Friday, 9 September 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Review

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

In the year 2000, the world was introduced to Deus Ex: a sprawling cyberpunk adventure with multiple paths and endings, a cast of fantastic characters and storytelling beyond most things seen at the time. Which is why it won countless Game of the Year awards.
   In 2003 its sequel, Invisible War, was met with derision as fans of the PC original (which was later ported to the PS2) were angered by the simultaneous release with the Xbox version, and what they thought was a compromised or cut-down game. In all honesty, the sequel was a fantastic game in its own right, albeit a little smaller in scale than its predecessor.
   In 2007, Eidos Montreal took on the immense task of creating a new game in the franchise, one that would wipe the bad memories of Invisible War's reception whilst eclipsing the original game in the franchise. Not an easy task for an entirely new team's first game.
   But one they succeeded in.
   Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place in the year 2027, a full twenty-five years before the events of the original game. Playing as Adam Jensen, a private security operative for Sarif Industries, a simple assignment goes horribly wrong, leaving poor Adam beaten by an unknown augmented chap before being shot in the head. That would ruin anybody's day.
   That is not the end though, far from it, as Sarif Industries, the leading company in human augmentations, puts Adam back together using mechanical augmentations such as his new arms (with blades embedded within, an excellent choice for the security chief of a global organisation) and, although unlocked as you progress, an invisibility cloak, ability to see through walls and many, many more.
   Augmentations have always been an integral part of the Deus Ex games and here it is no different. A new levelling system has been put into place that earns you experience points (XP) for various things – successful hacking, finding secret areas, taking down enemies – and in turn gives you access to Praxis points, which allow you to upgrade or install your various augmentations. Praxis kits can also be found in the really secret areas, as well as in the not-so-secret LIMB clinics, wherein you can buy a limited amount of them for use at any time.
  The various augmentations you buy can be tailored to whatever play style you choose, with the invisibility and hacking ones helping you to maintain a stealthy attitude, the social upgrade helping you to be diplomatic and talk your way out of situations, and the likes of the Typhoon system (deploying miniature mines to knock down multiple foes) and the ability to punch through walls being just a couple of the choices for the more visceral approach. Whichever way you play, you even have the choice of being non-lethal too. Tapping the context-sensitive takedown button will perform a stealthy knock-out attack whereas holding it will result in Jensen killing his prey, each choice ending in any of a number of brilliantly animated scenes as you pummel or butcher your target. This can also be upgraded for taking down two enemies simultaneously too, which leads to an even more stunning array of animated takedowns.
   How Eidos Montreal has limited this is very clever, giving you limited energy supplies (Jensen is using powerful machinery, after all) in the form of bars of energy, with one being used up every time you use a takedown or any other energy-based augmentations. Only one of the bars will recharge though, meaning you have to be frugal in your attempts to bypass the various guards and goons of Deus Ex.
   The guards and peoples that populate the world are all hugely varied depending on the region you are investigating. With Detroit, Hengsha and Singapore on the list of places visited in the game, the variety of each place's residents differs wildly from the others, as do the environments themselves.
   Every location in the game is rendered beautifully, with astonishing attention to detail that extends from simple 'missing persons' posters and giant advertisement billboards, to the intricate post-it notes plastered over desks and computer screens. The lighting and shadows are exquisite too, with locations bathed in the glow of neon signs or the spotlights of vehicles overhead, and the first time you enter Adam's apartment is a thing of real beauty.
   When navigating these places, there are tonnes of hidden areas to explore, pocket secretaries to be found (usually offering access codes to terminals or electronically-locked doors, sometimes crucial when on the run) and masses of people to speak to. Find the right people and you can unlock side missions, often involving finding a certain person/object or to resolve tough situations, and will net you extra XP toward those all-important Praxis points.
   When you find yourself entering into conversation with certain characters, you will be presented with options for various responses or simply to ask questions, but this is often much deeper than it first seems. Decisions can have lasting effects on the story, with one particular choice determining the outcome of a very important scene much further on in the game. It really is a game about choice and consequence, which hits the nail on the head when creating a Deus Ex game.
   The voice acting and storytelling in general gets almost everything right, from the husky voice of the lead to the settings themselves, all created with the utmost care by a team clearly intent on making the best possible experience they could. There is intrigue and suspense, you will feel genuine mistrust for certain characters or affection for others, all the while trying to balance the need to explore with the craving to find out what happens next in the story.
   And this is no small game either, running into the tens of hours' worth of gameplay, with average times coming in at around thirty hours. There is such rich detail and immersion here that you will struggle to part with the controller (or mouse and keyboard) even after long sessions. There are so many moments when the end seems near as well, only to find yet another plot twist or mission that needs completing. In many games this extra time can merely be crammed with filler content but not here, as even the most minor twists can result in massive implications down the line for those who pay attention.
   This all sounds like Human Revolution has no flaws, but that simply is not true. The AI can be a bit glitchy at times, with guards sometimes seeing you without being in their line of sight, and the boss battles can feel a little out of place, though they are usually fun and challenging. However, if you have set up for a stealthy approach, you can often be left fuming when you must face down a boss character head-on – but stealth rules still apply, as the boss AI will still lose you if you slip away undetected.
   All in all, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a stellar example of blending first-person action with role-playing, infusing it with thought-provoking storytelling and a soundtrack that is dripping with atmosphere at all times, and absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful when it hits its best. Even the biggest titles on the horizon this holiday are going to struggle to match this level of quality throughout.
   Eidos Montreal hasn't just eclipsed the original game with Human Revolution, they have probably given us 2011's Game of the Year.


