Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mass Effect 2: Firewalker Pack Review

Earlier this week, BioWare released the Firewalker Pack, free DLC to all Cerberus Network members, and it's the largest and most robust of the free DLC released since Zaeed - The Price of Revenge.

A ship with Cerberus ties has been brought down, apparently by Geth, and this vessel was carrying two very important Cerberus scientists as well as the Hammerhead assault vehicle. Dispatched via a message received on your Private Terminal, Shepard and crew head out to find the wreckage and try to determine exactly just what happened.

Anyone who's played Mass Effect certainly remembers the Mako, the land based vehicle that you explored uncharted worlds in. It could scale walls, magically right itself when flipped upside down, and featured pathetic handling. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate the Mako with a vengeance, and consider it to be one of this single worst game vehicles designed for this generation. So I'm going to assume that whoever designed that piece of junk didn't design the Hammerhead, because it's actually fun to use!

Once your shuttle drops you off at your first location, you almost immediately find the Hammerhead, and unlike the Mako, it's very simple to control. You move around with the Left Stick, look around with the Right Stick, boost with the Left Trigger, fire missiles with the Right Trigger, jump/hover (limited) with "A," and scan items/recover resources with "Y." For the life of me I can't recall if "X" did anything, but it doesn't matter, as the Hammerhead moves and handles smoothly, and that means it's gets Juxtapose13's personal thumbs up!

The Firewalker Pack features a grand total of 5 Assignments (side quests), each a little different from one another, and all of them almost exclusively focused on piloting around the Hammerhead. There is some combat against the Geth where you get to blast the snot out of them with your guided missiles (not the most accurate weapon, but you can saturate it to compensate), and unlike the Mako which required Omni-Gel to repair and featured shields that would take forever to recharge, so much so that if they were fully depleted I could go get a beer, drink it, go for a 10 minute walk, come back, and _still_ be waiting for them to fully charge (this is not an exaggeration, I actually did this on Virmire. I. Hate. The. Mako.), well, the Hammerhead uses the standard health regeneration system used by the core game, making it easy to get back into fights.

Most of the Assignments take place on fire-based worlds (thus the DLC's name), and they have wonderfully designed areas for you to hover around, boosting and jumping from platform to platform. Items you need to scan are easily spotted by glowing yellow circles, and resources in less obvious places are marked the same way, so keep your eyes peeled! There is also a very limited amount of traditional ground exploration, but there's no ground combat at all or additional Squad comments, so for each mission it truly doesn't matter at all who you bring with you. Additional voice acting for the DLC comes in the form of the Hammerhead's VI, but that's it.

Overall, the Firewalker Pack took me about 3 hours to complete, with time also taken up for scanning and reading the description of the new planets in the new clusters the DLC opens up. Mass Effect 2's Firewalker Pack isn't the biggest or baddest DLC ever released, but it was great fun, completely free, and it features a vehicle that wasn't an exercise in frustration like the Mako.

Well done BioWare, well done.

Halo Encyclopedia - The Definitive Guide to the Halo Universe Review

In late October of 2009, the Halo Encyclopedia - The Definitive Guide to the Halo Universe, was published and I found and snagged my copy in early November. At that moment, I held in my hands the first true official compilation of all the details for this great sci-fi universe, and yes, I was quite excited. For the Halo universe is rich and vast, with a large amount of history, detail, and science, and I was quite anxious to read through this wealth of knowledge and to answer some long standing questions I've had.

The encyclopedia is broken up into eleven chapters, which cover everything from a timeline, to the cultures of the universe, to the Human-Covenant War, technology, and weapons. Generally speaking, it's quite in-depth and encompasses most of the content seen up until it's publication. This is a very important point, because this is supposed to be the "Definitive Guide" to all things Halo, except that it's not. In truth, this "definitive" claim became quite false only about a month later with the publication of Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe, and the encyclopedia barely touches on Halo 3: ODST, which was released prior to publication.

I must confess that I found this greatly disappointing, as so much of what I was looking for in the Halo Encyclopedia - The Definitive Guide to the Halo Universe simply isn't there. There's no mention of what happened to Cortana while she was held by the Gravemind, no mention of how the Arbiter, Miranda, and Johnson arrived back on Earth before the Master Chief, heck, speaking of Johnson, there wasn't even any mention of him being a Spartan. Ironically, the Orion Project is mentioned a few times, but the encyclopedia itself shows different dates for this and other events, depending on whether you're looking at the timeline or other chapters, which is rather sloppy.

