Some of the greatest news this generation right alongside BioShock gracing the PlayStation 3 was Mass Effect 2 getting a localized, enhanced version of the wonderful shooter role-playing game for Sony’s black box. The PS3 installment of ME2 came packed with an exclusive comic-style introduction to simulate the big choices from the first game that was once exclusive to the Xbox 360, but that doesn’t really cut it for the most die-hard of ME fans. BioWare, coupled with the guys at Edge of Reality, has brought the origin story of the legendary Commander Shepard to the PS3. Ports have been known to be hit-and-miss in the past, and the original Mass Effect is nearly six years old, so the chances of this re-release to fail are high. Though the game has some limitations and glaring faults, it’s exactly what avid fans need to complete the series without hopping consoles.
One of the early things you’ll likely notice is the graphical difference between ME and the other two titles. Though the graphics aren’t quite at the detailed caliber of the other two more enhanced titles, the look of this game proves that the style hasn’t changed much since the series’ inception, which is truly a testament to the original vision at BioWare. The re-release of ME brings with it a game engine enhancement that contributes to better lighting and some quicker information processing throughout the game, and it helps to meld some of the new aspects of the ME series with the original look intact. What’s blatantly clear is that the old engine, though enhanced, is still as archaic as when ME originally launched. Game textures can take upwards of ten to fifteen seconds to fully load when entering a new area, and running through bigger areas can quite often prompt you with a loading indicator that pauses the gameplay for it to finish. Once everything is loaded, the game looks solid and it’s hard to not compare it to some of the other high-profile games of this generation. Still, even in great remakes, it’s hard to see games like this suffer from problems that carry over from the original titles.
Controls really haven’t changed, leaving weapon and ability selection pinned to their relative trigger buttons. One thing PS3 players will notice right away, apart from the unlimited ammo for every gun, is the receded gameplay style that comes with this title in regards to ME2 and 3. Where the newer titles balance nicely between biotics and gunplay, ME has more of a primitive perspective. What that means is that it’s harder to chain biotics and abilities together to get the same effect as what can be done in 2 and 3. This may be the ONLY deciding factor for players in regards to if this is worth buying or not, because it reflects more on the RPG-aspects of the game instead, favoring strategy over offense. Weapon use isn’t as fine-tuned either, where a lack of training in a weapon yields very, very diminished returns, but this shortcoming is nicely countered by the strength of guns that are actually trained; even a trained handgun is far and beyond better than an untrained automatic weapon. One small, but very convenient, difference for me playing through this was the strength of the shotgun itself. Unlike in the other titles, or even from what I remember when I played this on my old 360 that was purchased ONLY for Mass Effect, the shotgun is incredibly overpowered when trained, and I’m able to get one-shot kills with it where I never could with any other gun in any of the three titles—but who doesn’t love a good shotgun, right?
Another interesting, and initially frightening, difference in this game is that abilities don’t exactly refresh as fast as they do in the other titles, and they also don’t share the same cooldowns either. Let me elaborate a bit: if an ability was used in the other two games, you’d have to wait until the cooldown would go down before using any other ability. Such is not the case here. Instead, each ability has its own cooldown, and those cooldowns are quite long, but this allows you to chain your own abilities together to make some very intense moments. The downside to this is that it makes you vulnerable to enemies, since more abilities are on cooldown, but this different gameplay aspect is a major strength that only becomes more convenient and fun to use as the game progresses, since abilities become stronger and gear reduces cooldown times.
The foundations of the Mass Effect series are strong, but they have their tendencies to become lengthy and confusing. Probing planets for resources actually requires you to land on the planet and drive around looking for the material, and the same goes for many side and story missions. One of the best changes in the series is that the flow of the game has become streamlined, and the reasoning for that is shown in the original Mass Effect, where wandering around sometimes becomes the best and only means of finding out exactly what to do. The quest system is lackluster, making you have to read deep into the quest phrasing and even do some interpretation in order to find where the quests want you to go. The Galaxy Map works the same way that it does in the other two games, but after landing on the indicated planet, there are really only a few indicators of where to go. In fact, even if you finish an objective in a quest, that objective remains indicated like it hadn’t been completed; this occurred mostly when a quest had multiple objectives and became quite confusing, since this game doesn’t exactly make it crystal clear that an objective is finished.
The leveling system consists of skill trees that can be allocated points to better each branch, and each branch when leveled can open up other branches for more abilities and better performance of those abilities as well as weapons. Upon returning to this after Mass Effect 3, it was a bit daunting to look at such a relatively complicated leveling system, but the complexity becomes very easy to grasp after running through a few missions to get used to how your allies can better work with you on the battlefield.
The greatest strength of this game is the storytelling and how consistent it is with the rest of the series. Though ME2 included that brief comic-book introduction, there is absolutely no way to compare it to the actual experience of playing through all of the major and minor situations that take place in Mass Effect. Even though Mass Effect is rooted in the old style of explorative gameplay, the overall experience of playing this game entirely through is a blessing for anyone who’s been limited by Mass Effect only being on the Xbox 360. Archaic is never a bad thing, especially when the frameworks of it have influenced two of the best games to grace this generation of gaming. Weak points aside, this game must be bought by anyone who claims to be a Mass Effect fan, and the newly released Mass Effect Trilogy bundle is the perfect time for unfamiliar fans to become acquainted with one of this generation’s greatest experiences.