Saturday, 9 July 2011

Grow Up? I've Done That Already, Thanks...

Ever been told to grow up, purely because you still play videogames? I'm 27 and I've done my growing up, it wasn't that fun to tell the truth.
    Fun is why I play games. The escapism, the fantasy, the stress relief, it all comes together to form an experience that no other medium can come close to creating.
    The irony to these people telling you to grow up though, is that they themselves probably own a Wii or a DS, or at least read books or watch films in their spare time, which is essentially for the exact same reason I play games – they want escapism, fantasy and stress relief.
    They want fun.
    And it's these people who are holding back the industry, their closed-mindedness that continues to fuel the argument about whether games should be considered as art or not. That isn't the point of this piece, but there are similar issues plaguing both debates.
    Books are considered as intellectual, writing is an art form (which it definitely is, as I have learned through attempting to write my own novel), yet anybody can read and write with a little practice.
    Films can be considered intellectual too, at least when it comes to the art house stuff rather than the Michael Bay school of big explosions and mindless action. But even Mr Bay has shown that absolutely anyone can make a film, Kevin Smith is also a patron of this way of thinking.
    Not everyone can make a videogame, at least not without some form of training. There are masses of data to consider beyond just telling a story, staging a football game or allowing people to shoot the hell out of each other online. It's a time-consuming process that often ends with unfinished products, as we've seen countless times.
    Anyway, I'm rambling.
    My point was that gaming is about having fun, either with friends or alone. Reading is about enjoying a story or discovering something new. Films are about having fun and enjoying the ride, be it something heavy and thought provoking or an adrenaline-fuelled action extravaganza.
    Some people believe gaming is for kids. Those people are missing out on some of the most rewarding media experiences available, which is their loss.

Silent Hill 2 - Gaming at its most mature.    
    Ever been scared silly, simply by having your character trapped in a closet with a disgusting creature outside? Been terrified purely by incredible characters that play on simple psychological ideas? Silent Hill 2 did those things and more, without resorting to gore or screaming obscenities to provide a more 'mature' experience.
    The Mass Effect series has shown how mixing a simple shooter with deep role-playing mechanics can lead to one of the most engaging, story-driven adventures in recent history. Again, without resorting to immature tactics.
    Call of Duty is obviously the most famous series of the moment, purely for the amount of fun players get out of competing online. The series does have some very impressive storyline examples, but the multiplayer aspect is what draws in the audience year in, year out.
Call of Duty - played by millions online.
An 18-rated game too, which many parents
obviously ignore.
    Sure, there can be immature players online, though that's mostly due to parents allowing children to play 18-rated games. Yet another argument best left for another time. The point of playing online though is the competitive aspect, which is often overlooked by those telling you to grow up.
    There's no real difference between an adult playing something like Call of Duty online, and somebody playing football on a Sunday morning. Both offer the same competitive aspect, despite one being mental exercise whereas the other is physical.
    And this doesn't include the co-operative side of multiplayer gaming, which actively encourages players – be they friends or complete strangers – to work together to complete various objectives. Some even lead to genuine friendships being formed, nothing to scoff at when said people would likely never meet otherwise, sometimes because they live on opposite sides of the world.
    Gaming is more grown-up than people give it credit for.
    And no matter how you look at it, gaming is no less mature than reading a book, watching a film or playing football on a Sunday morning.
    Anyone telling you otherwise needs to open their eyes.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Race Driver: Grid

