Mass Effect 2 - Chaos Theory
Having dispensed with the necessary tasks involved with getting content and characters set up in Mass Effect 2, I was able to get going with the game in earnest. Having heard much whining from Ian about the game's publicity spoiling the plot, I ensured that everything in the introduction would be a surprise by self-imposing a media blackout. As much as I like the anticipation that pre-release media can engender, the amount of spoilers that Bio-Ware put out was akin to finding out that Lost was all just one of Jack's alcohol fuelled bad dreams (calling it now) in an advertisement for the first series.
Anyway, having saved myself from such annoyances, I was pleased to find myself thrown straight into a chaotic situation with little hand-holding. It always annoys me that most games start off assuming you're a crayon munching five year old with rudimentary motor neuron skills, so I'm a big fan of games that teach you the mechanics through an epic set piece rather than a sterile tutorial level. I always tend to use the Mako Reactor inauguration of Final Fantasy 7 as my yard stick of how games should start and without wanted to spoil anything without good reason, I was not disappointed.
One thing that you can't help but notice early on in the playing experience, is what a great job has been done rendering faces within the engine. Maybe it's just because Dragon Age, the last comparable thing I played, regularly made characters look like the love child of Iggy Pop and Donatella Versace, but there's something about the texturing and speech animations that ironically makes the humans and aliens seem more real than anything I've seen in a game before. In fact, aside from the environments feeling just a tad sterilized, the graphics are as good as anything seen on this generation of consoles and the film grain effect, something that I disabled in the original, adds to the cinematic feel oozing from the bulkheads and starscapes.
The polish evident in the first hour or so of the game is also evident throughout the user interface, something that OCD lore junkies like myself will be happy to hear. The radial menus from the first instalment can be found throughout the battle HUD and the menu interface, lending a cohesive feel to various tasks needing to be completed. Those, who like myself, save every five seconds in case a situation doesn't quite go as planned will be overjoyed that in mere seconds you'll be back playing the game while an icon informs you that your progress is cleverly being saved as you go about your humanity preserving work. Sadly, loading isn't quite as fluid as you can't access the appropriate menus within the cut scenes, which can be pretty lengthy even when hammering the skip button.
After the bedlam of the game's opening, I found myself in control of a full squad for a more sedentary mission. Although there's a part of me that really wants the gameplay to match the grandiose dimensions of the story, I can't help but notice the linearity and repetitiveness of combat situations that have been inherited from it's predecessor. There's something about the noise and feedback of the guns that just isn't as satisfying as pulling the trigger of my beloved ACR in Modern Warfare 2 and most combat situations tend to play out in the same cover-shoot-reload sequence. It's possible that this behaviour is intended for the early levels I've experiences so far, but I'm still not convinced the skirmishes have the potential to be exciting.
However, there's no denying the warm fuzzy feeling once you get once back on the Normandy and using the revamped galaxy map. The juxtaposition of familiarity with some significant changes feels like coming home after a long holiday and finding someone has built a bowling alley and jacuzzi into your bedroom.
Despite my mixed feelings on certain aspects of Mass Effect 2, I'm still thoroughly enjoying the experience. Perhaps time will show that my concerns were rather short sighted, but today's likes and dislikes are as follows: -
: Chaotic Openings - Faces - User Interfaces - Graphical Polish - Hub Levels
: Sterile Environments - Linearity - Lacklustre Guns - Tedious Combat - Spoilers