Anatomy of a Blockbuster: Mass Effect 2

Anatomy of a Blockbuster: Mass Effect 2

By Stuart Richardson

March 8th 2011 at 8:00AM

Develop's monthly dissection of a recent hit game

Mass Effect 2

Publisher: EA
Developer: Bioware
Format: Xbox 360/PC/PS3
Price: £49.99/£34.99
Chart Success: 2m sold at Xbox 360 launch

Develop's index of all games featured in Anatomy of a Blockbuster can be found here.


THE SENSATION

The release of Mass Effect was an important moment in the history of the Xbox 360. While certainly not as groundbreaking a console-specific release as Halo: Combat Evolved was a generation earlier, the BioWare title took on a great deal of expectation in Microsoft’s name. It didn’t disappoint, either. Pulling in a Metacritic average score of 91, Mass Effect was lapped up by 360 owners.

Nearly three years later, the wave of good feeling generated by Mass Effect had not abated. The 2010 release of Mass Effect 2 on Xbox 360 and PC was heralded not only by a marketing extravaganza, but a frenzy of public excitement. One year on, Mass Effect 2 was released on PS3 with a substantial amount of DLC packaged in with it. Suddenly, what was that curio on the other console for many became a beloved gem all over again.

THE GAME

A culmination of over a decade’s worth of top-flight games development, Mass Effect 2 plays out like a best-of reel of BioWare’s greatest achievements to date. It has the epic scope of its direct predecessor and 2003’s excellent Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It has a cast of wild, outlandish and rewardingly deep characters reminiscent of the Baldur’s Gate series and Dragon Age: Origins. BioWare’s beloved choose-your-own-adventure style of stoytelling is honed down and shined up to produce an engrossing universe of cause and effect. Previously clunky combat systems have become breathless, duck-and-cover shootouts through beautiful intergalactic surroundings.

THE STUDIO

Founded back in 1995 by Ray Muzyka, Greg Zeschuk and Augustine Yip, BioWare has come a long way in the past 16 years. Headquartered in Edmonton, Canada, the studio released an impressive canon of titles over the 10 years of its independent existence. Shattered Steel, MDK2, the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights series, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire all displayed a fundamental adaptability to and understanding of all types of games development. It also showed off a capability to work with a variety of publishers and produce impressive content every time.

Partnering with the now defunct Pandemic Studios in late 2005, BioWare began work on its next game, a sci-fi RPG of its own creation called Mass Effect. A month before that game’s release, BioWare was bought by EA.

UNIQUE SELLING POINT

Space, essentially. Freedom. Dynamic, relevant and interesting dialogue trees delivered with an almost uniform level of impressive acting ability. A galaxy of planets to explore, harvest and kill bad guys on. Almost limitless combinations of weapons and abilities to fight with, and a host squadmates to hire and gain loyalty from. You can even create your own hero, though he or she will always be called Shepard. Mass Effect 2 offers gamers the sensation of being directly involved in the development of the  elegant narrative arc that sweeps over from the opening space battle to the closing one.

WHY IT WORKS

Mass Effect was good. Mass Effect 2 is great. Falling in with the increasing trend of video games sequels building on the overall quality and success of their progenitors, Mass Effect 2 represents many of the aspirations of the first series title fully realised. The title is space opera in the grandest, silliest and most thoroughly entertaining tradition. It combines an array of vastly different gameplay experiences seamlessly linked through a fast-moving plot that skips from one end of the galaxy to the other and back again. It delivers the full spectrum of human – and non-human – emotions convincingly to the player through the personalised character of John or Jane Shepard.

TRY IT YOURSELF

Don’t be scared by the scope of what BioWare has created. Half of the magic of the process seems to lie in knowing what not to include. The seemingly endless environments on offer are brilliantly designed in their linear simplicity, the odd dead-end or locked door suggesting  what the mind fills in by itself. With a deep, believable and well written universe at your disposal, linking consistent levels together with an enjoyable ‘travelling’ mini-game in between will create an absolute sensation of freedom. Top-notch dialogue trees and the old multiple-endings carrot will only increase this sensation significantly once again. If you have love for the worlds you can imagine, that will translate into the game you can create within them.