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By Matthew Scott Hunter
‘Mass Effect 2’ (M)
Better than its predecessor
Only one month in, 2010 has already seen its first video game classic. “Mass Effect 2” is “The Empire Strikes Back” of its own franchise. It’s darker, smarter, prettier and faster-paced than its predecessor. And if you’ve played the original and still have that save data on your hard drive, then the sequel even builds upon the choices you made in that game, drastically affecting the storyline. And if you haven’t played the original, then I highly recommend you do so immediately. It will make the impact of your decisions in this game feel twice as epic.
I wouldn’t dare give away the twists of the extremely involving story, and I couldn’t even if I wanted to. You could play this a dozen times and have completely different experiences each time. But the third-person shooting mechanics have been made far more intuitive, and the inventory and upgrade systems have been streamlined for faster use. RPG enthusiasts might complain about the simplification, but it helps the narrative to fly by. You’ll fall in love with the new characters and be thrilled when old ones show up in unexpected places. Developer Bioware is already known for making the best action-RPGs in interactive entertainment, but this time, they’ve outdone themselves.
This RPG makes its home in Greek mythology, with a party headed by Heracles (or Hercules, as the Romans call him). You’d think a game starring a hero known for his muscles would have a little more meat on its bones, but you’d be wrong. The uninteresting plot involves the gods being threatened by some mystical device, and the tiresome cliché of amnesia drags the story to the depths of Hades. Gameplay employs the standard conventions of random encounters, boss fights and village exploration. Hardly a Herculean effort.
The whole gimmick behind Matt Hazard is that he’s supposed to be a washed-up but once great video game icon who knowingly pokes fun at twenty years of video game clichés. The first game suffered because it was no fun to play through tired clichés. This one suffers because it’s not nearly as fun as the classic games it lampoons. It’s an unapologetic rip-off of the original Contra, but it’s taken that game’s already punishing difficulty to an infuriating extreme. But if you know your 8-bit history, your frustration will be slightly alleviated by a few good jokes.
The “Phoenix Wright” games are a series of quirky, choose-your-own-adventure-style courtroom dramas. These games have been a blast on the DS, and the formula hasn’t been changed. Neither have the graphics, or even the controls, really. The hand-drawn, anime art style looked great on the DS, but thoughtlessly blown up on the TV screen, it looks like garbage. And but for a single, unresponsive pointing gesture, motion controls have been neglected as well. Phoenix Wright may have won his case on DS, but this lazy port fails to pass the bar.