Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 Updated Hands On Preview - Greeting Garrus

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Presenting me with a chance to play yet more preview code of Mass Effect 2 is like dangling a needle in front of a recovering heroin addict and teasing him with something that he craves. Now I’m personally a despiser of all things fanboy in nature – I just don’t understand the blind loyalty to a product and being manipulated into a corporate tool – but the closest I come to being a fanboy is with the Mass Effect franchise. Something that I find hard to admit, but that’s the first way of overcoming it, right? Admitting you have a problem. It’s not a problem per se – that shit is addictive – but from someone who delves into previews and reviews more than once or twice a week, it actually works against the product on this occasion. Instead of doing the usual fanboy trick and being left reeling by Shepard’s solid frame and dominating eyes, refusing to see any bad, my inner perfectionist comes out to play.

Continuing the coverage of the EA Winter Showcase that took place in London earlier this month, today we turn our attention to Mass Effect 2 and our latest hands on. This time we were set loose on the planet of Omega and sent into the Afterlife club for reasons unknown – that bit would be quite spoilerific we’re told – in a scene takes places about mid way through the game. The first thing that we noticed with the title was how much it had changed in such a short time since our last hands-on, from a visuals perspective that is. Everything seems to have this new layer of polish and it really looks as if their pushing the 360 to another level with everything from the lighting down to the incredible textures that Shepard’s armour was boasting.

After making our way through the Afterlife club – which puts the original’s Chora’s Den to shame – and pointing at the bartender, seeking a drink; Shepard sees off a dodgy substance that causes him to lose consciousness. We’re told that that this sequence is not actually from the final build of the game, but is instead used in the preview as a shortcut to avoid more plot spoilers and to jump into an action scene. As we awaken, we find ourselves out back, in a very Mass Effect-esque warehouse where we meet our good friend Garrus. It appears as if the on-the-brink Garrus hasn’t changed much, but this was now the second time we noticed that Commander Shepard’s persona, voice-acting and general persuasion was of a different tone to that in the original. And not in a good way. He almost seemed arrogant, smarmy and his pitch was an octave higher than the cool, calm and calculated Shepard we all know and love. It was as if someone has stuck a fork up his ass... and this was with selecting the neutral responses as well. However, compare that to the Illusive Man footage that debuted on GameTrailers last week, and the two are polar opposites... one is well delivered and reminiscent of the original Shepard; the other is a rather fake, put on and higher pitched Shepard. Which version we’ll see in the main game remains to be seen, we’re hoping for the former though!

Garrus’ appearance in the demo was fleeting, but it was clear that this was the first time the two characters had met in the game. A short dialogue scene – with Shepard still annoying the hell out of me – is then followed by a scene looking down the sniper scope, offering you a renegade interrupt if you so wish whereby you’ll pull the trigger and take down a target. Naturally, and feeling in a rebellious mood, we took it. We’re bad to the bone remember. Inquisitively I asked about the paragon interrupts (again) – of which I have actually seen none, compared to the 5 or 6 different renegade ones so far – and the BioWare rep remained tight lipped, “all in good time my friend.” It’s an aspect that frankly has me concerned that the system is catered more for the renegade player and having a hero complex, that’s a worrying thought. Moving swiftly on though, and from there the combat kicked into overdrive.

Compared to our GamesCom hands-on, the pace of the combat was a lot quicker here with more enemies to dispatch. It definitely felt a lot more responsive from a control perspective as well and the combat was as fluent and as fast paced as you’d expect with any specialist third person shooter. There was no slowdown, no pop-up and the location based damage actually amped the fun up ten-fold. There is nothing like shooting the legs from under one of the new androids and watching him crawl towards you in a last ditch attempt to cause you some pain. Cover seems to be more essential in the sequel as well, which goes with the whole shooter mantra, as does the simplistic and effective squad controls.

That isn’t the only thing that’s changed since our GamesCom hands-on, in fact, a few core combat mechanics have changed as well. The HUD now is totally different, but according to a BioWare rep, that still isn’t finalised yet – it seems like they can’t make up their mind on this one. Admittedly, the new HUD was a lot more aesthetically pleasing than the one in the GamesCom build. It also seems like they’ve finalised the ammo/heat-sync system, something that must have only changed recently. Now it seems that all guns have ammo meaning you must pick up small red and black ammo boxes to replenish it if you’re running short. An interesting design choice, of which the implications remain to be seen.

As we’ve talked about before, the ammo types are also attached now to the power wheel. During our hands-on this time, we got chance to check a few new ones out. Firstly, the Disruptor ammo, which has a powerful effect against an enemy’s shield and can even overheat their gun, and lastly, but definitely not least, the Cryo ammo which does exactly what it says on the tin. It freezes those bad boys up! We also got chance to use the grenade launcher – that’s two heavy weapons we’ve tried now, including the homing missile launcher – and it controls and reacts like it would in any other third person shooter. It even has splash damage, which was definitely handy when the huge Mech and his compadres were raining destruction down on our asses.

As you can probably tell, I’m actually quite critical at times throughout this hands-on piece, and that’s not because I’m disappointed – frankly, I’m impressed – but because I want what’s best for the franchise and the experience. Other than my few concerns, my experience, no matter how short lived, was a positive reaffirming one... especially from a combat and graphical perspective. Early signs indicate that the combat truly could stand on its own as a specialist third-person shooter. Thankfully it isn’t trying to, and there is plenty of depth from an RPG standpoint. Obviously the original gained critical acclaim for its story telling, dialogue and emotional rollercoaster ride, and with BioWare at the driving seat, we expect nothing less for the sequel.

Mass Effect 2 is out January 26th in North America and January 29th in Europe.


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Game Info
Electronic Arts


US January 26, 2010
Europe January 29, 2010

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