In case you don't know, Mass Effect 2 is currently available to download though PlayStation Plus [But not for much longer – Ed]. The second title in BioWare's sci-fi trilogy, it remains one of my favourite ever games – and I'm here to tell you why I think everyone should at least give it a go.
It's not that Mass Effect 2 is an absolutely perfect release: it certainly has its flaws, and bits of it haven't aged all that well – but it's still a fantastic example of cohesive, engaging video game design, in which various components work together rather seamlessly to provide a memorable intergalactic adventure.
When I first saw the title at some distant Xbox E3 press conference, I was green with envy – and not just because of the glare from my laptop's screen. Critics had previously been hyping the game up like crazy, and the thought of being involved in some deep, meaningful sci-fi role-playing almost had me tempted to pick up an Xbox 360, despite being an unquestionably loyal PlayStation fan at the time.
I somehow resisted the temptation even as the 9/10 reviews came pouring in, and I was ultimately glad that I did, as the RPG-shooter hybrid finally made its way to the PlayStation 3 in 2011. I was so excited for the arrival of Commander Shepard on Sony's last-gen system that I skipped college for a few days in order to do nothing but play it. I must have hammered the game for about five days solid, completing it twice in that time.
It's safe to say that I was a bit of a fan, and over the next couple of years, I saw the conclusion to Shepard's tale a total of 20 times. I understand that such a figure may seem somewhat ridiculous – and yeah, I guess it is – but it stands testament to Mass Effect 2's design that I was able to play through it so many times without getting bored.
I still feel as though there's a brilliant balance between dialogue and combat. When you're not conversing with your charismatic crew of humans, aliens, and sentient artificial intelligence, you're blasting baddies to bits on various planets scattered throughout the galaxy. The talking acts as consistently interesting downtime to the action, and when the combat does kick off, it's always well paced and satisfyingly structured.
Having said that, the actual gunplay doesn't quite hold its own these days, even if the broad selection of weaponry gives you a lot of options. However, I'd argue that combat as a whole is still serviceable – mostly because a lot of your enjoyment in battle is going to come from the additional abilities that your chosen character class and allies bring to the table. Stunning a berserk krogan with a concussion shot and watching Garrus put a sniper bullet straight into his skull remains a highlight.
It's the surrounding cast that really make Mass Effect 2 special, though. Without them, Commander Shepard is something of a barebones military personality – but alongside them, the protagonist becomes a manifestation of meaningful player choice. The way that tasks can chop and change depending on your actions is something that I still find impressive – especially since your crew's outlook can actually shift due to the choices that you make during their individual loyalty missions.
Of course, it really helps that they're all wonderfully written and well voiced. In many ways, Mass Effect 2 was the first game that I played in which I really felt like I knew the involved characters – like they weren't just there for sake of a story. Perhaps that's one reason as to why I think the title is so successful in what it does: it isn't a tale of mankind's last struggle against an insurmountable opponent – it's a series of personal stories that intertwine into a broader plot, and all in all, it's a fantastic example of character-driven narrative done well.
For me personally, Mass Effect 2 is always going to be one of those timeless classics that I'll forever have fond memories of, and for that reason, I think it's a title that deserves a shot – even if it means dusting off your old PS3 and struggling with those damn download times.
What do you think of Mass Effect 2? Have you played it before, or will you be giving it a go thanks to PlayStation Plus? Climb aboard the Normandy and soar into the comments section below.