The Backlog: Mass Effect 2log

So, yeah.

Some little game you might have heard of called Mass Effect 2 dropped in stores on Tuesday, and...yeah. We've all been putting some time into that — some of us at the detriment of schoolwork (*ahem*) — and yelling at anyone daring to spoil any aspect of the game (but that may just be me). We also have divided opinions on the game, too, so read on and see where the contention lies (spoiler free, naturally).

We've also been able to play some other games — Forza 3 and some iPhone games included — and it's time to dig into the details in this week's Backlog.

Aaron

Aside from a couple hours of job hunting and your typical shower, bathroom and cooking breaks, all I did yesterday was play Mass Effect 2. All day. Really.

Normally that sort of addictive behavior is a bad thing, but I can't help how invested I am in BioWare's top-notch masterpiece. A lot of people won't see where I'm coming from, and could simply dismiss my fevered fandom as giving into the grand ol' train of hype. Sorry, that's not the case. Everything presented in Mass Effect 2 effortlessly vaults over my personal hype bar -- something I've raised multiple times since the first game came out two years ago.

So let's have some fun with ridiculous parallels! Yesterday, a friend and I told each other what movie came to mind while playing Mass Effect 2. We independently agreed beforehand that Mass Effect 2 is like the Empire Strikes Back of gaming. Now, this isn't said to bring up the "games as art" debate, or how this particular title is approaching that illogical notion of a Citizen Kane level of a cross-cinematic/interactive experience. Instead, drawing the Star Wars parallel lets me acknowledge just how brilliant the second installment of the Mass Effect trilogy is compared with another famous sequel.

Being the middle child, Mass Effect 2 does suffer from the occasional dangling plot thread and extreme amounts of foreshadowing for events that will unfold in the third title. That was also the case with Empire. Both works employ a darker tone to their daring space adventures, and each adds multiple new aspects of their respective worlds to the mix to make playing or watching either both deep and satisfying (in my case, anyway).

Empire added Yoda, master of the Force, as well as hundreds of other details ranging from planets (Hoth and Bespin) to peoples (Ugnaughts and, well, Lobot). Mass Effect 2 does the same thing George Lucas' sequel did 30 years ago, and is a richer experience because of it. New species and enemies are introduced every hour or two, and the sheer scale of the other half of the Milky Way Galaxy (explored via the gorgeous new Galaxy Map) is staggering and refreshing. I won't spoil the surprises, even the names of new races, because it's all important. Nearly every detail and reveal adds up to something great or at least interesting. Let me also mention the beautifully arranged set pieces, color palettes and camera work in Mass Effect 2, all of which hold their own against the best cinematic aspects of Empire; even though one was created using real cameras and the other with those of the computer variety.

I could go on, and make far stronger comparisons between Mass Effect and The Empire Strikes Back. But let's save the flair of academia for the review. You may not believe me, but that's another reason I'm powering through the game: to review it for you.

Here's a parting thought: I haven't had this perfect of an initial gaming experience since I first placed my pre-teen hands on the Toys "R" Us kiosk controller for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in 1998. Many games have impressed me, wowed me and enthralled me; however, Mass Effect 2 is -- so far -- among the greatest I've played.

Nick

Look, I don't want to be the bearer of bad news, but I'm not sure why the rest of you guys are so enamored with Mass Effect 2. After playing for five hours over the last three days, I've been placed in an uncomfortable position: I'm feeling jilted and unhappy with the sequel to one of my favorite games ever. Compounding the awkwardness of my situation is my friends' collective rapture and the critics' unanimous praise for the game.

There are so many minor improvements in Mass Effect 2 that many people seem to think add up to a much better product than the sum of its parts. It's a philosophy that worked very well for sequels like Left 4 Dead 2 and Assassin's Creed 2. But in Mass Effect 2, so many of those things that were fixed weren't even a problem in the first place. Why make exploring the galaxy a tedious chore? Why make scanning a planet into a dull and protracted minigame of rare metal detection? And while I am glad to see some major problems resolved, such as the first game's unfathomably cumbersome inventory system, the decision to just get rid of an inventory system altogether is a bit extreme. This is not an RPG in the pure sense anymore; whether or not that's a good thing I have yet to determine. I may be unfairly biased towards the more traditional approach having just finished Dragon Age: Origins, but at the same time I'm not certain BioWare was up to the impossible task of delivering two of the best RPGs in history within three months of each other.

I've actually been getting most of my kicks from another game I recently picked up, Forza Motorsport 3. That familiar, primal node in my brain that craves the cycle of buy-race-upgrade-race-collect-race has been reawakened for the first time since Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec. Forza 3 blows the Gran Turismo series out of the water with its brilliant, all-are-welcome approach to car racing. Whether you want to simply hold one button to drive or manage every aspect of your car's tuning, Forza 3's got you covered.

Doug

I may not have been able to put as much time into Mass Effect 2 as I wanted to, but I've certainly spent more time thinking about this game than most anything else this week. The game taunted me from my backpack in class Tuesday, and when I finally got to break it open Wednesday morning it was not a disappointment.

Nick and I have gone back and forth on this all week. I understand some of his contentions, but allow him to disagree and be wrong. This is almost the perfect sequel — all the huff-and-puff in the press about how Bioware has taken all of the criticisms of the first game to heart and changed all of them is quite true, even if the new changes are not themselves completely perfect. As Aaron mentioned, there's been a change to even how you fly from planet to planet and system to system in the game's overworld map; it's unique and different, but I'm not quite sure if it's any better.

Fortunately most of those changes are for the better, chief among them the combat. Cover is important, and your teammates seem far more useful this time around — early on, they'll even give you instructions and hints on how to tackle some of the tougher enemies you'll see out the gate. Biotic and tech powers seem a bit better explained with the simple addition of describing what they're weak and strong against. I could keep going — and would love to, actually, because the story and gameplay is that good in both detail and scope — but this can't turn into a mini-review.

In the time I have not been playing Mass Effect 2, I've been burning my iPhone's battery a bit. Doodle Jump might be about a year old by now, but it's still got a simple and addictive gameplay formula that has my complete and utter attention. It's easy — just keep jumping up. But it's challenging and addictive because jumping up gets harder and harder as time goes on. I almost launched my iPhone across the room when the game introduced platforms that the player has to touch and move into position on their own. Screw that nonsense, I'll go back to daydreaming about Mass Effect 2.