Mass Effect 2
It's not often that we find the need to review a game that has already been out for a year but, with Bioware finally releasing Mass Effect 2 on the PS3 we felt it was only right to give it a bash. A lot has already been said about the game and the Xbox 360 and PC versions have already attracted a lot of accolades from various corners of the industry. It is fair to say though that Bioware has decided to pull out all the stops to reward PlayStation 3 gamers for their patience.
As we all know already Mass Effect 2 sees the return of Commander Shepard to continue his battle with the Reapers, a race of sentient machines bent on harvesting all life in the galaxy. What PS3 gamers will miss out on is the joy of defeating Sovereign, the Reaper's vanguard and delaying their return as happened in the original Mass Effect. Never fear though as connection to the Cerberus Network will give players access to an interactive comic book version of Mass Effect created in conjunction with Dark Horse Comics to make sure that they can experience Mass Effect 2 as if they were importing a save game from the first game as PC and 360 gamers have been able to do. There also is the option to play the game from the default starting position which makes a whole load of assumptions on how the original Mass Effect game played out if you don't feel the need to explore the interactive comic.
Bioware really has made an effort to make the PS3 version of the game more special than the original release. They have included on the game disc all the DLC that has been released for the game on the PC and Xbox 360 giving players instant access to play through Kasumi: Stolen Memories, Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker as well as enjoying the original storyline.
In addition to the bonuses they have also included the Cerberus Network codes giving first time buyers the chance to download some extra goodies as well including an additional team member and his bonus missions, the Hammerhead armoured vehicle and Cerberus Assault armour. The Blood Dragon Armour that was included as an additional code with Dragon Age: Origins has also been included on the disc giving the PS3 players a complete Mass Effect 2 experience.
There is one final bonus and it is a bit of a big one. Mass Effect 2 for the PS3 has been put together using the same updated version of the game engine that is being used to create Mass Effect 3 making the PS3 version look and feel just that little bit sharper, cleaner and more epic than the Xbox 360 version.
Guiding Shepard as he builds his team and gathers intelligence and tools to help him tackle the latest threat - the Reaper's mysterious allies known as the Collectors - is a genuine pleasure. While PS3 players will probably have no real frame of reference here, the game's controls have been tightened up and, especially where controlling your squad is concerned, the game is much more responsive than Mass Effect. Individual team members can be moved and have their individual powers selected and targeted both from the pop-up radial menu brought down by the right trigger and even mapped to the right and left buttons on the d-pad for quick and easy access to their more potent tech and biotic (the futuristic equivalent of magic) powers. This allows a bit more control over the squad as a whole and the adoption of a better, more tactical approach to combat situations.
The dialogue dynamics have not been changed too much and remain one of the high points of the Mass Effect series. Your choices affect how your character develops and even affects your appearance to a certain extent and while this isn't quite as instinctive as the dialogue in Alpha Protocol it still allows you very much to talk your way out of problems in many of the situations that arise in Mass Effect 2.
Despite all the impressive details and refinements that made the original release on the 360 such a classic, the update using the Mass Effect 3 engine feels like a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand the visuals and in particular, the facial animations, are entirely impressive. The game looks like it has benefited from the extra year's worth of work that has gone into the PS3 release. On the other hand it suffers from a few little niggly bugs that weren't present in the 360 version.
Bizarrely Mass Effect 2 on the PS3 seems more unstable than its Xbox counterpart with it actually crashing the normally well-behaved PS3 when the Xbox 360 version would keep on going. This is problem becomes more prominent in longer play sessions making the game feel a bit more rushed than it should have been. There are also graphical glitches some of which will allow you to be able to search through lockers and medical stations on the other side of walls. There is even the odd clipping issue which occasionally sees Commander Shepard stuck in mid air up against a wall. Mistakes like this, while they are fairly minor, are not really excusable in a game in which the never featured at all in the original release on the 360 and has had an extra year's worth of development time into the bargain.
Bugs aside, Mass Effect 2 is every bit as compelling on the PS3 as it was on the Xbox 360 and PC last year. With the inclusion of all the DLC and the juiced-up Mass Effect 3 game engine this really is quite a treat for the PS3 gamers who have been clammering for Mass Effect since the first game came out back in 2007. In a year that will see some of the biggest RPG releases of the current console generation the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2 is an impressive kick off and an epic warm up for the final part of the trilogy which is due this November.