During the opening level of Mass Effect 2, a sprawling sci-fi adventure that keeps you mesmerised throughout its 30+ hour lifespan, the main character - the man or woman you played as throughout the whole first Mass Effect - dies.
"WTF, Thanks for spoiling it for me". Well, before you storm our offices with burning pitchforks, we'll qualify that remark by saying that 'dies' isn't the end of the story.
As with almost everything else in Mass Effect 2's beautiful universe, things are not as they seem. Following the game's stunning opening sequence, which sees the SSV Normandy, your ship, torn to pieces by an unknown alien vessel (it's crew wiped out or scattered in escape pods) Commander Shepard is left hurtling towards a nearby planet, his oxygen depleted and his body burning up. He is very, very dead.
However, the very next scene shows a shady human splinter group called Cerberus reconstructing Shepard, almost cell by cell.
Think GT5's stunning car creation opening movie, only with fleshy human parts instead of cold steel. And herein lies your first moral dilemma. Do you side with Cerberus, a wealthy bunch of human separatists who clearly have their own sinister agenda, or do you remain loyal to the Galactic Council, who abandoned you; left you for dead.
The decision, as you'll increasingly begin to realise as you delve further into Mass Effect 2's universe, is far from black and white.
TALK OF THE TOWN
The ability to put you into believable, yet tricky moral binds is one of the Mass Effect series' proudest achievements, and the quality of its script married to the richness of its atmosphere is what keeps you coming back for more when other adventure games begin to flag.
BioWare's seamless conversation system helps enormously with this. Dialogue feels natural, as it does in a good movie, with camera angles framing each shot to make the most of BioWare's stunning character models (which look slightly more lifelike on PS3, you'll be pleased to hear), its moody lighting, and the often breath taking backdrops.
You don't feel as if you're making an on-screen puppet talk: you feel like you're actually directing events in a big-budget sci-fi film. The scripting is well balanced too. Most conversations offer a good (Paragon) or bad (Renegade) option, but they're rarely sign-posted.
Options on the dialogue wheel aren't word for word responses; instead they sum up a mood or opinion. For a more blunt approach, there are moments when you can pull either L2 or R2 for a Paragon or Renegade intervention, like cutting a man's talk short and punching him through a window.
However, Mass Effect 2 isn't just an alien chatting sim. There's plenty of action to be had too, and even next to the likes of Uncharted 2, the shooting holds up well.
You'll notice we haven't referred to ME2 as an RPG, and that's because... well, it isn't. If anything, it's a third-person shooter with deep, deep story elements woven in. Oh, and some character management. And squad mechanics. And resource management. Ok, so it's a hybrid game without comparison on PS3.
Combat feels great on the Dualshock. R1 is your trigger button, L1 aim, and R2 and L2 bring up your weapon and ability wheels, where you control the arming and attacks of yourself and your squad.
It's an elegant system. Aim at a target, squeeze R2 and a wheel of abilities appears as the action pauses. Select the ability you want (say, Overload for bringing down a target's shields), press X, and it's used immediately. This isn't stodgy RPG combat, it feels like a proper shooter).