Motor racing has been around for decades, it has brought fun and joy to millions through Formula One, Le Mans, Touring Cars and many other forms in other parts of the world, such as Drifting and Touge in Japan and Muscle Cars in America and Australia.
    You can try your hand at all of them in Codemasters' classic racer.
    Starting out as an amateur driver in a new team, you are tasked with bringing in the money by first racing for other teams in order to bring a Mustang back to life as your first team car. After that, the world opens up to you and you will begin racing for your own team and start catching the eye of sponsors. This is where the customisation comes into play.
    Rather than allowing the player to upgrade the car's parts, you are only given the option to create your own paint job from existing designs and customising the colours to suit your own preferences. Then you name the team, add sponsors (all of which come with objectives to fulfil in order to receive the cash bonus) and later add a team mate, once you have earned enough to hire one.
    There are three territories to race in: Europe, Japan and USA. Every territory comes with its own distinct racing events and courses, all with varying degrees of difficulty and sense of identity, brought to life by breathtaking visuals. Through winning races, you will gain reputation points that will eventually unlock licenses to race in the higher tiers and, eventually, race in the Global championships – six events that mix and match courses from around the world.
Grid's, erm... grids offer up to 20 racers at once!
    And that does not include the Le Mans 24 Hours race at the end of every season. Simulating a 24-hour clock complete with day and night cycle, this race takes around 10-15 minutes to complete and offers multiple classes, just like the real thing. Winning your class is the only objective you have – the ultimate aim being to buy your own top-tier racer and win the event outright.
    It is the racing itself that takes first prize though, with fantastic physics that convey a real sense of connection between driver and car, tyres and road, offering the most direct control of any racer and then coupling it with the best AI. The computer-controlled racers will fight for position, yield the racing line and, though rarely, they will play dirty.

    It is at these moments when the Flashback option comes in handy. No longer will you have to restart an entire race when something goes hugely wrong (and in Grid, you can total your car so “hugely wrong” is inevitable for even the best driver), instead press the Flashback button and you can rewind a few seconds and get straight back into the action – just remember to learn from your mistakes!
    From casual beginnings through to fierce competition in later events, the difficulty is customisable via AI level, Pro Mode (turns off race restarts) and various handling assists that can be turned on or off, making it an extremely accessible racer for everyone.
    Many new games have come and gone since Grid's 2008 release: Forza Motorsport 3, Need for Speed: Shift and its sequel Shift 2: Unleashed, and of course Gran Turismo 5, but not one of them has managed to recreate that perfect blend of realism and a touch of arcade fun that Grid so gleefully flaunts.
    And that is why the unconfirmed sequel still sits at the top of my 'most wanted' list.


Friday, 26 November 2010

The Top 5 Games of 2010

Five - Red Dead Redemption

After the lacklustre GTA IV, Rockstar really pulled out all the stops for its Western take on the sandbox game.
Playing through John Marston's reluctant tale of revenge and, as the title makes abundantly clear, redemption was an incredible experience. The huge amount of stuff to do throughout the game was mind blowing, with stranger missions, hunting, plant collecting and many other pursuits, the game more than made up for GTA IV's empty Liberty City.
The story itself was wonderfully told and the voice acting was excellent throughout, with interesting characters and genuine emotion on display via some impressive animation.
And with the recently released Undead Nightmare expansion, Red Dead Redemption just keeps on giving – a sure fire bet for many “Game of the Year” awards.

Four – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Heavenly Sword's combination of amazing storytelling, wonderful animation and extremely talented voice actors is something most studios have yet to match, which is why Ninja Theory is still one of the top developers in the action adventure genres.
Enslaved is another showcase of Ninja Theory's talent.

The visuals are stunning in the retelling of Monkey's story, his escape from a prison ship and eventual protection of his captor, Trip – the greatest character the game has to offer and one of the most believable in gaming history.
It may not have much in the way of replay value but the game is strong enough that you will not forget it, nor the wonderful characters.

Three – Darksiders

A Zelda game with a darker edge, this game had potential right from the start. The story of War being wrongfully accused of setting off the apocalypse is one that will stick with me for a long time.

