At today's E3 press conference, EA showed a new trailer for Mass Effect 2, the sequel to Bioware's critically acclaimed interstellar adventure. Straight out of the gate we see Commander Shepard's ship, the Normandy, appear out of hyperspace looking as sleek as ever. We then hear the voice of the man himself say, "I'm gathering specialists for a mission. It's not gonna be easy. The chances of surviving...slim." Perhaps Shepard wasn't killed in action, as a teaser trailer suggested this past February? Our thoughts are immediately echoed by an Asari woman who stutters, "Shepard...but...you're dead!"
No he isn't (apparently)! In the very next frame we see Commander Shepard (as the default male character model from Mass Effect) striking a startled pose, flanked by a surly-looking human and a Quarian warrior with a purple-tinted mask. Shepard is wearing heavy armor emblazoned with his signature "N7," but his companions don't look familiar. At this point we've seen Asari and Quarian characters, but no familiar faces from Mass Effect except for Shepard so far.
The next frames ramp up the action significantly, and we see brief combat sequences from the game's third-person perspective. Both feature Shepard destroying enemies explosively, and though they went by pretty fast, the enemies seemed like alien races that we hadn't seen before. Some later combat close-ups featured glowing plates on both guns and armor that seemed to flash or take damage. When destroyed, a few enemies burst asunder in a spray of gooey red giblets. EA is being sure to show combat as more visceral and immediate, but there are some longer-range, cover-based battles that reflect the range of the combat spaces.
As the trailer gained more momentum, we saw a bunch of cutscene excitement (flying hover cars!), and in a particularly notable sequence, a Turian dropped down from the ceiling and snapped a male soldier's neck. [Update: Several alert readers have written to suggest that this creature is not a Turian, but is a member of a new alien race called the Drell. Upon closer inspection, there are a number of physiological differences that seem to support this theory. What do you think?] The murdered soldier was wearing yellow and white armor, apparently the same armor worn by a masked figure that was featured pretty heavily later on. In one scene, this figure is apparently being pursued by Shepard and his two-man team (it seems three is the magic number again, in terms of field team size) and then ends up defenestrated. This character has a distinctive logo on his chest: a black circle with sunlike flares around the outside. The yellow inside of the circle is spanned by three parallel black bars. Could this be a new faction to contend with? They certainly seem to be attracting attention, both from in-game enemies and from folks who put this trailer together.
More interstellar excitement flashed by as ships cruised the stars and buzzed cities. There were a number of different locations shown, but most had the familiar, metallic, settlement-in-a-box-style architecture--the utilitarian staple of the Mass Effect world. There were plenty of explosions and dramatic character interactions, with a particularly notable one coming closer to the end. A second familiar face from Mass Effect appeared as we saw Joker at the helm of the Normandy, cracking wise and apparently voiced yet again by Seth Green.
As the trailer came to a climax, Joker ominously observed that there was something coming their way, and "it's not the Geth." (The Geth are networked artificial intelligence beings that sided with Shepard's enemies in Mass Effect). Joker then took the Normandy into evasive maneuvers, and we got a quick look at some other Normandy crew members, as well as a ground-side glimpse of some shambling enemies. Before these goons were blown to smithereens by a large explosive projectile, it was clear that they all bore the same uniform, wore similar war paint, and moved forward with a slow, inexorable stride -- something normally reserved for forces with superior numbers that can afford expendable infantry. They are reminiscent of the husks from Mass Effect (who were also featured earlier in the trailer), but they appeared to purposeful garbed in armor, rather than just spawned out of one of those mysterious spikes. They could be a tougher, more advanced husk, or perhaps even a new enemy race/faction, as seemingly suggested by the purposeful juxtaposition of their scene with the Joker's "it's not the Geth" quip.
Given that Mass Effect 2 will no doubt have a long and dramatic story arc, this trailer revealed precious little of the forces that will shape the game's grand conflicts. However, we did see a renewed emphasis on visceral combat, as well as a confirmation that two characters, Shepard and Joker, will be returning. A number of cutscene clips showcased detailed facial models (perhaps a few more returning faces?) as well as some towering new futuristic metropolises that indicate that the scope of this sequel will be no less ambitious than its predecessor. Check back tomorrow when we go behind closed doors to get a deeper look at Mass Effect 2.
Ed. note: This article has been updated to reflect some keen observations by alert readers. Further updates may not be possible during the busy E3 week, but be sure to check the comments to see what other people are seeing in this exciting trailer, and to add your own thoughts.