Sorry for the late review but in a game like Mass Effect I think it's necessary to play as much as possible before writing the review (and in most cases, completely finish a game before doing so). In Mass Effect 2's case, this review is premature because the game is so MASSive. Sorry for the bad pun.
Please bear in mind that this review has been written after 30+ hours in-game and there are no spoilers.
It physically pains me to not be playing this game right now. I've been neglecting my wife, my family and my friends in order to sit on my couch for extensive amounts of time until my eyes are bloodshot and my brain is on the verge of total shut-down. Thats how good this game is. It will rip you from the boring repetitive failure that is your life and place you into a universe where your on the edge of your seat wondering whats around the corner. People claimed that Avatar (the movie) was an incredible breakthrough for the future of movies. It had a little bit of everything with plenty of unique flair to keep the audience incredibly engaged. Mass Effect 2 is it's video game equivalent. Someone please give Bioware a truck load of awards.
I know it sounds like I'm seriously just shouting hype but really I'm just struggling trying to completely convey how much I love this game. Bioware made a great game in Mass Effect 1 and improved upon everything that was wrong and improved upon everything that was right. Combat feels more fluid, the gunplay is a lot better this time around with less focus on lots of weapons you'll never use and more focus on upgrades. The player will research upgrades to improve the squad's proficiency with weapons, increased damage, better recharge time, more health, better shields, etc. etc. But first the player will have to travel the stars in an attempt to find valuable resources with which you can then spend to obtain upgrades you've found or unlocked. Thats right, in Mass Effect 2 planets that you can't land on are more then just a waste! They serve a purpose! Utilizing a little probing (I guess you would call it a mini-game) and harvest whatever they can find for certain things. Each class now has it's own special abilities, making each one more interesting to try out. The Vanguard (my favorite) can charge at an enemy, phasing through solid objects and crossing voids to put your shoulder into an enemies chest sending them flying where they are easily shotgunned before they even land. The Infiltrator can use sniper rifles and turn completely invisible allowing you to set up the perfect headshot. Engineers can summon attack drones to distract and harass the enemy. These are just a few examples.
When anomalies are detected on planets, your no longer doomed to drive around sloppily in the last game's Mako. Instead a shuttle will simply drop your crew to the surface. These types of missions are highly varied and are much more enjoyable as opposed to the first game's scan an artifact, find a Turian insignia, explore the same mine shaft that happens to be on twelve different planets. I navigated a wrecked ship that had been long since lost, tip toeing my way to the end without accidentally tipping it over the edge of a cliff. I investigated a recently downed craft filled with hostile malfunctioning robots which then lad me to a dead space station with a murderous secret. I fought insectoid creatures that spout flame whilst investigating a mysterious array of beacons, which then led me to another planet altogether to further investigate. And thats just the tip of the iceberg. And thats not even including main story-based missions.
Speaking of which, the grand scope of the main story and all it's characters is magnificence. Such depth of feeling and amazing plot twists connected me to everything. I feel personally responsible for a mistake here, a missed opportunity there. On the opposite side of things I feel proud of a life saved, or a happy outcome. The Paragon and Renegade options are executed beautifully with a perfect balance between the two. Your not always condemned to one way or the other either, you could approach a situation how you really would if you so wished. The dialogue and it's constantly switching cameras make you feel like your playing a movie and thankfully hasn't lost any of it's appeal. The various views you'll see during a conversation help keep you engaged and lend more personality so the characters. Here's some advice: Don't ****** with Aria (play the game, you'll get it, it's a perfect example).
Probably my favorite thing about this game are the characters. Each one brings their own special something to the game that makes it special. From Grunt's hilarious flashes of insight to Mordin's spectacular singing number, each one is as much a main character as the game's actual main character: Commander Shepherd. Thane is such an interesting and complex assassin, Jack is a ball of raging biotic fury who is actually afraid to let anyone get close. My favorite character in the whole game has to be...... I'm not going to say his name. I won't spoil it. But let it be known that he is INCREDIBLY COOL!
Indeed there is much to do and see in Mass Effect 2. From punching alien monkeys to petting Varen and fun shoot outs, Bioware has you covered. My only complaint is that this game really does show you how crappy real life actually is. And finally a word to the wise: upgrade the Normandy, it'll pay off.
Mass Effect gets an 11 out of 10 (you read right). It's rated M for Mature, Blood, Drug Reference, Sexual Content, Strong Language and Violence. It is brought to you by the fine folks at Bioware and EA.