The first MASS EFFECT, released in the shadow of HALO 3, was a game that seemed to be a sleeper hit within my circle of friends. My friends picked up the game in the following years and each found something to love about it but at release it seemed to just get ignored. It’s easy to see why in a pre-COD4 world HALO 3 was the big game for the 360, the first real system seller and everything else paled in comparison to it (the fantastic Orange Box was another casualty of this, it’s amazing multiplayer mode hemorrhaging users almost immediately). It didn’t help that Mass Effect was a distinctly difficult game to get into, it was difficult and at a completely different tempo to what was expected by XBox 360 owners. Compared to the user friendly interfaces and general high production values of HALO 3 the game was glitchy and cumbersome. Menu’s were bewildering and cluttered, the inventory NEVER felt right, the graphics whilst suiting the game were jerky and the frame rate would grind to a halt if you even attempted to run down a corridor. These were problems that were ironed out eventually, the ability to install to Hard Drive countered a lot of the performance issues, but they all helped in making Mass Effect a game you really had to invest yourself in. Of course if you did take the time with the game and had the patience to predict and deal with its niggles and bugs (I must have saved around 200 times when I first went through the game, just to make sure I didn’t end up falling through the floor and having to start again) you were rewarded with a universe that felt vital, characters that were interesting and fun, and a story that just worked. It was a real roughly hewn gem of a game.
MASS EFFECT 2 in comparison is a lovingly and skillfully cut diamond. From the first minutes of the game the production values on show are considerably improved, a yawning chasm into the void of space showing off an overhauled graphics engine and fully implemented physics. It’s tempting to just stand around and watch as debris slowly floats away from you and gets picked up by the gravity pull of a nearby planet, objects slowly fading away into the distant blue of an alien atmosphere, of course whilst this is happening there’s important heroic business to attend too and as such there is little time for idle gawking. In terms of visual design it’s up with BIOSHOCK in terms of making you want to stop and really take in your surroundings and the game never really lets up. In terms of sheer design work MASS EFFECT 2 just towers over its predecessor, but that’s to be expected. Playing Mass Effect 2 makes you understand that MASS EFFECT was more of an exercise in world building than anything else. With all of the basics covered in the previous game MASS EFFECT 2 is far more concerned with plotting and character than set up, it’s central mission being the recruitment of a squad of mercenaries to undertake a task no one expects you to return from. With all the pieces already in place from the previous game MASS EFFECT 2 is allowed to explore the more peculiar, nicher sides of the universe, exploring smaller colonies and seedy spaceports and really expanding your knowledge of how the universe works. Continue reading