At times the game's intricate references to obscure fiction can be overbearing, but those that take the time to engross themselves in the world will be richly rewarded.
The problem with late ports such as Mass Effect 2 is that they can fall foul to hype. Bioshock left a disappointed flavour in our mouth when we experienced it on PS3 some 12 months after the XBOX 360/PC version, and the first 15 hours of Mass Effect 2 carried a similar trait. It's not that Mass Effect 2's opening is particularly weak, it's that after a year's worth of critical praise, the flaws are much more evident than the strengths. Contrary to popular opinion, Mass Effect 2 does have a lot of flaws. But it's what's bubbling beneath the surface that makes Mass Effect 2 so wonderful — a thrillingly complex space opera that immerses you in an obsessively cultivated fiction. Ultimately it is a triumph of self-indulgence, and a worthy addition to any PlayStation 3 owner's catalogue.
We'll not waste our time relaying the intricacies of Mass Effect 2's campaign. The game has been well publicised for over a year now, and there's plenty of information readily available if you seek it. To summarise: Mass Effect 2 plots the tale of Commander Shepard, a legendary space-hero tasked with an impossible mission to secure the future of the human race. At times Mass Effect 2 can be too complex for its own good, pitching a universe with so many hidden layers it insists hours of your time are spent in the game's Codex just to decipher the meaning of it all. It gets very political too; take for example the Krogan, a crocodile-esque race you'll encounter numerous times on your adventure. They are affected by a disease known as the Genophage, a fertility dampening virus released by the Turians during a conflict between the Citadel Council. Confusing, huh? It is at first, but what's intriguing is the way Bioware present these out-of-game events from different angles, pitching you at the centre of what feels like a cultured universe with fleshed out events. Like in real history, nothing is black-and-white, and Mass Effect 2 places you inside a world where there are just decisions — for better or for worse.
It's a shame then that the game relies so heavily on a binary morality system. Everything down to the game's brilliant, if under-developed, conversation system is a little predictable. While it's fantastic having control over your character's communication choices, it still feels limited. Hit the top choice to be the good guy, bottom choice to be the bad guy. That said, it's amazing how much the game does to make you feel like you're playing the part of Commander Shepard. While Bioware's official artwork runs with its own interpretation of the character, a wonderfully deep creation mechanic at the start of the game allows you to choose your own protagonist. The game's so involving across its 30-hour campaign that seeing any other Shepard is disorienting. You'll become attached, and with saves importing into the upcoming Mass Effect 3 there's no reason not to be. This is, after all, largely your story.
Unfortunately PlayStation 3 owners will never get to experience the original Mass Effect. The game was published by Microsoft Game Studios and will stay an exclusive to the XBOX and Windows platforms for the foreseeable future. Thankfully Bioware's took some measures to bridge the aspects of the original game. An interactive DC comic not only fleshes out the original game's narrative, but also gives you choices within it. It's hard to understand the true context of your decisions from the eight-minute cinematic, but it's a nice gesture and certainly enough to fill newcomers in on the universe.
While deep-down an RPG, Mass Effect 2 shares more in common with modern-day shooters than the likes of Final Fantasy. At its core the gameplay boils down to basic third-person shooting, which is perhaps the game's weakest aspect. Ultimately the gun-play is fine, but it's completely uninspired and repetitive. Thankfully the conversational mechanics and general narrative make the end-goals worthy incentives for pushing through the combat heavy encounters.
Mass Effect 2 is bolstered by an outstanding amount of content, offering over 30 hours of gameplay. The PlayStation 3 version of the game includes a selection of DLC too, including new mission objectives and characters. The Lair Of The Shadow Broker in particular is one of the strongest missions in the entire game, and well worth exploring once you've seen the main campaign through to its completion.
For all its individual shortcomings, Mass Effect 2 comes together as an intricately woven and stunningly complex piece of narrative. Occasionally it will frustrate, and the fiction demands time and attention, but when it clicks into place there's really nothing else like it.