This write-up was originally planned as a straight-forward, by-the-books review of the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2. But as I played Sony’s version more and more, I realized that the game is essentially the same incredible title I played a year ago, only with slightly better graphics and no requirement to disc swap. So I decided it was unnecessary to retread familiar territory and write what essentially would be the exact same review twice. All you need to know about the quality of Mass Effect 2 is that it was one of our staff’s absolute favorite games of 2010, ranking only behind Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Red Dead Redemption. And even then, those three titles are pretty much interchangeable.
But if you need more than that you can read my original review of Mass Effect 2 on Xbox 360. Furthermore, the PS3 version of the game comes with three extra missions that all released for the Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect 2 at an additional cost over Xbox Live months after the game originally launched. Two of the three add-ons I reviewed when they released, which you can read here (Kasumi’s Stolen Memory) and here (Lair of the Shadow Broker).
So, you’re probably wondering what is left to talk about with the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2? Well, in my opinion, outside Mass Effect 2 releasing on the PS3 at all, the coolest feature to this version of the game is the interactive digital comic that catches players up with the backstory of the universe.
See, I loved the original Mass Effect when I played it in 2007. But I was never able to replay it after my first completion because, looking back, there were a number of annoyances that I never wanted to relive. For one, the loading times were incredibly rough, especially when riding elevators. Secondly, the shooter mechanics were pretty pedestrian when compared against other high-caliber shooters on the market. Firefights in the original Mass Effect were also hindered by the fact that most enemies in the game never wanted to take part in them, choosing instead to rush you and beat you into submission.
Look, the original Mass Effect was a game with an incredibly epic plot, a well-rounded cast of characters and great looking visuals. But in hindsight, the gameplay was a little hollow when compared to the rest of the package.
So consider it a blessing in disguise that Microsoft still owns the rights to the original Mass Effect, making it legally impossible for Sony and BioWare to port the game over to the PS3. Therefore, as an alternative, BioWare teamed up with Dark Horse Comics to create a digital interactive prequel comic, called Mass Effect: Genesis, which would let PS3 players catch up on the story of Mass Effect 1 while also being able to make the difficult decisions that help shape your version of Mass Effect canon (one of the absolute best qualities of the ME series).
Mass Effect: Genesis comes as a free download with copies of Mass Effect 2 on PS3. Genesis is not automatically included with the game, making it so you don’t have to partake in the 15-minute comic refresher course if you don’t want too. But if you do decide to download and install Mass Effect: Genesis, the interactive comic will automatically kick in right after the game’s opening sequence.
Unfortunately, the transition is not as seamless as I would have hoped. Without getting into spoiler territory, the opening sequence of Mass Effect 2 is incredibly epic and shocking. When you finally do see the game’s title card, you’re anxiously wondering what will happen next as the camera pans over Earth’s horizon and a soft, dissonant piano theme begins to play.
Then you get punched right square in the face with a really obnoxious, out of place second title card for the Dark Horse interactive comic. It’s a complete mood killer. While I like the thinking behind BioWare inserting this comic between the opening sequence and this sequel’s “fresh beginning” — acting as a man’s life flashing before his eyes — I’m honestly shocked that the transition from game to comic, and then back to game again is so poorly implemented, with a clear focus on giving props to the company that made it instead of a smooth, fluid segue to maintain immersion.
But outside that initial “necessary” Dark Horse plug, Mass Effect: Genesis acts as a pretty good Wikipedia recap of the first Mass Effect, only with this you get pretty art and a Commander Shepard voiceover. Although, you may be disappointed to know that the Dark Horse art does not animate. It’s all static images paneled out, just as you would see them in an actual comic book.
The last major component of the Dark Horse interactive comic is the actual interactivity of it. While you are able to make every major decision from the first Mass Effect game — shaping not only your Mass Effect 2 save file, but also your eventual Mass Effect 3 game — there is a slight loss in translation in the gravity of each of these choices when a 15+ hour game is condensed into a 15-minute recap. There is no real character development in Mass Effect: Genesis, it’s more of a factual review that sets the stage for the sequel. If you don’t go in expecting a deep, emotionally-moving character drama in 15 minutes, odds are you’ll come away appreciating what BioWare and Dark Horse have created to fill in some of the backstory for gamers new to the franchise.
If it wasn’t clear in my introduction paragraphs, Mass Effect 2 is an absolute must-buy for PlayStation 3 owners. There is no excuse not to pick this game up. While the digital interactive comic might not capture all the nuances of Mass Effect 1, it still gets the job done. Simple as that. But for $60 you get one of the best action-RPGs ever made, plus a massive amount of free add-on content. This is the definition of no-brainer for the PS3 crowd.