It's taken almost a year for Mass Effect 2 to reach the PS3. Now that it's finally here, however, there are only two questions worth asking: "Does the game live up to its reputation?" and "Does this version surpass the original?" The first enquiry can be answered with near-effortless ease; the second, less so.
Let's get the simple stuff out of the way: Mass Effect 2 is worth anyone's time and money, regardless of how you may feel about RPGs, or indeed aliens, spaceships, and metallic doors that go "shwooop" when you open them. If you can play this game, then you should play this game; it really is that straightforward. If you want a single word to sum up the whole shebang, "fantastic" "superb" or "phwoooaar!" will suffice - although personally I might deliberate over "masterpiece", for reasons I'll make clear later.
That's the one-word version. If you'd like a few more - 2164 of the blighters, to be precise - then it's not a bad idea to check out our original review. There's a huge amount to talk about, and while I could happily sit here and rattle out another two thousand words of breathless enthusiasm, I suspect it'll be more useful if I concentrate on the things that will matter to PS3-owning newcomers. For the record, I largely share the sentiments of the article we ran last year. I tend to be less evangelical than Wez when it comes to discussing ME2's many successes, but only marginally so - and the few things that do annoy me should be fairly clear by the end of this review.
Assuming that you've not yet sampled Commander Shepard's Shooty Space Romp 2 (the unofficial title) on another platform, your first few minutes of play will feel like an uncharitable swimming lesson - the kind where the teacher chucks you in at the deep end and then lobs black bricks at your spluttering bonce. You start a new game, skip through a boring settings menu, and then suddenly you're watching a slinky lady in a catsuit as she chats up a chain-smoking old codger. Their conversation won't make much sense - was that something about the local council? - but before long the scene ends, only to be replaced by a slice of text-based explanation. This sheds some light on the situation, but the words disappear before you've had a chance to fully digest them. Seconds later you're in control of Commander Shepherd, standing in the middle of a great big flaming mess. Who's attacking me? Who was that woman whose face just exploded? Why is my ship in the hands of a limping wiseguy with a silly baseball cap? Do they still have baseball in the future? Wait, did I just die? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?
I know these feelings all too well, because when I first dived into Mass Effect 2, I did so without having played its predecessor. It's rarely easy to stroll into the second part of a trilogy, and in this case there's an awful lot of exposition that you'll ultimately need to swallow. There are the events of the first game, of course, but you'll also have to learn the intricacies of BioWare's immaculately-crafted universe(s): the various species, political collectives, and long-established racial grudges. While this all might seem a bit intimidating, there's a thorough and expertly-presented codex available for you to wade through at any time you wish.
While that might currently sound as appealing as a four hour lecture on the development of nail clippers, there's every chance that you'll read the whole thing. The richness of Mass Effect's world, its subtlety and sheer detail, is ultimately the glue that holds the whole experience together. It's what you'll fall in love with, inch by inch. At some point, a few hours into your initial playthrough, something will give you reason to pause and reflect. "This really is a great place," you'll say to yourself, before returning to the task at hand. And by the time you reach the later chapters of Shepard's Homeric tale, the galaxy will be your home away from home.
But while Mass Effect's epic backdrops - its intergalactic slums, pristine malls and alien nightclubs - will swiftly claim you as their own, the back story may take a bit longer. As you probably know by now, BioWare has included an interactive Dark Horse comic that summarises the events of the first game, allowing players to make the important plot decisions (who to save, who to shag) that will then affect your subsequent adventure. The whole thing is handled rather well, but there's one small problem: as a Mass Effect debutant, none of these choices will really mean anything to you. A choice that might have carried considerable weight in its original context - the decision of whether or not to spare Wrex, for example - is here reduced to a simple either/or snap reaction. Hell, you won't really know who Wrex is until you get to a specific mission, a good way into the story - and only then if you chose not to waste his scaly ass.