What the encyclopedia does do is bring together the last 8 years of Halo-lore scattered across games, novels, comics, etc. and place it all in one compilation, so if you have a Halo related question, instead of flipping through a novel to find some obscure piece of info you'll hopefully be able to reference it quickly here instead.

It took me months to read through all 352 pages, not because of the wealth of information present, but because the book contained next to no new information _provided_ and I pretty much already new it all and thus lost interest quickly pouring through it. The details on the cultures, the characters, the weapons, these are all things those who've already played the games and read the novels will already know. In fact, once I completed the encyclopedia, the only new things I learned was a few details on cryo sleep and a few tid-bits about various colony worlds. That's it. Don't ask me if the Forerunners are truly alive or dead, the encyclopedia says both at different points. Don't ask me what year Cole's huge battle which cost him two thirds of his fleet took place, 'cause again, the encyclopedia contradicts itself in different sections. Oh, and apparently the I Love Bees alternate reality game is now canon. The story aspects are covered in full in the encyclopedia, so that means it's official; it really happened. And yes, that leaves me shaking my head. At least Red vs. Blue isn't in here.

The encyclopedia does feature exceptional artwork all throughout, both in-game shots and traditional art. In fact I'd say it's biggest selling point is simply how great it looks all through, and I can't complain about how nice it looks on the cocktail table in my living room, but is this alone worth the $46.00 price of admission. Nope, it sure isn't.

Had I not read all the Halo novels and already been so well versed in Halo lore, the Halo Encyclopedia - The Definitive Guide to the Halo Universe would actually have enlightened me about a whole lot of things, but as it stands, merely being a collection of past knowledge that in several instances contradicts itself, the encyclopedia is far less informative and a large disappointment.

Honestly, you're money is better spent on the novels, or on Halo: Legends, all of which contain detailed and full information that will show you more of what this epic universe has to offer.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New Mass Effect 2 DLC Screenshots

Several new screenshots have been released on the official Mass Effect 2 web site.

The first group is for the Firewalker Pack, which is available now, free to all members of the Cerberus Network. The next group is for the upcoming premium DLC due out this April for 560 Microsoft Points, Kasumi - Stolen Memory. Finally, the last several showcase the premium Alternate Appearance Pack, also available now for 160 Microsoft Points.

All the new screenshots can be viewed right here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Xbox 360 to Gain USB Storage Support in 2010 System Update

It's about bloody time. According to Joystiq, the Xbox 360 will finally enter 2006 and gain proper support for USB flashdrives for games and saves.

The article reports that an Xbox 360 System Update will be coming this Spring, and once installed the console will then be able to support a USB flashdrive for saving games, installs, and content, though there is a minor catch: Each drive, no matter the size, will be capped at 16 GB of storage space available to the Xbox 360, and the console will only recognize 2 x USB flashdrives at a time (so if you place three into all the USB ports, only the first two will be recognized).

Still, this isn't so bad at all. Plug in two USB flashdrives that are 16 GB or larger, and you'll instantly have 32 GB of additional storage space for any kind of content you'd like. If you manage your content properly, you could have a significant amount of extra save space this way, with two games per USB drive, or one really large game on one drive (like Mass Effect 2). With USB flashdrives being so cheap these days, you can have several and simply swap them out regularly based on the game(s) you want to play.

Basically, those overpriced Memory Units we've bought are about to become obsolete, as is the Memory Unit ports on our consoles.

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North Announced

Well, I always said the franchise had the makings for a great action RPG, now let's see if Snowblind Studios can pull it off.

WB Games as officially announced The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, which will be coming to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in 2011. The game is set during the events of the War of the Ring (as always), and it will apparently feature a mature storyline as players become the hero while battling Sauron's forces in the north of Middle-earth featuring content from both the films and books.

You can view the Announcement Teaser trailer below.

It looks alright, and I'll be keeping my great eye on this one, but honestly, why are games for the franchise always set during the War of the Ring? Why not create an epic action RPG during the largely unexplored Second Age of Middle-earth, thereby allowing the development team a significant amount of freedom instead of tight narrative constraints?

