The beautiful and regal Liara T'Soni was one of several memorable party members in the original Mass Effect, so it was disappointing to see her relegated to a decidedly minor role in that role-playing game's sequel. In Mass Effect 2's newest downloadable content, Lair of the Shadow Broker, you finally get to reminisce with your old Asari friend--that is, when you aren't busy blasting attacking space meanies into smithereens. Liara is a welcome presence, but this excellent add-on's greatest attraction is the electrifying battle environment that plays host to its final act. Lair of the Shadow Broker's second half finds you battling for survival on the hull of a massive space vessel swathed in a blanket of undulating clouds. This vertigo-inducing setting may very well be the most breathtaking yet in the series, and the conflicts that erupt as you search for a way into the ship provide a terrific lead-in to a grand finale. And while it controls a mite stiffly, a brief vehicle chase through Illium's dangerous highways of the skies is another highlight that similarly provides a fantastic sense of place. Mass Effect 2's AI idiosyncrasies and cover-related discomforts can still intrude from time to time, but those disturbances are minor. Lair of the Shadow Broker is a quality piece of content and a great reason to head back to the bridge of the Normandy SR2.
Your first task is to travel to Illium and seek out Liara, who fills you in on some important details regarding her role in your resurrection and subsequent employment by Cerberus. There's some interesting information to glean here, but it's unfortunately glossed over quickly so that you can put your main plan into action: find the mysterious information dealer called the Shadow Broker and rescue Liara's friend Feron. As is so often the case, the mission hits a snag all too quickly, and an Asari Spectre called Tela Vasir gets entwined in the expanding web. The story is straightforward but involving, due in part to some exceptionally well-choreographed cutscenes. It's easy to point to a thrilling biotic-heavy battle as one such cinematic, but subtle cues, such as a fleeting close-up of a guilty pair of eyes, help the more restrained scenes carry equal weight. But Lair of the Shadow Broker isn't always so solemn. Several outbreaks of humor, including a funny reference to the original game's use of omni-gel, are sure to put a smile on your face. And as you would expect from a Mass Effect game, the storytelling is elevated by emotive voice acting and understated new music that enhances the dialogue but never overwhelms it.
After a bit of story exposition as you interact with various items, you're tossed into the action, taking cover behind objects you're clearly meant to take cover behind, so that you can then pop out and blast away at the foes that descend upon you. The basic action remains unchanged from the main game, which means you fling biotic powers about, shoot your firearms of choice, and command your two teammates to use their own skills when the situation demands it. As always, combat is intense and satisfying, and as always, a few flaws wriggle their way into the proceedings. Friendly AI still have trouble making good combat decisions; sometimes standing on surfaces to make their shots rather than taking cover behind them. And the cover system still glitches out on occasion, not allowing you to pop out when it seems you should be able to do so. But enemies attack at just the right pace, so individual battles never drag on too long, nor are they over so quickly that they end up being unsatisfying. The DLC's first half ends with an enjoyable boss fight, though the real focal point is a vehicle chase that comes just before it. The controls aren't as silky smooth as you'd want, particularly in the Xbox 360 version, and the whole sequence is over before you know it. Yet this high-speed pursuit in a flying taxi is exhilarating, evoking Blade Runner, or perhaps more precisely, The Fifth Element.
Aside from that exciting excursion, The Lair of the Shadow Broker's first half is great fun but standard issue. It's the second portion that elevates this DLC to something special. The featured trek across the exterior of a colossal spaceship is tremendous. Gray clouds ripple against the horizon and dust swirls about as you hear the wind swoosh and the distant electricity crackle. It looks and sounds phenomenal, but it's more than just eye candy: it lends a palpable sense of chaos, as if to communicate that you truly don't know what might happen next. The steep inclines of the ship contribute to the fearsome tone--as, of course, do the foes that swarm upon you. The intensity builds until you finally make your way into the safety of the ship's interior, where you find another entertaining boss fight waiting for you.
You do get to spend some quiet time with Liara, which is appropriate, given your history of friendship and, perhaps, romance. She doesn't join your crew as a permanent member, but that doesn't diminish the value of this great new addition to the Mass Effect universe. The Lair of the Shadow Broker is worthy of your time (more than two hours) and your money ($10, or 800 Microsoft points). If for no other reason, buy it to experience what is likely the best combat environment yet for a sequel rightfully lauded for its visual artistry.