Sunday, December 19, 2010
Mass Effect 2 PS3 Hands-On: BioWare, Beautiful & Brilliant
PS3 owners may have missed out on the original Mass Effect, but the stellar sequel plus four DLC chapters and a little something extra (plus a LOT of something extra under the hood) is headed your way in a great standard edition pack that's bound to fly off store shelves faster than the new Normandy hits light speed. I had the opportunity to play a demo version of Mass Effect 2 and was immediately floored by the visual upgrade (thanks to what was recently revealed as the Mass Effect 3 engine), the tweaked puzzles and a few other niceties BioWare has seen fit to add. I'd have to safely say this is going to be the definitive console version of the game and even if you've played the Xbox 360 version, you might want to snap up a copy of this one, provided you also have a PS3 in the house.
While I'm usually not the first one out the gate bowing the graphics horn for any title, it's hard not to notice just how good the PS3 version looks when compared to the 360 original. With the latest Unreal tech powering the game, as noted above, it looks absolutely fantastic. The updated Dual Shock 3 controls took me a few extra seconds to get used to after so much time playing the game on the 360, but everything is super responsive and works like a dream. In case you're new to the franchise, although it's clearly a deep RPG with a hefty, well written plot and some great characters you'll grow to love and hate (depending on how you interact with them), you can play the game as a cover-based action shooter if you like. While you're popping off shots and using assorted real estate to hide behind, your squad mates act freely or can be commanded with a few deft button presses. Combat is fast paced and thrilling, but still very accessible to those more used to turn-based genre experiences.
I'll certainly be looking forward to the four included DLC chapters (Kasumi, Stolen Memories, Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker), that's for sure. My luck with 360's has been pretty awful over the past year or so, and after my fifth system died and took a bunch of DLC with it, it'll be great to actually play through those additional chapters and not have to worry about seeing flashing red lights o' doom that keep me from enjoying what I paid good money for. A Cerberus Network card allows access to the DLC content (free of charge, of course) and the interactive comic that bridges the gap between the events in the first and second games in a flashback-style format, allowing EA to get the game into stores at the normal $59.99 retail price point.
One bone of contention to some ME1 fans will be how the sequel lets PS3 owners slide into the franchise, but it actually works quite well (particularly if you're the open-minded sort). After you fire up and install ME2 on your PS3, you'll have the chance to download that aforementioned interactive comic through the PSN Store before playing the opening section. At a certain point (no spoilers here!), the game will allow you to dive into the comic where you'll be able to get a brief rundown of the major events in the first game, making important choices along the way to guide how your male or female Commander Shepard acted in the original. I was told the comic should take about 15-20 minutes to "play" through, which is about what I'd expected. As you can see below, the artwork (produced by Dark Horse Comics) looks great, so this isn't some hack job rushed out to appease those who missed out on the first game.
Still, this excellently implemented shortcut may not please those super devout Xbox 360 fanboys (some of who don't even own PS3's and yet, still find time to complain about a version of a game they won't be playing), but I see it in a different way. If you think of Mass Effect 2 on the PS3 as the first game in the series (and in fact, it will be for many PS3 owners), the flashback to earlier events works 100 percent. It's a solid (and necessary) storytelling exercise that should be respected for condensing the original down to its memorable plot points and hell, it's not like this hasn't been done before in games, books, movies and other forms of entertainment, folks.
For example, it's entirely possible to watch a movie like The Godfather II, The Empire Strikes Back or Day Watch without seeing The Godfather, Star Wars or Night Watch and fully enjoy them (one has a brief recap and two don't, by the way). Besides, trying to do a near-complete rundown of every single interesting non-story point in the first game would have been a bit too much overkill. What made the first game so much fun was how EACH player chose to play those non-story related missions and that's almost impossible to condense down to simple yes or no choices. I'd say more literate gamers won't mind not having to drop down on planets in that Mako to take out pirate camps, find out of the way secrets or fight gigantic space worms. Besides, there's more than enough to do in ME2 and the game is a lot more polished than the original.
Meanwhile, back at the preview ranch, Sony, EA and Bioware are absolutely set to ramp things up as the game nears its January 17, 2011 launch date. There's a demo coming on December 21 (between that and Dead Space 2 demo dropping at the same time, I can see some mighty clogged servers) and I'd gather we'll see at least one TV spot about the game before it hits retail. BioWare has quite the full 2011 lineup, that's for sure. Between ME2 PS3, Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3, fans of the hard-working developer (and they haven't made a bad game yet) are in for a good long haul in front of their TV's and monitors, that's for sure. Back with more Mass Effect 2 updates as they come in - stay tuned...