There’s a starman killing lots of guys

Commander Shepard and the “Mass Effect” series branch out to PlayStation 3.

Tony Libera

âÄúMass Effect 2âÄù

Rated: M

Distributed for: PS3, PC, Xbox 360

Those who shun the likes of Microsoft and its various omnipresent offshoots may be unfamiliar with the âÄúMass EffectâÄù series, but with the release of âÄúMass Effect 2âÄù on PlayStation 3, gamers who donâÄôt worship at the House of Gates can now explore the highly praised videogame franchise.

âÄúMass Effect 2âÄù follows the exploits of the legendary Commander Shepard, a cross between the Master Chief of the âÄúHaloâÄù series and the various âÄúFableâÄù leads. The game opens with the characterâÄôs death then jumps forward two years to his revival aboard a Cerberus space station (apparently death is reversible in the future). The Cerberus organization has a shady reputation throughout the galaxy, but Shepard, paragon of humanity that he or she is (the player decides), accepts their help in an effort to quell the dealings of the Collectors, an alien race with a nasty habit of attacking human colonies and abducting their inhabitants.

As the story proceeds, Shepard must recruit a cadre of lethal allies âÄî human and inhuman âÄî to carry out what is repeatedly and casually referred to as a suicide mission.

The gameplay runs in the vein of an action RPG, with the player deciding when and where to go in an impressively large fictional universe. There are so many different planets to explore, characters to meet, weapons to find and side quests to complete âÄî along with new downloadable content for PS3 âÄî that âÄúcompletingâÄù the game can literally take hours upon hours.

Remarkably, the game never stalls or even comes close to staleness, as Shepard continually finds him or herself in precarious situations that the gamer is forced to blast their way out of.

Some players may be reluctant to jump blindly into the middle of a series, but the opening sequence in âÄúMass Effect 2âÄù provides enough back-story to allow PS3 users to catch-up. The events of the previous game unfold in the form of an interactive comic, courtesy of Dark Horse, which allows the player to learn about the âÄúMass EffectâÄù universe while retroactively making key decisions that influence the makeup of the second installment.

Like its predecessor, âÄúMass Effect 2âÄù is a game firmly rooted in choice. Every action taken, every breath uttered, every prominent alien creature mowed down with a futuristic sub-machine gun directly affects not only the missions embarked on, but also the perception of the protagonist, as well as his or her future decisions. WhatâÄôs more, the choices one makes in âÄúMass Effect 2âÄù will carry on into the as-yet-unreleased âÄúMass Effect 3,âÄù should the player be inclined to continue.

Developers clearly had âÄúMass Effect 3âÄù in mind during the PlayStation migration, setting up âÄúMass Effect 2âÄù with the same engine as the third game. This, according to one BioWare producer, means improved graphics for PlayStation. ThereâÄôs some debate over the validity of this statement, but âÄúMass Effect 2âÄù for PS3 is nonetheless rendered beautifully, combining inventive gameplay and a sprawling yet nuanced storyline to setup the game as one of the best in recent memory.

4/4 Stars