With Mass Effect 2, in 2010, gamers were taken aback by the sheer immersion that this once glitch-infested universe now held, incorporating seedy alien organisations, planets filled with wonder and corruption and a storyline that matched all the greatest icons of the sci-fi genre both in this industry and in others (Star Wars? Meh. George Lucas didn’t have an army of Reapers preparing to converge on our planet.).
Certainly, there’s one thing that’s impossible to deny upon booting up the disc again for the first time in a while – the production values are astounding. From the layered and deep menus to the beautifully animated cut scenes and battles, there really is not a single moment in Mass Effect 2 where you’ll lose the sense of being fully integrated into its twisting and breath-taking plot threads. That BioWare had the sheer audacity to seemingly kill Commander Shepherd – the man who many of us had spent us hours upon hours levelling up in preparation for the sequel – off in the opening moments of the game, sending him hurtling into the lonely void of space with no oxygen remaining in his tanks, still resonates deeply, while also highlighting the developer’s justified confidence in the entire project.
Things don’t get any less ambitious from there, either, as we’re then thrown into the revelation that alleged terrorists Cerberus have resurrected Shepherd for a suicide mission (as if one literal near-death experience wasn’t enough), whereby he must gather a team to face terrible odds in order to stop the menacing Collector army building a new Reaper out of stolen human tissue. The countless red herrings and ground-breaking narrative shifts that are thrown your way throughout genuinely make for some of the most emotional and stomach-churning moments in modern video gaming, sure to push you to your absolute limits in terms of character empathy as they have with me a good while after my first playthrough.
Perhaps it’s easy to forget, but Mass Effect 2 in itself was incredibly focused on its third-person shooter action, such to the point that you would barely go five or ten minutes of the main campaign without being engaged in some kind of firefight, be it against renegade human forces like the Black Suns or indeed the overwhelming Collector threat. The frequency of these dangerous interludes cannot be ignored, and yet it is all the more unexpected to me that all of the battles still feel integral to the overall storyline, really serving as the crux of the reason why even now Mass Effect 2 remains such a compelling, nay, gripping experience to relive.
The final moments on the Collector base only serve to heighten the tension and emotive drama that build steadily and convincingly throughout the game – if you can name one other title that provides such an impactful climax, whereby team members can be gunned down at random regardless of their loyalty or indeed their romantic status with Shepherd, then I’ll be amazed. I can assure you now that seeing my weathered and worn incarnation of the N7 Commander (who apparently has quite a few favourite shops in the Citadel, or so I’m informed) grimace over the graves of Tali and Mordin – both of whom failed to survive due to a reckless decision I made earlier regarding Tali’s father – was just as heartbreaking as when the majority of my team were gunned down back in 2010.
For a video game to still provide just as many surprises, tears and thrills as it did two years before is one thing, but it’s that Mass Effect 2 retains the same heart, overwhelmingly engaging set pieces and true-to-life cast of human and alien characters that to me makes it one of the best releases of all time.
What did you think of Mass Effect 2 when you originally played it? Have you tried it again recently?