Mass Effect 2 Premium DLC and Firewalker Pack Dated

A new section has been launched on the official Mass Effect 2 site entitled Downloadable Content where you can see what premium DLC is upcoming for the game. This coming Tuesday, the Alternative Appearance Pack will be launched, which features an alternate costume for Jack, Thane, and Garrus. This pack will sell for 160 Microsoft Points on the Xbox 360, and 160 BioWare Points (WTF?) for the PC.

Also coming soon, a twelfth squad mate will be added to Shepard's crew, the skilled thief Kasumi Goto, who of course will also feature her own loyalty mission. Release date and cost of the "Stolen Memory" content to be announced at a later date.

Finally the Firewalker Pack, free to all Cerberus Network members, will also launch this Tuesday.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Halo 3: ODST Completed for the 3rd Time

Dropped into hell yet again, and came out alive. Just completed my third playthrough of Halo 3: ODST, my second on Heroic, and once again I really enjoyed the Campaign. It's a fresh and innovative take on the tried and true Halo shooter formula, and I really liked the storytelling method.

Skulking around occupied New Mombasa at night as the Rookie reminds me so much of a shooter/RPG without the RPG elements, but the open city concept really worked. I just wish you could have explored more of it, but who knows, maybe one day we really will see a Halo RPG. It's a universe that would certainly fit the bill, provided it was handled by the right developer.

It just really is too bad that Microsoft Game Studios got greedy and decided to sell Halo 3: ODST as a full retail game, because no matter how much fun it is, it's really not grand enough to justify that $69.99 price tag.

If you do find it cheaper though, don't hesitate. It's a great title at fair cost, and there are some real great twists playing as a helljumper.

Mass Effect 2 Arc Projector Released

Released via the Cerberus Network, BioWare has graced us with a new heavy weapon for Mass Effect 2: the Arc Projector.

The Arc Projector discharges a deadly electrical burst that can, naturally, jump from target to target, and you can find out more wonderful details right here.

This heavy weapon is free to all who have access to the Cerberus Network, so the next time you play Mass Effect 2, give it a download.

Fallout: New Vegas Screenshots

The first screenshots I've seen for Fallout: New Vegas have now been released, and they're being hosted by ActionTrip right here.

Doesn't look too bad to me, though it does look exactly like Fallout 3, which isn't a bad thing. While no platform is specified for these shots, based on some of the graphical user interfaces shown, I'm guessing it's the Xbox 360 version.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Mass Effect 2: Zaeed - The Price of Revenge (Xbox 360) Review

The second DLC available for free via the Cerberus Network for Mass Effect 2, Zaeed - The Price of Revenge introduces an 11th Squad Mate into your crew, the veteran mercenary Zaeed Massani.

Once the DLC is downloaded and installed, you'll receive an email from the Illusive Man on your private terminal informing you that Zaeed's been hired and paid for and is awaiting pick up. You'll be introduced to this character with a rather amusing cutscene as soon as you dock at Omega, and after a quick conversation Zaeed will join you. He'll also tell you about a mission he wants to complete related to the Blue Sun Mercenaries in which he's supposed to shut down a factory that's essential handled via slave labour. This mission makes up his loyalty mission, and like the others, you can choose to pursue it or not.

This particular mission sees some great combat, and has a rather dark twist forcing you to make an important moral choice as you learn some vital secrets about this veteran for hire and whether you can really trust him or not. Completion of this mission either way will also award you a 15 Point Achievement, the first and to-date only post retail Achievement.

As a veteran merc, Zaeed is a combat oriented character who can use Assault Rifles and Sniper Rifles, and he has combat oriented Talents such as Concussive Shot and Incendiary Ammo. His loyalty ability is an Incendiary Grenade which can set multiple targets on fire, however it's thrown like a traditional grenade and so has a limited close to medium range effectiveness.

Zaeed has dialogue present throughout the entire game right up until the end of the Suicide Mission, and his voice acting was very well done, however he does not feature a full dialogue tree aboard the Normandy. There, he resides in one of the cargo areas on Deck 4 and when you speak to him, it's like speaking to any other NPC where he simply talks to you without any close ups and without you actually saying anything.

