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Mass Effect 2 – hands-on

“Shepard! But... but you’re dead!” cries a baffled Asari crime lord having been backed into a corner by our hero. “I got better,” replies Shepard, as cool as a penguin’s bum. It’s not a dialogue choice, it’s right there in the cutscene; otherwise we’d have chosen the option along the lines of “I know, after that E3 trailer I’m just as confused as you about the whole thing.”

If you missed it, the debut trailer panned around Shepard’s armor, reeling off a list of his achievements and credentials before flashing the words “Killed in Action” on screen. BioWare aren’t talking in any real detail about what it all meant - instead they point us at the playable demo, in which you’re very much in control of a living, breathing Shepard. Not only do we have to grapple with the fact that game characters die over and over again as a matter of course, now we’re told that in BioWare’s sci-fi RPG sequel your character can die in a narrative context, and stay dead.

Avoiding this fate seems to be the crux of the second game, which ends in a potentially suicidal mission for Shepard and his team. Play well, amass a decent squad and do your best to keep them alive, and you might just arrive at the end of a game with an intact main character. The reason it’s puzzling is that BioWare are carrying saved games over from the first title.

Mass Effect 2 will have tracked over 60 individual choices you made, from the fate of major characters – if some of your Mass Effect mates didn’t make it they won’t be in Mass Effect 2 – right down to seemingly inconsequential encounters having unforeseeable repercussions. It means that Shepard’s death at the end of Mass Effect 2 would presumably leave Mass Effect 3 without a lead. And the trilogy is about Shepard.

Clearly there’s more to it than what we’ve been told, and the developers would rather leave us wallowing in intrigue while they show off the more tactile changes they’ve made in Mass Effect 2. Combat’s been scrubbed up well, not least through the introduction of heavy weapons and rocket launchers (there’s even a Fat Man-esque nuke launcher to play with), but also by tweaking the AI to be more fun to fight against. Biotics will no longer spam you with their stun abilities, so Shepard won’t spend half his fights flopping about on the floor like a fish out of water.

There’s an immediately recognizable difference in gun combat as the game is loosed from its RPG moorings. Your rounds carry more impact, scraps feel less floaty and more physical (often literally, as you can punch things), and there’s a satisfying sense of connection during exchanges. The cover system’s been fixed, so accidentally sticking to walls and crates is less frequent.

The brainy tactical hemisphere of Mass Effect’s combat hasn’t been neglected – you’ll still command your squad’s roster of special abilities through the power wheel, and this time around you’ll have a greater degree of control over the placement and movements of your team. Oh, and having realised the Mako handles like a remote-controlled boat, we’ll be getting a new ATV to truck about planetside with.

21 comments

  • themooninites - December 17, 2009 3:05 p.m.

    Gasm...
  • lovinmyps3 - November 8, 2009 8:58 p.m.

    I loved the first one. That and Left 4 Dead are the reasons I bought a 360. Can't wait!!
  • THEBIGJ3 - October 26, 2009 7:15 p.m.

    This. Will. Rule!
  • Doctalen - October 26, 2009 1:06 a.m.

    Awesome, kinda hope that if you saved Wrex in the first game that he dies so you can meet Grunt.
  • pinoklin - October 25, 2009 4:41 a.m.

    this is gonna be so freaking leet....i finished up just as i wanted lol every1 but kaidan alive and i was a badass vanguard....and how could i lose wrexx? he and garrus are static members in my party lol.
  • thecakeisapie - October 25, 2009 1:25 a.m.

    this is gonna be awesome, its coming out like 2 weeks before my b-day
  • boeckmana1 - October 24, 2009 10:58 p.m.

    The first was awesome so this one should be too.
  • bnazario - October 24, 2009 10:03 p.m.

    Can't wait for this game to come out
  • Sebastian16 - October 24, 2009 5:35 a.m.

    LOLsmallberry
  • allthegoodnameswheretaken - October 24, 2009 5:15 a.m.

    Gamings only space opera? Till now I've finished Mass effect 5 times making sure everyone I want doesn't die,suck a bomb Kaiden!
  • smallberry - October 24, 2009 3:16 a.m.

    I should be starting my 4th run through of Mass Effect 1 this weekend. I have to ensure that the story plays out exactly as I want for ME2. Good lord I need a girlfriend....
  • Brutus - October 24, 2009 2:09 a.m.

    Can't freaking wait!! *pops in mass effect 1*
  • Yeager1122 - October 24, 2009 2:05 a.m.

    Can not wait for this game LOVED the first one.
  • Spybreak8 - October 24, 2009 1:38 a.m.

    Awesome, I soooo can't wait.
  • TestDDs - October 24, 2009 12:44 a.m.

    I think i am speaking for very one hear so this is what i got to say... IS WREX, THE BIG ALIEN DUDE, GONING TO BE IN THIS GAME AND CAN YOU BLOW SHIT UP LIKE CHUCK NORRIS AND KICK ASS LIKE BRUCE LEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • number1hitjam - October 23, 2009 10:46 p.m.

    I think he's MIA and everyone thinks he's dead but he really isn't. It's like 24!
  • jar-head - October 23, 2009 10:21 p.m.

    I hope it doesnt trail off the Main story...Sovereign was one of Many, awaiting arrival...But, trying to unite the galaxy is trouble enough without Corruption, in which "The Blitz" was the perfect example of Shadow opas running around with their own schedule
  • Daedazrael - October 23, 2009 9:09 p.m.

    One of the interesting things about Thane that was not in the article is the fact that he is one of the repentant killer characters, guilty enough to hate what he does but too skilled to not do it. I can't wait to see what dialogue options he has.
  • cart00n - October 23, 2009 8:56 p.m.

    Oh, well... reCaptcha: honeydew 24
  • cart00n - October 23, 2009 8:53 p.m.

    Hmm... So what happens if, like in my case, Wrex ISN'T dead at the end of ME1? Will I still meet Grunt? Will I have to choose which one I want in my party? Can I have both? And may I be the FIRST (heh) to ask about that bald, biotic chick? She's conspicuously lacking any mention in your report...

Showing 1-20 of 21 comments

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