The art direction and general design of the game is inspired, the artwork of comic artist Joe Madureira is very striking and will remain instantly recognisable for years to come.
The story itself may be linear but the world has so much to offer beyond the main story that you will be kept going for hours and hours and still will not have found all that the game has to offer!
War's steed, Ruin, is the perfect image for a game that is truly the dark horse of 2010...

Two – Medal of Honor

While the rest of the world waited for Call of Duty: Black Ops, EA's new Danger Close studio released, with a fair bit of controversy, a game based on the struggles in the ongoing Afghanistan war.

Whereas Activision's franchise has become synonymous with the bravado of Hollywood's big budget action movies, Medal of Honor took a different path and focused on the struggles of a select number of soldiers with no overarching “dictator intent on world domination” plot or similar, the result is one of the most emotionally charged shooters ever created.
And, unfortunately, one of the most criminally overlooked games of the year.

One – Mass Effect 2

Bioware's space epic started with one of the most stunning scenes in gaming history, followed later on by another of the most gripping and emotional scenes in gaming history, then ending with yet another mind blowing revelation.
The game literally never lets you go.
Even the dullest part of the game is addictive: the planet scanning. Slowly scanning the surface of every planet in order to gather materials for upgrades to both squad and ship, in order to survive what should be a suicide mission.
There is no escaping the drama as you gather your team to take on the Collectors, a race of aliens that have been abducting entire colonies of humans, getting to know each team member individually and then possibly losing them during the final battle is an experience that very few games can come even close to replicating.
The quality even shines through in the downloadable content, with a particularly moving episode in the form of Overlord, not to mention the more integral episode in Lair of the Shadow broker. Every single DLC released has had a massive impact on the game and its fanbase.

Notable Mentions

Alan Wake

A great take on the horror genre, with some very atmospheric moments and an amazing episodic structure, something Alone in the Dark tried - and failed miserably with – in the past.
Unfortunately its DLC was unnecessary and did not reflect the quality on offer in the main game, something that unfairly tarnished the game's reputation.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

The original game was one of the most intelligent, amusing and innovative shooters ever made, so the sequel had a lot to live up to.
It took away some of the innovation and replaced it with a more streamlined gaming experience, replaced some of the humour with a darker storyline but never really compromised the integrity of the game proper. It made for a very intense experience and it was more than a match for Modern Warfare 2.
Add to that the fantastic and varied multiplayer and Bad Company 2 becomes one of the best online shooters this generation has to offer.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

Criterion's take on the Need for Speed franchise is something to be admired. The game combines the fun of Burnout with the real world cars that EA's racing series is known for, then goes back to the roots of Need for Speed: the illegal street racing and the police chases that follow.
The result is arguably the most fun racing experience this generation and the true sequel to Burnout 2: Point of Impact.

Halo Reach

Despite knowing the end before it began, as Microsoft was so keen to advertise, the resulting campaign was a great experience. True, the story itself was fairly generic and Noble team's fate ended up being quite disappointingly revealed, but the strongest point of Halo's past – the shooting action – was just as strong as ever.
And let us not forget that stunning, post-credits conclusion...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

God of War III

Kratos is a very angry man, let’s get that out of the way now. He has been very angry with Zeus and the other gods of Greek mythology, not to mention having quite a thing against anything living or dead. So it is rather fitting that his games have been largely about pounding the proverbial out of anything and everything, with as much violence as possible.
    After two fantastic (and obviously violent) games on the PlayStation 2, Sony’s Santa Monica Studios finally set its sights on the latest behemoth: the PlayStation 3. The previous games were epic in every sense of the word, with stunning vistas, complex puzzles and some absolutely massive boss battles, all the while butchering everyone and everything from the tomes of Greek mythology.
    This third games picks up directly from the end of God of War II, with the promise of an epic battle alongside the colossal Titans as Kratos takes his quest for vengeance to the very peak of Mount Olympus, hell bent on killing Zeus and any other god that may stand in his way.
    Sounds exciting, does it not? It is at first, too. A sweeping battle with Poseidon kicks off the action, a massive water horse (complete with giant crab legs) pounds its way across the face of Mount Olympus, crushing both your enemies and titanic allies as your fight rages on. After a few moments, the action switches to another familiar staple of the series: the QTE scene. It’s a much-maligned facet of the gaming industry today, but one that is used fairly well throughout Santa Monica’s series and is no different here - other than turning the violence up to eleven.