His stories however are always of past missions and tend to be rather humourous, and there's also some of his own personal items scattered near him. These range from a Krogan helmet to a model ship to an old Assault Rifle, and clicking on each will have him tell the story behind them.

Regrettably Zaeed - The Price of Revenge DLC does introduce some minor bugs. The first was that there was a problem at launch for the Xbox 360 version, prompting BioWare to release it two days later and put out a Title Update. The second is that having Zaeed in your Squad and/or completing his loyalty mission _may_ trigger certain story specific missions a little earlier than they were intended.

Still, these bugs are minor and while having another combat oriented character on your Squad isn't essential, at the price of free with some amusing stories, Zaeed - The Price of Revenge is well worth the download. That, and his loyalty mission was a whole lot of fun.

Mass Effect 2: Collectors' Edition (Xbox 360) Review

No matter how much designers are broadening the appeal and application of game consoles, the simple fact is that people still buy them primarily to play games. When a consumer is looking between the various consoles on offer, they tend to choose their platform based on exclusive titles, and for me one of these titles was Mass Effect.

Having been a huge BioWare fan since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, I was greatly anticipating their first next-gen offering, and while I can't deny that I greatly enjoyed Mass Effect, it was not a perfect game and it certainly could have been more. As mentioned in my review, the game's problems were clearly defined, and I hoped that the inevitable sequel could provide a much more refined experience.

Well, the good folks at BioWare were listening to their fan base, and now that Mass Effect 2 is here I can tell you with all sincerity that yes, the sequel is far more refined than the original. That's not to say that it's perfect, mind you, but it certainly improves over much of what was offered in the original.

Commander Shepard has defeated Saren and saved the Citadel, and his/her actions as the first human Spectre have catapulted humanity's importance across the galaxy. Dispatched to hunt down remaining Geth forces, Shepard and the Normandy encounter a new threat that defeats them very easily, resulting in the destruction of the Normandy and Shepard himself/herself going missing.

Shepard awakens years later aboard a Cerberus station that happens to be under attack, and he/she needs to fight his/her way off and try to piece together what's happened. So, what exactly has happened? Well, that depends on you. Mass Effect 2 is the first game I've ever played where you can not only import your Commander Shepard from your Mass Effect playthrough, but whose choices you made completely impact the new game world. Did you save or let the Council die? That's going to be reflected in the game. Did you spare or kill various NPCs in the Assignments (Side Quests)? Prepare to run into them in obvious or unlikely places and see how they've been doing. Did you sacrifice Ashley or Kaden on Virmire? Yup, that'll have an impact as well.

Not only is this kind of a character import unique to the Mass Effect franchise, but it truly allows your play experience to feel personal, that it really is your Commander Shepard's story, simply because it is! This, my friends, is an incredible feeling and it really attaches you further to the characters and game universe as there's a true investment in them. If you don't have any save games from the original to import, you can start a character from scratch with a default background of preselected possible outcomes from the first game, outcomes that are far darker than I would have thought.

However Mass Effect 2 is a darker story in general. Humans are disappearing all across the galaxy, entire colonies vanishing with no explanation. The Alliance is powerless to do anything about it, and that's where Cerberus comes in. A pro-human group bordering on being a terrorist organization, Cerberus has determined that humans are being abducted by an enigmatic race known as the Collectors, and Cerberus saved Commander Shepard specifically so he/she could take them down. Providing Shepard with a tougher, larger ship, the Normandy SR2, the focus of the game sees Shepard recruiting a solid team to take the fight directly to the Collector's home base through the Omega 4 Relay in which no ship has ever returned.

Both the original Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 have strong stories in their own right, but each one is different. The original game focused on an excellent narrative as you tracked down Saren and ultimately defeated him in the greatest video game climax I've ever played. Mass Effect 2, as I mentioned, sees you spending most of your time recruiting individuals to your Squad and while I found the overall story weaker compared to the original, the character development and depth is leaps and bounds above what came before.

The Illusive Man, leader of Cerberus, provides you with dossiers of the most skilled and ruthless individuals in the galaxy, and you travel through the lawless Terminus Systems looking for them and ultimately recruiting them. There are 10 potential Squad Mates in all, and like the original, you don't have to take all of them with you, but there are a few that are required. The focus, however, isn't just on recruiting them, but also on gaining their loyalty.

