Mass Effect 2

The Collectors are abducting entire human colonies, and Shepard must form dangerous alliances in order to stop them.
Michael Caleb - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

Violence: Death by explosion, gunshot, physical trauma, high falls, bludgeoning, immolation, electrocution, and freezing; blood; exploding bodies; corpses; torture.

Spirituality: Passing religious allusions; references to Hinduism, polytheism, and reincarnation; characters referred to as gods.

Language: Crude and profane language is used throughout.

Adult Content: Various kinds of sexual predators; sexual humor; cleavage and lingering camera angles; mostly mild, avoidable sex scenes.

Miscellaneous: Crude humor; drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

Positive: Player choices affect morality of player character.

Story

Two years have passed since Commander Shepard, the first human spectre, stopped the single greatest threat galactic civilization has ever faced. Unfortunately, the Council continues to worry that the commander is deranged or deluded in the quest to stop other such threats from arising. When entire human colonies outside of Citadel space begin to disappear, Shepard is forced to team up with Cerberus, a shady organization that has been linked to terrorist activities, in order to take action.

The overarching story of the first Mass Effect was rather straightforward, but good pacing, characterization, and setting combined to craft an immersive, expansive universe that one could truly feel drawn into. Mass Effect 2 feels a little unbalanced in this respect: much of the game is spent recruiting and winning over allies, with the main threat commanding a disproportionately low amount of attention. When these characters are taken out into the field, they almost never interact with each other and rarely offer unique insight into a situation, instead spouting lines that can and will be delivered by others in the same setting; Shepard’s allies only seem to be distinct individuals when actually having a conversation with the commander.

This is not to say that the story in Mass Effect 2 is bad, just that the overarching story is not quite as strong, as often happens with the second entry of a trilogy. Personally, I had not problem with immersion and wholly enjoyed the story for what it was, although it was a bit disappointing that major decisions from the first game had rather muted consequences in this one.

Audiovisual

Mass Effect 2 meets, perhaps surpasses, the bar set for it with talented, extensive voice-acting and superb visuals. Environments routinely contain ambient sound effects and conversations, although players will notice conversations looping if they pass by the same areas often enough. My biggest issues with the first Mass Effect were the constant framerate stutters and texture pop-ins: the former could greatly hinder the player during combat and the latter constantly broke immersion. Thankfully, these problems have been thoroughly addressed.

This second entry does have its own issues, although they are fewer and farther between: some character models have very noticeable clipping issues, with eyes that will flicker through eyelids and characters that smoke can appear to be smoking through their lips. Audio issues are sparse, as well: if the player ventures too far, audio triggers can cut off dialogue mid-sentence and a particular scene has widespread issues with the audio completely cutting out during a specific segment. Subtitles have a habit of disappearing at random, so the deaf and hard of hearing might have difficulties comprehending certain situations, depending on how often they run into this problem.

Gameplay

The gameplay of Mass Effect 2 has been “streamlined” or “dumbed down,” the terminology used depending mostly on whether or not one approves of the changes made: experience is no longer awarded for everything from killing an enemy to looking out a window, instead coming as one lump sum at the end of missions; weapons now have ejectable heat sinks, effectively incorporating an ammo system into the Mass Effect universe; and looting is almost nonexistent. Customization has been scaled back, as well: Shepard has a maximum of seven powers and squadmates a maximum of four, whereas those amounts were nine and eight in the previous entry; weapon upgrades are no longer modular, applying to all of a certain type of weapon; and allies’ armor cannot be altered in any significant way, although Shepard’s has much more customization for both aesthetics and utility.

Combat has experienced its own share of changes, besides the aforementioned not-an-ammo-system. Powers now have universal cooldown, instead of individual abilities being unavailable until they recharge. Thankfully, the cooldown times have been significantly decreased, with the biotic throw having a default cooldown of only three seconds. Unfortunately for those that liked to dominate their enemies with the overpowered biotic abilities of the first game, enemies now have access to three different forms of protection, armor, barrier, and shield, which act as a buffer against abilities. Each of the protections has their own strengths and weaknesses, so using the right weapons and abilities on the right enemy adds a layer of strategy that was lacking from ME1.

The player classes all have a unique ability: e.g. vanguards have the charge power, which allows them to phase through objects in order to quickly close in on their prey, whereas infiltrators have the tactical cloak, which allows them to turn invisible in order to stealthily change position or line up a headshot without worrying about return fire. These unique powers provide added diversity to the classes, making it much more interesting to experience different situations as a different Shepard.

Whereas the previous paragraphs have outlined changes whose merits are debatable, the following will not. Although Bioware was able to remove problems that plagued Mass Effect 1, they missed a few wrinkles that could have been ironed out. It is possible for Mass Effect 2 to lock up a 360, requiring a physical shutdown of the system to rectify the problem. During more than ninety hours of gameplay, I experienced this particular problem three times. There are also occurrences of Shepard not being stopped by barriers, leading to awkward situations, such as the time mine was standing on top of a store’s counter.

