shit in the sequel, and it's a damn shame. Hopefully PS3 owners will get something better in terms of choice when Mass Effect 2 ships on their platform this coming January.
The final thing I want to touch on is the ending. While I appreciate the "who will die" scenario that most games try to avoid with their main characters, some of it wasn't up to the player or even a result of his or her choices. For example, during my first playthrough I managed to choose the right people for the various mission choices and I defeated the (unusually stupid) boss with no problem. However, during the ending cut scene of everyone running for the Normandy, I noticed something on the floor. when the camera changed to a random shot of rocks; it was Mordin, the Salarian scientist and ex-soldier. For whatever reason, he was dead on the floor, in the background, with not a single explanation or detail as to how or why. It really bothered me that one of my favorite characters were killed and I didn't even know how. My second playthrough saw me making the exact same choices, yet this time Mordin Survived. I'm not sure what factors played a role with this, but both times I had his loyalty.
After reading all of that, it would seem like Mass Effect 2 is an awful piece of work. I have to stress, though, that despite the numerous shortcomings, the game is still undeniably entertaining, and gives other "game of the year" nominees a run for their money. The story, though not as connected to the first as they advertised, is still very enjoyable. The combat is varied and fun, with plenty of ways to go about blasting and blowing up foes. And the visuals are mostly top notch. To add to this, EA and Bioware have added a ton of free DLC packs to extend the games longevity, in addition to a few paid content packs that so far have been proven to be worth the time and money. It also seems the myriad of glitches and crashes the game had when it initially came out have been quelled by updates; I didn't get stuck inside walls or on top of other characters this time around.
In retrospective, Mass Effect 2 is still a brilliant game, though some of the sheen and polish has definitely worn off by now. Much of my opinion of the game hasn't changed from when I initially reviewed it for Games Abyss way back when, but what has changed isn't for the better. Hopefully, Bioware will take what they've learned from this game, add in the things they nixed from the original, and bring it all together for a fantastic climax in Mass Effect 3.
Also, I want to have an all male Turian/Krogan/Drell sex party. Make it happen, Bioware!