As I mentioned, you're embarking on a suicide mission, and any of your Squad Mates, or even yourself, could die upon it, and this all depends on a few different factors such as Upgrades and how you've developed those characters. More on Upgrades later, but each Squad Mate has a loyalty mission you can embark upon, and once you unlock it and complete it, provided you complete it to their satisfaction, they'll be distraction free, focused to a T, and they'll even unlock an extra Talent for use in combat.

These loyalty missions come up pretty easily, and it's up to you to go on them or not, but just like the original game you can also find out a lot about your Squad by simply chatting with them, using the franchise's excellent conversation wheel. It remains as fluid as ever and the camera angles chosen by the development team are even more spot-on than before. The crew conversations are more detailed, and the voice acting is exceptional, well, save for the male Commander Shepard. Same voice actor, same average performance, but life goes on.

In addition to providing more detailed and character driven conversations, a new feature added is the ability to interrupt someone with a Paragon or Renegade action. Outside of conversations on the Normandy with either random NPCs or your own crew, there are pre-determined points in various conversations where a Paragon or Renegade icon will flash while someone is speaking. Press the Left Trigger or Right Trigger accordingly and Shepard will perform an action based on that alignment. This could be something simple like hugging someone to comfort them, or punching someone around. I personally found these interrupts a great and more realistic approach to the usual flow of conversations.

Now I mentioned Upgrades, and one thing we all remember from the original game was the ridiculously clunky Inventory; swapping out armour, different ammo and upgrades, and endlessly converting items into Omni-Gel before you'd hit that annoying 150 item cap. Well, BioWare heard our frustration, and that ridiculous inventory system is gone to be replaced with, well, no real inventory at all. As Commander Shepard, you can change out pieces of your N7 armour based on what you buy from stores via the panel located in your quarters, and you can also change your casual appearance, but your Squad Mates have no additional armour to speak of. Your armour components give you various stat buffs, and you can also change the colour and such to really customize your look or you can use one of the full suits available via DLC, but your Squad Mates only get a different outfit you can toggle if you happen to complete their loyalty mission. Instead, you need to research Upgrades.

You can purchase or find Upgrades to research, both for armour and weapons, as you explore the galaxy. Each Upgrade requires a cost of one of four kinds of Resources that you find on missions or by scanning worlds, and if you import a character from the first game, you immediately get a bonus of both resources and credits. So once you get the necessary resources for a Shotgun upgrade, as an example, it's applied to all Squad Mates unless otherwise specified. If you research a Shield Upgrade, it likewise applies to all unless otherwise specified. It's a much more simplified, but very effective system removing the clutter and tedium of decking everyone out over and over again found in the original game. For weapons, each character only has a select few this time around, so Squad Mates who shouldn't be using Sniper Rifles won't even be carrying them. There's also much fewer versions of each kind of weapon, and you can change what you and your Squad Mates are carrying via the Weapons Locker on the Normandy or scattered across various worlds. Simple and effective, and while you'd think this might make each Squad Mate even more specialized than the last time around, I found the opposite to be true.

Only you as Commander Shepard actually have a proper class. From Soldier to Sentinel, you have the specific Talents tied to that class, though BioWare has provided significantly more variety this time around, making each class truly unique. Engineers can call in Combat Drones, for example, and that ability is unique to them. Soldiers have Adrenaline Rush, which basically slows down time allowing you to really kick ass, and your Squad Mates, well, they can have several different kinds of Talents depending on the type of character they are, but they don't actually have a designated class. I generally found it much easier to deviate from the traditional combat, tech, biotic trio so encouraged in the original game, and while such a shore party will still be best equipped to handle any situation, I really liked being able to take who I wanted, when I wanted simply because I wanted to play with them.

Powers and Talents have been reworked as well, as has the Experience System. You no longer get Experience for killing enemies or completing miscellaneous tasks, which is odd for an RPG. Now, you get experience for completing Missions and only for completing Missions (which includes Assignments), so it's to your benefit to explore and seek out as many Missions as you can find. Your Level cap is now 30 instead of 60, and both yourself and your Squad Mates have a reduced number of Talents to expand, but it actually works very well and once again, BioWare is simplifying and removing the clutter.

