If you're a fan of the futuristic action role-playing game series Mass Effect, then you probably already know that despite rumors (and early trailers) to the contrary, Commander Shepard is alive and well. You might also know that the sequel to the 2007 game takes a much darker turn as Shepard and his crew embark on what seems to be a suicide mission. Developer BioWare has kept pretty quiet about further plot details, and that didn't change when company cofounder and VP Dr. Greg Zeschuk visited Australia earlier this week to show off Mass Effect 2. Despite the story remaining a secret, BioWare did show off a bit more about the recently revealed area called Omega, as well as give us some more hands-on time to get acquainted with the more combat-refined feel of the sequel.
Omega--which was first glimpsed in the GamesCom trailer released a few weeks ago--is a gigantic space station and seedy den of scum and villainy that is reminiscent of the dingier parts of the Citadel in the first game. The hands-off section of the demo began with Shepard and his crew--who in this scenario were Krell assassin Thane and Krogan fighter Grunt--standing outside the nightclub AfterLife. It was a huge, triangular-shaped building adorned with large video screens displaying bright arcs of fire, and inside, it had a circular layout with a central dance floor similar to Chora's Den in the original (except much, much larger). Here, we were treated to Mass Effect 2's more cinematic approach to story, with Shepard engaging in some not-so-friendly banter with a character named Aria T'Loak, a mysterious female who is apparently the real power behind Omega. The conversation between the two featured some dramatic camera angles that helped amp up the intrigue, focusing on Shepard and Aria's faces and showcasing a good deal of nuance visible in the character models. The voice acting was also excellent and bodes well for another involving storyline in Mass Effect 2.
After this all-too-brief look at the story, we were then treated to a similarly brief hands-on session with the Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect 2. BioWare wouldn't disclose the location of where our hands-on session took place, but it looked to be some sort of underground complex. Shepard had Thane and Grunt in tow, with the enemies being the synthetic zombies called Husks, which many will be familiar with from the first game. These Husks would rush the crew in small waves, crawling out from behind crates or underneath walkways to surprise the three. While the first game allowed you to send your squad to certain locations, this time around, you can assign individual members to different areas, which is done by simply pointing your target reticle at a spot and pressing either left or right on the D pad. This worked quite well, and we found ourselves regularly pushing the tanklike Grunt in to take most of the Husk heat while we picked them off as Shepard from behind. One other new aspect we spied during our game time was what looked to be a new biotic power called adrenaline. Triggering this would slow down enemy movements a la bullet time, which allowed us to better target incoming Husks. The effect only lasted a few seconds, though, but the cooldown time seemed quite quick.
With the demo over, we cornered Zeschuk to glean a few more details about what else we can expect from the game once it ships in early 2010. Despite the game being a direct sequel, Zeschuk says new players won't need to be overly familiar with events in the first game, saying "Mass Effect 2 is done in such a way that it feels like you're in a brand new experience." As for those who did play the first game, BioWare has already stated that original save games will have some impact on character and story in the second, although Zeschuk wouldn't elaborate further. "As a general rule, any big things that have occurred should still be consistently reflected," he said.
When it comes to downloadable content, Zeschuk said Mass Effect 2 content was definitely on the cards. "We have a pretty aggressive DLC plan. We did release two pieces of DLC for Mass 1, which is pretty good, but I think we could have done better. But I think that's our own fault, and we have to learn and improve. And I think that's what we're doing with the second one," he said.
Our hands-on session lasted only about 10 minutes, but combat in Mass Effect 2 seemed more fast-paced than the original. It also improved on the strong storytelling and interesting characters of the first. We'll have more on Mass Effect 2 soon, so keep it glued to GameSpot.