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05 December 2023

Uncharted 2 tops turbulent year in gaming


By Lou Kesten

Fans of Avatar rave about how immersive it is, but it has a problem: The film only lasts 161 minutes.

If you really want immersive, travel to the amazing universe of BioWare's science-fiction epic Mass Effect 2. I've already spent about 50 hours there, and I can't wait to return. And there's no need for 3-D glasses.

Mass Effect introduced an intergalactic menace called the Reapers, an ornery bunch that wakes up every few millenniums and destroys all organic life. The main character, Shepard, managed to repel a Reaper attack against the headquarters of star-faring civilisation, but as the dust settled, it was clear the battle was only beginning.

ME2 begins with Shepard's death, although she's quickly resurrected by a shadowy group called Cerberus and its cryptic leader, the Illusive Man. (Shepard can be either male or female; I chose to play the game as a woman.) Cerberus awakens Shepard with the news that entire human colonies are vanishing, and provides her with a sparkly new spaceship to investigate the mystery.

Since most of Shepard's old crew don't know she's alive, she needs to assemble a new gang from a file of dubious resumes gathered by the Illusive Man. Most of them aren't the kind of creatures you'd want to be stuck with on a spaceship: a tattooed human psychopath; a stoic, fish-faced assassin; a bloodthirsty giant lizard.

Most of ME2 is spent recruiting your crewmates and then earning their loyalty by helping them resolve issues from their past.

Shepard herself evolves over the course of the drama. Throughout, you are asked to make moral choices. Act heroically and characters will treat you with respect; act like a jerk and they'll be more fearful. The choices aren't always that cut and dried, though, and options that feel right emotionally may not have the expected results.

Much of the tale is told through interactive dialogue sequences, which may frustrate players with an itchy trigger finger. But the conversations never get boring, and you can always tell a yappy co-worker to can it. The voice cast, including Martin Sheen, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Seth Green, is first-rate.

On-planet exploration can be nerve-racking, with sudden firefights breaking out in the most bucolic of settings. But the sometimes confusing violence of the original has given way to tighter, more suspenseful scenarios, and it's far easier to control the exotic powers that Shepard and her squadmates have developed.

Overall, Mass Effect is sophisticated, thought-provoking science fiction that makes Avatar look simple-minded. So soon after last year's Dragon Age: Origins, it confirms the status of the BioWare team as the best storytellers in video games. 

- Out now on XBox360 from Dh220


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