Blade Runner. Star Wars. Star Trek. What do these Science Fiction juggernauts have in common. A double barrelled name of course.
And now we can add another. Mass Effect. The original game was a solid expedition into outer space, often feeling like a fan tribute to Star Wars with it's creepy re-imagining of "the force" and jedi-like peace keepers of the galaxy. The sequel however is a much improved effort from developer Bioware.
Straight off the game no longer feels like a George Lucas powerpoint presentation. What I infer by this is that the original had such a bad framerate it often devolved into a slideshow during intense combat segments and particularly well detailed environments. No more. Mass Effect 2 flows smoothly from combat to exploration without forcing your console into a fit of whooping coughs.
Character interaction is also miles ahead of it's archaic predecessor, with conversations forcing both parties to interact as they move around the room, a welcome change to the oddly static system of the original. Furthermore conversations can be interrupted with typical gaminess moral ramifications. Is some green alien withholding vital information that you need, fuck him, put a gun to his abnormal little eyes, although expect to receive stern words from your more virtuous companions. In fact, the interrupt system is an example of how Bioware's approach to morality has improved over the years. These dark versus light alignments are a trademark of Bioware RPGs, ever since they ironically created KOTOR. However in Mass Effect 2 they appear to havebeen replaced by a postmodern equivalent. No longer are these two distinctions binary opposites, with the player able to garner both without sacrificing the other. Both moral standings can now grow parallel to one another, with the reasoning that Shepherd (the player) is on a suicide mission, he doesn't always have to play nice.
The game's depiction of a galaxy littered with multiple species is also full of racial subtext. As you progress you realise that not every species appreciates one another, and that extends to you, the human. In fact, dialogue options offer you the chance to become strangely racist yourself. I in particular have noticed my own tendency to help another human isn't always mirrored by my tendency to help a Batarian for example. Perhaps this is a result of my racial discrimination from the Batarians in the game, but whatever Bioware have done, it works.
Performance issues, characterisation and improved combat help Mass Effect 2 massively outclass the original, and that massively impresses me.