    The violence has always been present in Kratos’ adventures: tearing wings from harpies, hacking off the heads of Hydras, pulling out the eyes of Cyclops and so on, but never has it been so vivid as it is here. Tearing out the eyes of a Cyclops, seeing the juices and the gore dripping and spurting from the socket, or tearing heads off beasts and seeing individual tendons rip away as more gore pours forth - this is a game that really deserves its 18 certificate.
    At heart though, this game plays no different to its predecessors. The control scheme is identical, with only a couple of minor additions as you unlock new items during the game. Make no mistake, this is not a game for newcomers, do not be fooled by the ‘catch-up’ sequence during the intro. We visit old areas from previous games, fight familiar enemies and hear the same music alongside Kratos’ usual angry growling and shouting.
    This familiarity is what makes the game such a disappointment. The potential shown at the end of God of War II (and the beginning of III) is never lived up to as the player is treated to almost exactly the same formula seen in both previous games, having to earn Kratos’ powers once again and work your way back through familiar block-pushing puzzles and time-limit arenas - all the while throwing in whatever Greek mythology figures that Kratos hasn’t already killed. Though they all find themselves dead enough within a short time.

    The two prequels (three, if you count the PSP’s Chains of Olympus) all flowed nicely with functional stories that made it possible to visit the expansive environments within the source material. God of War III does not continue this pattern, instead being a mishmash of seemingly random environs as you follow the flimsiest of plots that only seems to serve the purpose of bringing in names like Hercules, Hades, Hera and Pandora with no real reason other than to demonstrate that Santa Monica knows who these people were.

    With gameplay that keeps the player engaged and some nice visuals, the game plods along at a decent speed at least, running up around 5-6 hours of game time and also offering plenty of challenges for those who finish the game. It is just a shame that, after being a milestone in the hack ‘n’ slash genre for so long, God of War III shows just how far the rest of that genre has come, leaving Kratos to stew in his anger instead of unleashing it on a new generation.


Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Dante's Inferno

After Dead Space became a global hit, Visceral had the world at its feet. When EA announced that it was making a game based on the significant poem  ‘Inferno’ - part of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy - many scoffed, possibly with good reason, but when Visceral’s name was attached to the development some of those people relented, knowing it was in good hands.
    The decision to make a hack ‘n’ slash game from this poem was still met with criticism though, as many believed it needed to be deeper than basically mashing buttons for a few hours. Visceral ploughed through these criticisms and carried on with the idea, using God of War as the template. Problems began to arise there however, as it was putting Dante up against one of gaming’s biggest franchises of the past decade and, worse, ended up putting itself up against arguably the biggest part of said franchise: God of War III. This put Dante’s Inferno in a tough position before it had even been released.

    What becomes apparent upon playing the game is that Visceral did not just use God of War as a simple template, it copied the whole thing from control scheme to move set to game mechanics and design - not taking into account the problems within Sony’s franchise, instead copying all the best and worst bits of Kratos’ original PS2 adventure.
    The game itself starts well, throwing the player into a harsh world of violence during the Crusades. Dante finds himself  having to fight innocent prisoners (basically a small tutorial on the combat system) and, upon being stabbed in the back by an assassin, comes face to face with Death himself. This triggers a somewhat half-hearted attempt at a boss battle, with Death using his trademark scythe to attack Dante with preset routines and, in true God of War style, ends with a QTE scene (press the button shown on screen at the right time) as Dante steals the scythe and kills Death with it before heading home to his beloved Beatrice.
    Beatrice is a name you will hear a lot during this game, as upon returning home Dante finds her slain (and bare-breasted, for some reason) and her spirit is taken captive by Satan, prompting Dante’s quest into the Underworld.

    The original descent into Hell is impressive as a church building falls apart to reveal the fiery depths below, leading the player downward on ladders of flesh and bone to fight the various demons. This involves a lot of pressing a heavy or light attack button quite a lot, or using Dante’s Holy Cross - something not really explained at any point during the game - to despatch the legions of Hell. There is also the option to condemn or absolve the various creatures, as for some reason the Holy Cross has enabled Dante to judge the damned as he sees fit. It is a nice mechanic though and offers a reward in either good or evil points to spend on upgrades.
    During your stay in the hot climes of the Inferno, you will find yourself travelling through the Nine Circles of Hell, each circle coming with its own unique set of foul creatures - Lust and Gluttony are obviously the ones that come with the most interesting and disgusting creations - but these unique enemies are not the problem, the frequently-recycled standard creatures are the things you will bludgeon most often and you will quickly tire of them.

