The Mass Effect universe has a galaxy's worth of potential; it's too bad that Mass Effect 2's final add-on, Arrival, squanders it so readily. If you play Mass Effect 2 exclusively for the shooting, Arrival's predictable action will put your itchy trigger finger to good use. Otherwise, this downloadable content serves only to disappoint. The single mission acts as a rickety bridge connecting Mass Effect 2 to the upcoming Mass Effect 3 and feels hastily assembled. A couple of lovely new environments aside, it's sloppy and unimaginative, possessing none of the spark and personality that made the Lair of the Shadow Broker and Overlord add-ons shine. This bridge didn't need to be built--and you shouldn't pay the $7 (560 Microsoft points) toll to cross it.
Even the story, typically a high point for BioWare products, suffers from flaws. The setup is simple but has thrilling promise: a researcher named Dr. Kenson has potentially found proof that the Reapers are coming--and coming soon. She's also a captive in Batarian space, so it's up to Shepard (without a squad) to set her free and obtain proof that the galaxy's greatest threat is knocking at the door. But this DLC isn't just short--it's short on words, so much so that unless you listen closely to every personal log you stumble upon, you may not even understand the motivations driving Arrival's plot developments. It's also short on choice. BioWare burdens Shepard with a crucial decision and then undermines it by making the decision on your behalf. You approach this moment with a heavy heart, yet watch powerlessly as Shepard continues forward after a too-brief moment of pondering. This action sets up important plot points for Mass Effect 3, but that doesn't excuse how flippantly the moment is treated, or the messy attempt to wrap up dangling threads in Arrival's final stretch of boring dialogue.
And so Arrival is best suited to those who long for any reason to return to Mass Effect 2, or those few who come solely for the action--since that's all there is to this 90-minute tease. At least you get some nice new areas to engage enemies in, including a cluttered shuttle hangar and a final and imaginative battleground that seems to break the laws of physics but nonetheless gives the shooting excellent visual context. Arrival's initial stretch is equally atmospheric; the craggy mountains in the distance and a soft drizzle of rain attempt to elicit tension that the mission unfortunately can't make good on. For one, that stretch is more boring than it is ominous. A couple of canine creatures attack but are easily dispatched as you crawl about a few corridors and flip a few switches. For another, inattention to detail undercuts any uneasiness. For example, Shepard may call out "We've been spotted!" even when he (or she) is alone.
Such sloppiness even invades the action. You can take cover and then lean out to take potshots at the Batarians returning fire. But upon returning to cover, Shepard might slide several feet to the side as if skimming on ice. At one point, you provide protection to another character, which gives your enemies a chance to show off their incompetence, running right past you and toward your comrade, and giving you a chance to fill these ignorant bullies' backs with bullets. The later action holds up better as you race down a series of cylindrical hallways, dispatching your foes with a few shotgun blasts or flinging a powerful shock wave in their direction. Mass Effect 2's mix of shooting and biotic skills remains entertaining, and it's just enough to keep this dangling bridge from collapsing into the abyss of missed opportunity gaping beneath.
Decent shooting does not make for a fitting finale to Mass Effect's second chapter, however--not when prior add-ons have set the bar so high. Compared to what has come before in this universe, Arrival is a husk--outwardly familiar, yet lacking the character and careful construction that give Mass Effect 2 its soul. This is how a game can suffer when the elements that make it special are remixed or removed. By withholding excellent characters, squad banter, and the element of choice, Arrival transforms Mass Effect 2 into a mediocre third-person shooter.