I'm 20 hours into Mass Effect 2. And as I board a flight to check out the Apple tablet, I couldn't care less about Cupertino, OSs and multitouch. I just want to play this very special game more.
Don't read my addiction the wrong way - I'm not talking about mere lust for levelling up, the same tawdry RPG convention that's as self-destructive to its genre as it's considered essential. I'm not talking about +2 to strength heroin here (though, much of that is alive and well).
Mass Effect 2 is not mere role-playing game. It's transcended to science fiction that you can play.
The Mass Effect games, for Xbox 360 and PC, offer the most realised sci-fi universe - in design and character and story and sheer imagination - that I've seen since Star Wars/Trek, Blade Runner or any other fond movie memory I can recall. Developers at Bioware fused so many motifs so seamlessly (I've seen elements ranging from 2001 to Halo) that, while your character isn't the first to wear skin-tight plastic armour in space, playing he or she will certainly feel that way.
Mass Effect 2 is out today. The sequel solidifies the ME universe as every bit as incredible as its sci fi predecessors. But, maybe more importantly, it solidifies gaming's place in the advancement of narrative.
(Summary below, I wouldn't call its contents spoilers, but you may want to skip for 100 per cent pure experience.)
You play Commander Shepherd, the same hero/heroine from the original ME. In fact, you can import that character customised to your exact specs (from facial shape to voice) from the first game. The experience is akin to meeting an old friend. It ends up, Shepherd died since the first game, but (in my case, her) body has been reconstructed by her former arch enemies who've gone honest... or have they?
Long story short, there's no time to decide because you have Universe to save. And I'll leave it at that.
Of course, the fast-paced third-person combat along the way is wonderful - much improved form the original Mass Effect, you can easily order two troops to separate places to cover, assign them both a special attack (maybe one lifts your enemies into the air while another shoots cryogenic rounds) and then, cloak yourself before moving out of cover to snipe the main boss in the face - all with a few smooth button presses. But Mass Effect 2 is so much more than clever real-time strategic arcade combat.
Maybe the most telling point is that I listen to every conversation in the game to its entirety - I'm talking topics like the history of an alien religion - as opposed to fast forwarding through dialogue whenever I can to get back into fights. I want to know what the characters think because that's as much of the game, of the story, as scoring new biotic powers or the ability to hack enemy robots.
Of the first Mass Effect, I wrote this:
Sensing such a connection with the protagonist is invigorating feeling. It means that I suddenly don't mind exploring side missions, learning about made up extinct civilisation or memorising those classically horrid alien names that sci fi fans have had to suffer their way through since the beginning of time. And those times when the choice finally is real-when I can decide whether or not to eradicate or salvage a colony-I weigh the consequences in a more substantial way than just wondering which response will make me more spacebucks. I care about... I kid you not... the fate of the galaxy.
In Mass Effect 2, that's only more true because I've had the pleasure of growing with the series over an extended narrative arc. If you have an Xbox 360 or PC, I'd strongly recommend the experience. And even if you have no interest in sci-fi , it's one hell of a third person shooter.
Generally, we leave game reviews to Kotaku. And don't worry, we plan on continuing that trend. Read what they wrote about Mass Effect 2 here.