    Considering Visceral’s Dead Space is one of the best looking games to come out of this generation of consoles, it may come as a shock to learn that Dante’s Inferno is pretty weak in the visual department. The resolution is suitably high and the lighting effects are stunning at times, but the textures are bland and uninspiring along with some very average creature design on the standard beasts. The whole package feels almost as if Visceral had no real passion for this project and just put the work necessary into it and nothing more.
    There are no real puzzles to speak of throughout the game either, instead replaced by timed arenas and, in one inexplicably awful design choice, a series of challenge rooms that only serve to artificially lengthen the game time while simultaneously frustrating the player with challenges the game has never prepared you for.
    The story is also poorly told which is odd considering the source material, with the majority of the story revolving around Dante shouting a lot about wanting his Beatrice back and whining like a teenage boy about how unfair the situation is. The cross that Dante sews into his own chest is never fully explained either, yet serves as the main focus point for the game’s flashbacks into Dante’s sins, which usually revolve around sex and violence and incredibly unsubtle pot-shots at the Church.

    This all makes for a fairly unsatisfying experience as your journey through the fiery depths seems to be for nothing more than chasing a naked woman whilst repeatedly bludgeoning demons with a large blade. The story goes largely unnoticed until the last half hour of the game and even then it makes no sense as Visceral did not bother to tell you anything else in the previous five or six hours of game time.
    All in all, there is an irony present throughout a game based in Hell wherein the player is constantly killed unfairly and frustratingly, after being lead there by promises of something greater than they received.
    If you really want to spend time in the company of Dante and his beloved Beatrice, do yourself a favour and rent the anime movie instead - you will get twice the enjoyment, twice the story and none of the frustration, all wrapped up in 90 minutes.


Sunday, 9 May 2010

Mass Effect 2

 With the original Mass Effect being my favourite 360 game, Bioware had a lot to live up to when creating its sequel. The original was epic, a galaxy-wide adventure that created a truly astonishing and masterfully-crafted array of characters, worlds and species - all brought together in a fantastic blend of RPG and third person squad shooter.
    Sure, it had its faults but that is where the sequel comes in - it totally revamps and revitalises the entire system, streamlining the inventory by giving you full access to your weapons without restricting your inventory space and introducing a new ammo system that genuinely makes the player think strategically before entering a potential battle zone.
    The combat system has also been refined, with a tighter control system and some advanced AI (though it sometimes gets itself into trouble) it becomes a tense affair as you are flanked by opponents of varying specie and armour type, some even having ‘kinetic barriers’ that need to be taken down with biotic powers - these are easier to use too, with the improved power system that allows you to slow the action to a crawl and line up your teams’ powers on specific targets, bringing a far more tactical nature to the combat this time around.
    The story itself is the main draw however, continuing Sheperd’s battle against the Reapers and starting with one of the most explosive introduction sequences you are likely to see for a long time. Anyone could be forgiven for being disappointed with the less epic nature of Sheperd’s second outing, but this is down to it being a more personal story that is more about bringing out the characters in the new squad and really cementing them as some of the greatest and most realistic characters ever to come from a game - and really forcing the player to make some extremely tough decisions as the game progresses.
     The excellent dialogue wheel from the first game makes a return here, with a new ‘interrupt’ system that becomes available at certain points in the game, allowing the player to make a quick decision (both good (Paragon) and bad (Renegade) options are available) that can have serious repercussions on the story, or simply make a bad situation worse. The voice acting is even better than the original too, with stars such as Martin Sheen, Keith David, Tricia Helfer and Seth Green bringing that extra quality to an already fantastic script.
    The visuals have been given a huge makeover as Sheperd and his team are stunningly realised with superb textures, animation, lip-syncing and one of the most gorgeous lighting systems seen in gaming today.
    There are problems, such as the dull (but strangely addictive) planet scanning element, the AI sometimes being a bit silly and getting itself killed, and some harsh difficulty spikes, but these become minor inconveniences as they are snowed under by the many good points.
    From the explosive opening, through the myriad twists and turns in a script that puts most movies to shame (not to mention one terrifying and heart-wrenching scene that really must be seen), all the way to the mind blowing conclusion, Mass Effect 2 will be a game remembered fondly for years to come and, quite possibly, be crowned game of the year.