Violence

While the first could be violent at times, Mass Effect 2 takes the violence to a new level. Blood is sprayed on windows, walls, the ground, etc. and it is not unusual to find corpses scattered around combat areas. In fact, the first few minutes of the game feature an extreme close-up of a freshly-killed corpse with a bloodied face. Some of the bodies are rotting, burnt, decapitated, or clumped together in compost piles. There is an achievement for performing a certain number of headshots and the humanoid appendages of mechanized enemies have a tendency to explode. It is also possible to detonate the weapons of certain enemies, creating a blast of fire and gore. Methods of dispatch include bludgeoning, bullets, explosions, incineration, freezing and shattering, electrocution, physical collisions caused by biotics, and various forms of ammunition can make enemies seem to evaporate in different colors.

The violence is not just visited on combatants, either: unarmed characters can and will be dispatched in front of and by Shepard. It is possible to torture a man for information, bet on bloodless varren fights, and shoot and punch monkey-like aliens. A certain character’s past involves torture, rape, and other forms of abuse being visited on a child.

Spirituality

There are a number of passing references to religion and spirituality in Mass Effect 2: the Lazarus Project is centered around resurrecting the dead, a club is called Afterlife, the Collector General’s ability to assume direct control of any collector in battle is referred to as “a cybernetic version of demonic possession,” there is a parody of the beach story that tends to be a popular topic of chain letters, and a character is named Legion as a metaphor for the 1,183 programs that are running inside of it.

The first Mass Effect had superficial references to religion, such as a character mentioning her belief in God, the asari mentioning a goddess, and the hanar worshiping an ancient race as “the Enkindlers,” but Mass Effect 2 delves into the specific beliefs of certain characters: one character mentions that his beliefs are similar to Hinduism, including reincarnation, and another follows the traditional, polytheistic beliefs of his species, which includes saying prayers to different deities based on the situation. The latter character says multiple prayers and others wish nondescript blessings upon others.

The geth worship of the Reapers is revisited, although it is made clear that only the “heretics” take part in this. However, human characters make Lovecraftian references to one in particular by saying, “even a dead god can dream.” Elsewhere, “goddess” is used as an interjection, a character mentions seeing another’s aura, Shepard is figuratively referred to as a god, and a drugged volus believes he is a “biotic god.”

Language

Pr—, pu—, d—, a–, b—-, s—, and f— are all used extensively and in various forms. God is used as an interjection, with and without d—. More mild language such as hell, whore, piss, and bastard is also used. The term “quads” is used as a jocular reference to a part of male, krogan anatomy. Much of the more profane language comes from Jack, whether it be in conversation or during the recruitment and loyalty missions. Joker says, “s—,” multiple times in rapid succession at a certain point in the story, and it is impossible to avoid.

Adult Content

There was a bit of controversy surrounding Mass Effect’s sexual content, mostly due to outright lies from some and a lack of fact-checking from others. This is not to say that there was no sexual content: there were four sex scenes, with all but one serving as the culmination of a relationship built up with one of the potential love interests throughout the game. Mass Effect 2 has more potential loves interests and therefore more romantic scenes. However, they have been toned down to an extent: some do not even contain kissing before fading to black.  These scenes can be avoided entirely if the player decides to not pursue a love interest, or at least stops before the culmination.

Other sexual content is present and the treatment of it ranges from sophomoric humor to serious trauma. On the humor side, there are outright sexual jokes, mentions of an adult video game, a buyable (but not readable) pornographic alien magazine, a bachelor party with typical conversation taking place in the background of a bar, a parody of “male enhancement” spam e-mails, and a character that can be caught watching pornography (the player hears some sounds, but does not see anything). There is also content that serves more as fanservice, such as asari dancers in clubs, camera angles that focus on Miranda’s rear end, and the fair bit of exposed cleavage that Samara bares. On a more serious note, sexual abuse is part of a character’s backstory, there are implications of prison rape, one character has a condition that kills her partners when she mates with them, and another character keeps the other humans in his colony drugged so he can use the women as members of his private harem.

SPOILERS (Highlight to read)
The player can choose between two asari squadmates, a mother and daughter. The mother is trying to assassinate the daughter for mating with others even when she knows that it will kill her partner. If the player recruits the daughter, it is possible to romance her regardless of gender, which leads to a short kiss between the two and Shepard’s quick death.
END SPOILERS

Miscellaneous Content

Alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes are featured within the story, and it is possible to have Shepard drink so much that he/she will become drunk. There is also a bit of crude humor, such as a character complaining if Shepard probes Uranus or walks into a bathroom for the opposite sex.

Positive Content

The player gets to choose a lot about Shepard, including how he/she reacts in many different situations. This allows the player to avoid certain situations entirely, although it is not possible to avoid all of the potentially offensive content.

Conclusion

BioWare has crafted a very successful second part to this space opera trilogy. The changes implemented, both gameplay- and content-wise, are not favorable to everyone, however. In all, Mass Effect 2 feels like three steps forward and two steps back: definite progress has been made since the first, but there is still plenty of room for improvement for the third.




Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.

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