In some ways, I wish I had waited for PlayStation 3 port of Mass Effect 2 before introducing myself to Bioware's richly imagined universe. Granted, I wouldn't have played one of the great games of the last few years until now, but it would also have saved the 15 hours I spent with the original game. See also: Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut review
That will sound sacrilegious to die-hard fans, but I believe Mass Effect has aged quite poorly. The roleplaying mechanics don't match up with the shooting mechanics, the story takes a long time to get into gear, and it's clear that Bioware wasn't entirely comfortable with Unreal Engine 3 back in 2007. Cast in that light, the interactive comic included with the sequel's PS3 port is a fine alternative to actually playing through the original game.
The comic, of course, is essential. One of Mass Effect's biggest draws is the way each player's Commander Shepard persists from game to game, and without that element the PS3 version would have felt barren. But the comic, which pops up shortly after the opening sequence - still one of the best parts of the game - offers a colourful alternative way to make key choices from the first game. It doesn't offer the same immediacy of actually playing through those events, but speaking as someone who will probably never go back to Mass Effect, I find the comic very welcome.
For all intents and purposes, this is a Mass Effect 2: Game of the Year Edition. Bioware claims that the PlayStation 3 version is in fact running on the Mass Effect 3 engine, but if that's the case it's tough to see with the naked eye. That might seem disappointing to some, but I prefer to look at it another way: it means that PlayStation 3 owners won't be stuck with yet another middling to awful port.
That being said, PlayStation 3 owners who haven't played the Xbox 360 or PC versions are still in for a treat. Bioware put out some great DLC last year, and it's all accessible from the very first moment here. I was pleased with how seamlessly the Lair Of The Shadowbroker and Kasumi content, in particular, fit into the overall campaign: they're right there in the galaxy map, making them no different from any other quest. Kasumi, Shadowbroker, and Overlord add around an hour apiece to the game, and are well worth your time.
Less obvious, but also worth noting, is the inclusion of all the special guns Bioware released as DLC. The Black Hole Gun probably isn't worth purchasing on its own, but it still provides some remarkable eye candy in the way each shot creates a mini-singularity that devours large packs of enemies. And the inclusion of a wide variety of new conventional weapons and bonus armour certainly makes Shepard feel quite a bit more robust than it did in the 'vanilla' version of the game.
The Magnificent Seven-esque quest to recruit an elite team on behalf of the pro-human organisation Cerberus remains unchanged. Much digital ink has been spilled over the past year on whether Mass Effect 2 swung too far into third-person shooter territory with its universal ammo and stripped-down talent trees. But personally, I'm willing to overlook the lack of crunchy mechanics in favour of the tremendous job Bioware has done in making every Shepard unique, the vastly improved action, and the outstanding final mission - apart from the final boss, which is still silly. There's much more to be said on this topic, but whether or not the streamlining bothers you is really down to personal taste.
Regardless, the PlayStation 3 version of Mass Effect 2 is a very good port of one of the best games of 2010, and I can recommend it without hesitation. Even without the promised visual overhaul, the inclusion of the downloadable content and the interactive comic probably do make this the "definitive" version of the game, as Bioware has claimed. With that in mind, though, Xbox 360 and PC owners can easily obtain the DLC, and even the comic is apt to be available on their respective platforms before too long.
What's important is that the PlayStation 3 version of Mass Effect 2 successfully brings series newcomers up to speed, which I'm sure was Bioware's primary objective. All that's left now is for PlayStation 3 owners to decide whether it's really worth finding a way to dig up a copy of the original game on the Xbox 360 or PC ahead of the grand finale.
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