DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER/ PLATFORMS: Bioware/Electronic Arts/360, PC
FUN FACT: Videos of the game's possible sex scenes (assuming you played the male version of Commander Shepard) exploded onto the web two days before release. WARNING: Don't click that link if you're afraid of 1) spoilers, or 2) aggressive sex with lethal-ass tattooed women.
WHY COMPLEX IS CO-SIGNING IT: Surriously? Because as great as the first one was, this manages what is somehow a simultaneous total overhaul and a minor troubleshooting. That is, the good folks at Bioware made the game's mechanics more rewarding and compelling—everything from combat to behavioral choices have been tweaked for a fully different experience—without straying from the underlying depth and storytelling that made the original such an achievement.
STORY: Commander Shepard may have toppled Saren and the Reaper threat the first time around, but you know those assholes wouldn't let such a thing go. Now, after a catastrophic run-in with hostile fire in the game's intro, a new and improved Shepard has to assemble a new crew to find out why humans are disappearing from colonies (HINT: REAPERS REAPERS REAPERS). The thing is, after your original ME adventure, you're a known quantity throughout the galaxy, meaning that just about everyone you come across has issues with you in one way or another. It's up to you to cultivate the relationships you need in order to foster loyalty for what may ultimately prove to be a final suicide mission.
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GAMEPLAY: For all the hullaballoo about the improved combat system, it really is FPSy, which is a good thing. Your biotic abilities, as well as your squadmates', can be mapped to buttons so that an entire firefight can go down without bringing up the skill- or weapon-selection wheels, making for smoother play overall. (there is a quick-change weapon option, but depending on your enemies' shields/armor, you may have no choice but to bring up the weapons wheel). Accuracy is rewarded, with headshot-based achievements underscoring the primacy of the game's improved aiming reticle, and each weapon behaves differently enough that you'll need to play to the weapon's strengths lest you find yourself turned to meat by a laser cannon. Speaking of which, the AI can be remarkably shrewd—even during a playthrough on Normal difficulty, enemies were able to flank our squad, forcing us to adapt our playstyle to the environment.
Outside of combat, ME2's NPC interaction is even more nuanced and rewarding than the original. If you're new to the series, no worries—you can plumb each character's knowledge for a fleshed-out exposition (and the game's encyclopedic codex system lets you research anything you're unclear about) so that you don't feel like a spacenoob. And so that you never, NEVER, use the term "spacenoob." As the story progresses, every choice Shepard makes accrues Paragon or Renegade points, allowing you to interrupt certain conversation sequences with decisive action—which could be anything from turning off a security camera to punching a woman in the face. Which makes us think that we should be accruing Gucci Mane points as well.
GRAPHICS: Mind = blown. Where a game like Assassin's Creed 2 undercut its insane scenery with horrible character rendering, ME2 gets it right from top to bottom. And in the case of some of the female characters, we mean that in every way possible.
DOWNSIDE: As RPGs go, this one is squarely in the camp of macro over micro: expect 30 to 50 hours for a playthrough, depending on how much sidequesting you do. If you're the type of person who can't wait to sink 150 hours into Dragon Age: Origins or spends days in Kingdom Hearts 2 wandering around the scenery, you may side with the "wahhhhh, this isn't an RPG, it's an RPG for meatheads" camp. To which we say: GO READ A BOOK, NERD! And then we weep into our feelings journal because we're nerds too and to be so abusive just stokes our feelings of self-loathing. Combat or no combat, this is at its core a game about relationships, and mark our words, you will become attached—to your character and the NPCs alike.
And as much as the original ME's planetary mining sidequests have been streamlined—you now explore planets for precious resources from the comfort of the orbiting Normandy, rather than driving the godawful Mako around—they can still feel a little trivial, even though they're necessary (you'll need those metals for weapons upgrades). And the weapons interface, while a vast improvement, took a little time to get used to; that's not a criticism, exactly, only a caveat that your first few boss fights may feel needlessly frustrating, if only because you're not properly utilizing your squadmates' abilities. Overall, ME2 is more than a worthy successor to a groundbreaking sci-fi RPG—it's another giant step forward in making VG storytelling an artform to compete with any other screen-based entertainment.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.