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Mass Effect 2 Hands On Preview [PC]

21 Dec 2009  by   Paul Younger
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Writing a spoiler free Mass Effect 2 preview is becoming an increasingly difficult task. The more we see of the game, the more narrative is revealed, and our recent hands-on with the opening first hour of the full game gives away a whole lot of new stuff in terms of Shepard’s story.However, in the interest of adhering to a policy of writing non-spoilerific previews, we’re not going to give away any of Mass Effect 2’s opening story moments. They’ll be for you, the player to unveil when you finally get your eager hands on the game at the end of January.Following the character customisation screen (where presumably old Mass Effect save games will also be detected and also let’s hope there’ll be an option to tweak old characters, so we can adjust our ugly, fish-lipped freak of a man) and a brief textual summary of the events of the first game, you begin back on the Normandy, effectively starting where you left off in the previous Mass Effect. So you’ll see a lot of your trusted crew again and to reacquaint yourself with the clean lines, narrow corridors and cramped quarters of your old vessel, which is rather nice.Of course, it’s not long before pretty cut scenes unfold detailing hugely important events that conspire to shake Shepard’s world to its very foundations, and you’re eventually spat out on the other side. Big spoilers duly sidestepped, the rest of the demo takes place at a Cerberus space station where you meet the slinky, sophisticated Miranda and tough-looking, no-nonsense Jacob.These first two characters you encounter form your initial team, and it’s your job to lead them in an escape from Cerberus HQ as their mechs have been hacked, consequently causing them to turn upon you and the station’s crew. As such, this section – which largely involves engaging in combat with a lot of robotic enemies – doubles as Mass Effect 2’s tutorial, introducing players (old and new alike) to the tighter shooting mechanics and much-improved cover system.You needn’t be concerned that ME2’s revamped combat means the series is shifting focus into all-out shooter territory though, because although the gameplay is possibly every bit as refined as any decent third-person actioner worth its salt, it’s still the dialogue and narrative-driven moments that impress and compel the most.Take an earlier exchange with the shady, enigmatic Illusive Man (voice provided by the distinctive, gravel-tones of Martin Sheen) for instance. The lighting and camera are enormously cinematic and the fantastic graphical finesse (some of the best visuals we’ve seen) highlights this, lending the scene real gravity as the Illusive Man asks for Shepard’s help in confronting the newest threat to mankind, the insect-like Collectors.{PAGE TITLE=Mass Effect 2 Hands On preview page 2}ME1’s dialogue wheel remains intact, much as you’d expect, so your preferred responses are selected via a twiddling of the analogue stick as before. Being the good-natured souls that we are, we agree to aid the Illusive Man, especially since The Collector’s are responsible for the recent disappearance of many of humankind’s dwindling numbers.Pressing on with our fraught space station escape, we’re given access to a modest arsenal of weaponry, including one of Mass Effect 2’s new heavy weapons – the grenade launcher. Blasting rampaging mechs into pieces is great fun, although we can’t help but wonder what kind of mess a well-aimed grenade will make of organic enemies.And speaking of enemies, damage is body part specific too, so a shot to an arm causes it to break off whereas a shot to the head has the appropriate effect. One thing’s for certain however – Mass Effect 2’s shooty bits are a lot more satisfying than they were in the last game. BioWare ought to be applauded for the effort they’ve invested in ironing out the kinks.What’s more, story and action are seamlessly integrated, so between shooting robots and running through corridors to the escape point, there’s time for some chat to flesh out Miranda and Jacob’s characters, and even time for an unexpected double cross and a brief meeting with a familiar face. There’s even the opportunity to stop at a terminal to customise Shepard’s armour, which is no longer restrictive, allowing you to mix and match pieces as well as opt for various types of helmet to equip. You can also change how Shepard looks during his down time by altering his casual appearance – a nice touch.Anyway, following a fast-paced escape, the mission finally concludes with a status screen, which details your stats and enables you to level up in preparation for the next chapter, which in this particular case is down on the surface of a planet where The Collector’s have decided to take up residence. Our time here however is painfully cut short as producer Adrien Cho tells us that’s all they’re willing to show us for today and no more.Just as we were finding ourselves becoming inexorably absorbed once more into Mass Effect’s deeply compelling sci-fi world, we’re dragged kicking and screaming back into reality, where January 29th 2010 seems to be an eternity away.One thing is made massively clear during one solitary hour of play however. This has most definitely been the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Or rather the timely renewal of a beautiful friendship. Predictably, Mass Effect 2 is going to be brilliant and is without a doubt, our most anticipated game for next year so far. Bring it on.

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