Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mass Effect 2 - final review

I've already made some points regarding Mass Effect 2 on the PS3 when I started to play it, but as with so much in life the flaws only really show up in extremis. I started a new game set to Insanity difficulty and imported my original character.

First things first - you have to play through all the cut-scenes again. I hit square, I hit start, I hit every button and still the thing played out. It was only past the initial 'incident' when I woke up that I could start to skip things.

With an imported character you get to keep your level and all the squad/skill points you've accrued. Your skills are reset and you can reassign all the points. Likewise when you acquire them all your squad mates match your level and you get all the points to assign too. As an added extra you also gain a bonus power from any of the squad who were loyal in the imported game.

Here's the flaw - it's not until roughly the middle of the game that you gain the ability to reset and reassign your skills; and you NEVER get to do so for your squad. So in an imported game you assign points and may well chose to do so in a way different to the game you imported. Discover you don't like this configuration and tough - you've got to play the entire game like that.

This flaw is tied directly to the lack of any practice area. If you got to temporarily assign points to skills and see how they worked out I'd have less to complain about; with this system you're jumping into the dark and living with the consequences.

Someone needs to point out to the designers that this is a game; if you force someone to make such stabs and then make them live with the mistakes it makes the game less fun. If I miss something because I'm in a hurry, or if I pick skills when I have the option to try them out that's my fault, but don't do this in some sort of perverse attempt to make it more real. It's a game; if I wanted real that's what I'd be doing and not playing a game.

The next problem to hit home at this level of difficulty is the cover system. Take cover, no problem; but your character will on occasion be unable to shoot around it. I've taken cover behind a vertical stanchion at one side of a corridor and tried to shoot someone standing in the middle and been forced to leave cover in order to do so. What's worse is that this can affect your squad too. I've had to break cover in the middle of a fire-fight to reposition them, often to where they're already standing just to get them to start shooting the enemy; not helped that you can't position them while in cover except to your own cover point. Nor does the game pause as it does when selecting a weapon or power; so you're trying to reposition them live.

The squad is also rather gung-ho. In one instance I entered a corridor, a door to my left led to an large area in which a fire-fight was occurring; to my right a door to a set of steps which would lead me to a balcony overlooking the large area. Head into the corridor and towards the right side door and your squad will peel off and head through the left unless you micro-manage them because that's where the enemy is.

On the bright side I've discovered a way to skip through the conversations without accidentally dropping out of them - hold the analogue stick to the left. If there's a middle-left option it's always neutral and will keep the conversation going; if there is no such option none will be highlighted and the game will wait for input. Doesn't always work well when special Paragon or Renegade options appear, but at least you won't end a conversation by accident.

One downside is the ammunition system. Supposedly all the normal weapons use a thermal clip system. Each weapon produces unlimited rounds, but overheats. This heat is drawn into the thermal clip and ejected allowing it to be replaced and more rounds fired. As such you have two numbers for each weapon - the amount of rounds you can fire with that clip and the total number of rounds available which should be derived from number of clips multiplied by rounds per clip. Except it doesn't work that way. Use all your thermal clips for the assault rifle and you need to switch to your shotgun. But your shotgun has the same two numbers and once you use up a thermal clip it's ejected and a new one inserted. So why can't I use that thermal clip in my assault rifle? They're supposedly "universal". Out of game it makes sense as the designers don't have to worry about keeping the player stocked up on various different types of ammo depending on how they play, but in-game it's nonsense.

On a final note - glitches. Sound problems increase in line with the amount of time played. Characters can get stuck. As mentioned elsewhere geometry isn't always drawn in leaving a character talking to or moving thin air.

Final Verdict - It's a good game that can be replayed. But you have to use your first play-through as a tutorial and pay attention to the tips given out during the loading screens. However play it at the harder difficulties and you'll start fighting the controls rather than the on-screen enemies.