While I also think the timing of this add-on is slightly jarring - you scrabble through the explosive opening sequence, reach a critical plot beat, and then pause to sit through a 13 minute slideshow - it's the lack of immediate relevance that poses the bigger issue. It's only after you've completed the story that you'll have a full appreciation for what the comic offers. It's just as well, then, that Mass Effect 2 is the kind of game that rewards - or even demands - repeat visits.
Indeed, this evergreen nature is another of BioWare's significant achievements. I'm not sure that I've ever played an RPG where it seems perfectly viable (and enticing) to run through the entire thing on multiple occasions. In fairness to the rest of the genre, this is partly due to the fact that ME2 is less of a pure RPG, and more of a shooter-RPG hybrid. There are quests and NPCs by the truckload, but there's no inventory to deal with - in fact there's barely any micro-management at all, just a simplified levelling mechanic and a deceptively deep class system that allows for numerous character builds. The much-discussed Paragon/Renegade scale presents an obvious motive for a second helping - it's far more interesting than the usual Good/Evil karma motif - but it's the various combat styles that really grant the game its longevity. The six classes on offer are remarkably different, given that there's quite a bit of overlap with the individual weapons and abilities. Playing as an Infiltrator - a sneaky, sniper type - is nothing like the life of an Adept, the rough equivalent to a mage. And beyond this, it's only at the higher difficulty settings that you'll fully experience the game's strategic demands.
I should add here that I don't subscribe to the idea that ME2's gunplay is analogous to what you might find in a common or garden shooter. It's damn good, certainly - headshots are especially satisfying - but there's a slight clunkiness to Shepard's movements, particularly when getting in and out of cover. From time to time you might also find your surrounding to be a little too convenient in their arena-like qualities, with an abundance of cover at just the perfect height. These are mild complaints, however, and to be honest I'm not entirely sure I'd even want a Mass Effect that played like a standard shooter. For all its streamlined efficiency, ME2 still feels like an RPG - and that's a good thing.
Despite my best efforts I've strayed dangerously close to gush territory, so I suppose I should finally address the harder of the two questions I mentioned earlier. Is this the definitive version of Mass Effect 2? If pushed, perhaps under the threat of impatient violence, I'd have to say that it probably is - but only by a very small degree. As pleasant as the comic is, I feel that it's more of a minor bonus than a significant addition; it's hardly a substitute for a port of the first game, but its presence here is still worthwhile. The more significant perk with this PS3 edition is that it comes bundled with almost all of the DLC BioWare has trickled out over the past 12 months. Some of it is great, some of it is merely alright, but it all helps to swell a world that's already tumescent with top-notch content. Put simply, more is more.
As far as appearances go, I genuinely can't find much of a difference between the two console versions. The cutscenes look gorgeous, but then they always did. I dare say that the new engine has made a difference in some form or another, but I'd be lying if I said that I noticed a clear improvement. The only genuine contrast I did spot is that the frame rate seems marginally less stable in the PS3 game - but before you rush off to grab your pitchforks, let me add that I only experienced turbulence once or twice, and to a minor extent. We're not talking about a shuddering drop in smoothness, rather a tiny ripple on the surface of a still pond - or perhaps a teeny tiny lump in a mountain of sublime mashed potato.
And to continue that (rather inappropriate) metaphor, the point shouldn't be, "Who got the best mashed potato?" or "Who got the bigger helping first?" Instead, let us just celebrate the mash that we're all eating, together - the Mash Effect, if you will. Comic aside, this really is the same game we played and loved last year. The smattering of design hiccups are still present - the odd linear mission, and the chore-like but unavoidable mining mini-game - but so are all of the wonderful things - the fantastic dialogue, the thoughtful intelligence of it all, and that bit where Mordin starts singing. It's been said before, but it's worth repeating: Western RPGs will never be the same again, such is the impact of BioWare's work here. In short, Mass Effect 2 is bloody brilliant. Grab a fork, and tuck in.
VideoGamer.com Score10 Score out of 10
- Some of the best NPCs in the genre
- Fantastic ambience and setting
- Loads of replay value
- Cover system occasionally lacks finesse