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Mass Effect 2

Massive attack or epic fail? Take one guess.

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But this all contributes towards the majesty of Mass Effect 2, and Bioware's role-playing system. There's good, and there's bad, but rarely - as in real life - are you forced into an extreme of one or the other. The game's virtual heroes and villains are, like all of us, contradictions, and contain multitudes. People are messy and multi-dimensional, and so it goes here. Coupled with astonishing graphics - check out the Krogan Grunt's facial textures and animation and gasp - there's a real believability here. If you can learn to enjoy ME2's pace and approach, you'll find something tremendously absorbing and intriguing.

If you're on board with the way the game plays, you might find, like us, that the problems begin with the game's pacing. The over-arching narrative - the investigation of, and fight against, the Collectors - takes its sweet time to get going. When you do go up against these new bad guys, it's thrilling, but in between there are many missions that concentrate on you assembling your team of ten heroes. Dossiers from the Illusive Man give you the location of each of them, and you'll need to criss-cross the galaxy finding them and convincing them to join up.

More than that, once they're on board both metaphorically and literally, each of these protagonists (some new, some familiar) also has a mission for which they want your help. Throw in the N7 missions and side-quests found on each planet - plus errands to run for Normandy crew-members - and you've got a vast, mind-boggling variety of things to do. This, of course, gives you, the player, a great wealth of gameplay for your cash, and it also deepens your relationships with and understanding of your team-mates immensely, but it sometimes does so to the detriment of the main narrative. It's a tiny irritation, but you'll sometimes find yourself slogging through missions you can't particularly be bothered with, just in order to trigger the next mission proper against the Collectors.

The more you play these missions, the more the repetitive, clockwork nature of the game's structure becomes clear; inevitably, each mission finds you fighting through rooms and corridors of enemies to kill a bad guy or retrieve some info. The reasons may be different, and Bioware's art team have created a barely conceivable range of alien vistas and locations (the Collector ship, in particular, is jaw-dropping), but things do get samey, and sometimes the combat is overdone - not wanting to give any spoilers away, but there's a sequence in a particular mission where you're having to fend off wave after wave of enemies that recalls nothing more than Halo's tedious Library level; we wanted it to be over long before the end.

Occasionally, though, you'll find a new wrinkle to proceedings, such as acting as the defence at a court case, or playing good cop/bad cop with a suspect, or shadowing a target from the walkways above while attempting to trap your quarry, which provide a welcome new dimension or use of role-playing to enliven things, and provide an entertaining garnish to the fighting.

These are perhaps niggles, of course. All games are built on repetition, of sorts, and Mass Effect 2 does its best to disguise its recycled motifs. Players may have bigger issues with the over-earnest nature of many characters, or the occasional ill-delivered camera shot that dwells too long on a silent subject, suggesting an import that might not be there (often to comic effect), or the sheer weight and wealth of dialogue.

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