Thursday, March 03, 2011

Mass Effect 2 - first impression review

Unusually I'm going to start this with my opening of the game case itself. My first thoughts were "They've forgotten to include the manual" but it wasn't a pre-owned copy... hmm? It seems that Mass Effect 2 (ME2) doesn't come with a manual, just the standard boilerplate blurb and in the case of the PS3 version a shiny bit of paper with the download code for the Cerberus pack.

I've said in the past "Who reads the manual", but nevertheless they can be useful if you return to the middle of a game and are trying to remember the key mappings. Of course this is negated if you can run a tutorial at any time or at the very least call up the configuration from the menu. ME2 allows neither - oh there is a 'full' manual included as part of the game which is accessible from the Main Menu. In other words you have to back out of the game to read something and then head back in.

Not to worry too much though there is at least the Advanced Training Section available from your PC on the ship... which comprises of three videos showing you things that you can do without letting you do them yourself.

Prior to getting your ship though you have a basic tutorial - This is how you move, aim, run, take cover, jump obstacles, reload. It shows you how to bring up the Weapon wheel and the Power wheel. In another mission you get some more squad commands press left to direct the squad member featured on your left; right for the one on the right... and that's it.

At some point you'll acquire more weapons, you'll get the option of boosting both yours and your squad's powers and you'll have no chance to find out how they work except in the field under live fire. What's the range of Pull? You'll have to find out against a target. What effect does Overload have on shields? Try it on someone shooting at you to find out.

It was only through the tips that show up on loading screens that I discovered I could direct my squad members to attack one target using the up key; that Incendiary Rounds are highly effective against armour and various other 'tips' All this I could have found out for myself if they'd included a firing range. Seriously a war-ship in which the crew are expected to undertake away missions and they don't include a firing range?

Sadly it seems ME2 takes the hands-on approach to learning. In some ways a good thing; but not when you discover something in one mission that would have saved your arse several times previously had you but known about it. This shows up most highly in the vehicle section of the add-on Project Overlord.

You're plonked in a vehicle and... that's it. The left stick moves you forward the right changes your view R1 fires the front-mounted weapon and X makes you move faster just like on foot. Except X doesn't do that it makes you jump, instead it's L1 that makes you move faster which I discovered when trying to aim (L1 is aim on foot). Bipping around and after falling through solid rock several times I located an anomaly - a case on the ground with a sparkly ring around it. I tried running it over, I tried shooting at it; I discovered jumping with X and finally I found out that pressing Triangle made flashing noises and 'dug it up'. Fun with trying to shoot things; I'm thinking there's got to be a lock-on but I've not found it yet.

[Update - Project Overlord is a piece of DLC; as part of the vanilla package there's a mission entitled "FireWalker" which uses the same vehicle. Imagine my surprise when up popped a basic tutorial on how to pilot this vessel. One can only assume that you're not supposed to access Project Overlord until after Firewalker, but this could have been easily forced by not sending you the email about it until after that mission]

One more hand-off approach - hacking. Here you go hack this; oops you triggered one of the bad sectors that I didn't warn you about and you're locked out tough luck try again - oh wait you can't.

Damn wait another one - you can skip the cinematics and conversations with square; useful when you're repeating a section - yes again you're not informed of this.

[Update - this information then appeared on one of those random tips during the loading screens]

Okay away from the hands-off approach. The graphics are excellent - except for outside in Project Overlord with excessive LOD pop-in and some seriously pixelated ground textures. Movement is generally fluid, but I have a problem with jumping over obstacles - taking cover is X, jumping over is X with movement. Run up to something and hit X and half the time you'll perform the action you didn't want. I've found double tapping makes me take cover then immediately jump over so I stick to that.

Speaking of cover it's very finickty. Sometimes you have to be facing the cover straight on sometimes not; sometimes you can peer around it; sometimes you can't. Very annoying when I took cover, peered around with a sniper gun and found myself zoomed in on the wall I was hiding behind despite the over-the-shoulder view giving me clear line-of-sight.

In terms of hands-on wow are your squad mates gung-ho at times. I'll be there sitting on a balcony sniping at the enemies approaching below and they'd be running down the stairs to kick them in the nuts. At least you can heal them remotely that is if you realise what the meters at the bottom of the screen mean, because surprise, surprise the game doesn't hand out that sort of information. You can direct them as mentioned, but too often you're too busy keeping your own head down to micro-manage.

[Update as well as left. right, and up; down causes them to return to your position. Needless to say I discovered this by accident]

Next joy conversational gambits. Talk to someone and you'll get a wheel from which you can choose a topic. As you might expect the game doesn't tell you how to use this. The fun is that the label that appears may at times have nothing to do with what you actually say - you might think you're being caring by asking how someone is but what comes out may be the equivalent 'Are you fit enough to carry on?'. Also at times an icon will appear at the bottom left or bottom right of the screen urging you to press L2 or R2. L2 in blue R2 in red. Likewise at times a blue or red conversation option will appear on the wheel. These are Paragon or Renegade options. How do they work - yeah guess. Though if you read the tips on the loading screens you get more information - how pathetic is it that you need to learn how to play the game through random loading screen tips.

One highly amusing incident occurred during an early mission - I finished hacking something and suddenly I got a whole heap of +2 Paragon Points; +3 Renegade Points, Codex Item acquired, etc. Yep the game had finally caught up with all the things I'd done up to that point. I was left with a WTF? All that for hacking a safe?

Drat forgot Character Creation. Pick a stock face or model one yourself. Trouble is you can only see it from the front and the sides. You'll be playing the game with the camera behind you most of the time. Get something that looks hideous from behind and you need to start the game ALL OVER AGAIN. Yep no plastic surgery in the future you're stuck like that. Choose the wrong layout, because [sigh] you're not actually told what any of the powers actually do and once again it's start from the beginning.

The stupid thing is that this is a good and fun game; but so many flaws could have been alleviated with a decent manual and a test firing range.

Oh and again surely the PS3 has some flag to tell the game when I'm not connected to the internet? So fed-up of the in-built screen informing me I have a problem with my internet connection - yeah it's not on you can tell this by the lack of a bloody IP address.

It's just such a mess at times.