At EA's Winter Showcase in London, BioWare CEO Ray Muzyka gave us another look at the team's upcoming sci-fi role-playing game. First off, we were treated to a brand new trailer that shows off some of the new enemies, including the insectlike Collectors. We then got the chance to play an updated demo of the game that featured an old friend, new weapons, and some satisfying and intense combat. We also got a chance to talk to the game's producer to try to glean some more information.
Our demo started off in an outside area on Omega, which is a mining colony that makes its debut in Mass Effect 2. Omega contrasts the clean look of Citadel, and the sky is filled with pollution, which gives the atmosphere a dark, reddish haze. The installation looks similar to Blade Runner and features fires burning from what looked like refineries, as well as brightly coloured neon billboards. Fans of the series will be pleased to know that Mass Effect 2 is looking great, and we're told the development team's aim is to have the game running at a constant 35 frames per second. In addition to the stunning new Omega colony, Shepard is looking impressive. We're not sure what's with the electronic pattern on the side of his face, but we know BioWare will reveal all when the time is right.
Shepard wasn't the only character we saw in the demo; there were plenty of unsavoury-looking aliens walking around that really added to the general sense of unease on Omega. We're told that you won't be able to interact directly with all of them, but simply seeing them go about their shady business is enough to add some tension to the air.
After a brief look around outside, we entered a nearby nightclub called Afterlife. This venue was also full of suspicious citizens wheeling and dealing within the club's cavernous passageways. Afterlife features a futuristic visual design accented by soft lighting that gives it an interesting vibe. Fires burn in long columns and pole-dancing girls gyrate to an electronic beat. After looking around for a bit, we made our way to the bar and asked the bartender for a drink. Unfortunately, instead of rustling up a soothing beverage, he gave us a nasty cocktail that made Commander Shepard collapse and pass out.
The demo then jumped to a later section of this area where we got a chance to met up with Garrus Vakarian, the Turian Citadel guard from the original Mass Effect. Shepard also had two companions in tow: Grunt the Krogan and fellow human Jacob Taylor. Apparently, Garrus thought Shepard was dead, following the events in Mass Effect. After a brief chat, he told us that he needed our help to get through eclipse troopers, which are a new enemy in Mass Effect 2. This gave us a chance to try out Mass Effect 2's new control scheme, which BioWare has changed in an effort to improve the combat. During the cutscene, Shepard was given a sniper rifle by Garrus and used it to zoom in to get a better look at the troopers. This triggered a quick-time event, and we were prompted to tap the left trigger. Doing so resulted in an instant headshot, which abruptly brought us back into the level and brought attention to our party.
Mass Effect 2's new cover system works well and is similar to Gears of War and Ghost Recon. We made use of the added protection to pop out and take a few quick shots at the troopers, which also highlighted the game's new damage system. You can target arms, legs, and heads with more accuracy than before, and firing a bullet straight into an enemy's skull results in a satisfying instant kill. From our experience, we're pleased to report that the rifle looks like a great way to dish out some powerful damage from afar. We also tried out the shotgun, which, as expected, was extremely effective at short range. The area that we advanced through had a mixture of confined and open areas, which meant switching among the sniper rifle, shotgun, and assault rifle was the best solution. Thankfully, the weapon selection reticle meant we could do this quickly with a minimum of fuss. After clearing the room of troopers, we came face to face with our first boss: the YMIR mech. This powerful foe gave us a chance to try out the new grenade launcher, and after a few direct hits, the mech was reduced to a few fried circuit boards.
The short demo we experienced left us satisfied yet wanting more at the same time. The game looks like it's shaping up nicely, with improved visuals, tighter controls, and interesting new weapons, enemies, and locations. Mass Effect 2 is shipping out in late January on the Xbox 360 and PC, but until then, be sure to check out all of our previous coverage.