as mass effect three is a few months away, i feel it necessary to go back on an older yet amazing game, but it needs a proper introduction and a little bit of backstory to explain everything. The first game of mass effect was only on the xbox and sadly will remain that way. Generally this is bad as the game's very story heavy and it's like walking into a movie a third of the way done.
Thankfully the playstation happens to compensate through two pretty nice things. The first being an interactive comic to recap the first game (and to let you affect your me2 experience as if you played through the original game.) by darkhorse. The second is an upgrade from ME2 from the xbox; Mass effect 2 runs off it's own engine on 360 but the ps3 version uses an early beta for ME3, so it's nicer looking and slightly sleeker.
The whole appeal of the game is the story. Every race has a small novella written about their appearance, culture, capabilities and history, all of which fit and explain well in a sci-fi setting. When interacting with people you're given a conversation branch where you can affect the flow and offer yourself paragon (good guy) points or renegade (evil guy points). Mostly the top option is good, mid option is more neutral and the bottom option is the bad choice, and eventually you'll be able to pick in conversations a blue or red colored option. The goal of these options is to majorly affect the situation at hand by some way. Sometimes you'll persuade/intimidate some thugs to leave you alone or give yourself an advantage in the upcoming battle.
Mass effect 1 choices change it's sequal storyline to fit your choices, and mass effect 2 turther makes a number of changes to the story that will make everyone's playthrough unique unto themselves!
I digress, this is a review of mass effect 2, not hyping up 3.
Graphically it's pretty detailed and polished, depending on the debut day you use to date it (early 2010 xbox, first month 2011) but it's hard to deny that it immerses you into the story and the worlds you're on. Illium looks vastly different than omega and in turn looks worlds different with tuchanka (space disneyland, space newyork underworld, grey brown world)
Normally graphics don't stun me or make me give a higher score, but the whole sci-fi setting requires me to feel like it could happen or it's realistic in some fashion.
The story should be looked at by itself and as part of a trilogy. A problem with games with a few sequals ahead tends to lie in filler or short stories to make you really want the next one when you're through with the current title (assassin's creed). This is utter bullshit and AC:R's ending made me pissed, thankfully ME2 doesn't do this.
The story picks up seamlessly from the first game, and the comic flows very well if you never played the first. You're thrust into a role with a shadowy organization (which was around in the first game!) and get a different side of things while trying to stop an ever growing problem (seamless continuation of the first game's story!) and by the time you're finished with the game itself you feel a personal connection to all the characters you picked up, had time to see your ME1 actions unfold into the second game and even had a chance to majorly effect the lives of three races.
The game isn't short but it doesn't drag on forever, especially if you don't want it to, but that's not the most amazing thing about this. The story can technically end in ME2 as the final mission can kill off any or even all of your comrades, or shepard himself. This too affects the story or ends it all together.
Standard shooting sections are cover based and use controls everyone should be familiar with if they've played a shooter before (third person over the shoulder) but also offer the squad based tactics of telling who to take point where or the usage of their particular powers. Combat abilities and weapons are represented on a large circle when holding L2 (weapons) or R2 (powers) which stops time so you can observe the battlefield and choose your targets carefully.
While talking you're given a number of options and during timed sequences you can tap L or R 2 to activate a paragon or renegade action. This might be telling someone to shut up, slapping them, or any number of in the moment things.
Armor is part aesthetic and part functional. Colors and prints on the armor is up to you, but specific kinds of armor pieces allow you to get more HP/ shields/ weapon damage/ ammo/ ect. The parts are head, shoulders, arms, chest, and legs.
The game is deep, offers an insane amount of information on the world around you, both in race and in history. The gameplay is fun and unique (powers) and offers a much needed break from laying prone hoping an enemy doesn't see you or mild ten minute stories between three hours of shootouts. ME1 was more RPG and less action, but mass effect 2 took more action and added a number of characters for you to get to know. I prefer RPG and story over shootouts, however I can say a number of things added in ME2 was an improvement and nothing was done worse than ME1.
It's not a whole new game but stands it well on its own merits.