Every time you Level Up, you earn a certain amount of Talent Points to distribute and each Talent has 4 Levels. You need one Talent Point to unlock Level 1 of a chosen Talent, two for Level 2, and so on. Once you select Level 4, you evolve that Talent into an uber version, giving the option to chose from two different versions of it. Using Overload as an example, you can choose for it to generally do a significant amount of damage to a single target, or the usual damage but over a small area. This allows you to use Talents for specific targets or for Crowd Control, and you can train your Squad accordingly so you can have great combinations. As Commander Shepard, you can even research an Upgrade that will allow you to gain access to one of your Squad Mate's Loyalty abilities, and you can spend more resources to retrain and switch that ability if you wish. This adds yet another level of customization, and it proves very helpful in given situations, provided you have the resources to spare.

Which brings us to Combat and the use of Powers themselves. Combat in Mass Effect was clunky, there's no way around that, and while you got used to it, I always felt the game would have benefited from additional polish time. The combat in Mass Effect 2 has been improved, actioned-up so to speak, and resembles even more of Gears of War than it did before. Say good bye to Medi-Gel for healing, at least for yourself. As Commander Shepard, once your Shields drop you start taking damage. Take cover or avoid additional damage and Mass Effect 2 employs the now popular and prevalent shooter mechanic of auto-health regeneration. Your Squad Mates also have health regeneration, however if they're incapacitated you can use the Unity Power to revive them, which uses Medi-Gel. The removal of Medi-Gel for yourself has both pros and cons. Sure, it's more simplified and traditional by today's standards, however you can no longer run up to a group of enemies and gun them down, healing yourself mid-fight to outlast them, and generally continue doing reckless things. This change in the franchise's combat mechanic puts and even greater emphasis on the cover system, and I'm happy to say it's been improved as well.

You no longer move towards cover to latch onto it, or have to Crouch to take advantage of low cover, in fact you can't manually Crouch at all, and you now tap "A" to take cover just like in Gears of War. You can even mantle over cover by moving forward and hitting "A," just don't expect Shepard to be as smooth with it as Fenix is. So while the cover system is much improved (try Storming and then taking cover. It's cool to see Shepard slide into it), and your health system is more basic and standardized, I really, really missed the option of having a dodge ability. I'm not saying Shepard should be able to roll all over the place like Fenix can, but I can't tell you how many times I wish I could have just rolled out of cover to avoid a Melee enemy that snuck up on me (Husks are actually a threat and even more zombie-like this time around), or just dodged that one extra shot to give me a much needed second to reach cover.

In the end, the lack of a dodge feature and self healing simply means you need to be more careful, a little more tactical, and make better use of your Powers. The Power Wheel is just as you remember it, save that you can no longer spam Powers either, your Cool Down timer affects every power instantly now. So if I use Overload, I can't quickly follow up with Warp, I need to wait a few seconds before using my next Power. I found this change annoying at first, but you get used to it fast and there's Upgrades to reduce Cool Down times, so it's not all bad. Thankfully, your Cool Down time doesn't affect your Squad Members, you can technically use up to three Powers at once and even combine some for awesome results.

Visually, the game looks wonderful. The texture pop-in that plagued the original is all but gone, and character animations are smooth and subtle with exceptional facial animations, subtle eye movements, and even tears. The game's environments are as wonderfully detailed as they are varied, and you'll visit some interesting places. I was completely blown away when I first walked into Afterlife on Omega, the complete visual palette of characters, art style, and sound blended together so seamlessly that I simply stopped and looked around in complete awe. The Uncharted Worlds are also very unique each trip out, and the repetitive gameplay design was reworked entirely.

The Galaxy Map aboard the Normandy looks more or less as it did before, but instead of moving a reticule around you now maneuver a little Normandy from world to world. Scanning brings up the traditional page of info on the chosen world, and you can then perform a Scan looking for resources or a landing spot (if available), or land immediately if you've already unlocked a mission. I'll get this out of the way right now: Scanning for resources is tedious and boring and one of the greatest design flaws in the game. You rotate the world around while moving your scanning circle and you watch a graph on the right of the screen for signs of seismic activity. If you see a spike, there's a resource there and you can launch a Probe to recover the resource. This is very cool in overall design, but so annoying in it's implementation. You can rotate around the whole world, but your Scanning distance is small and there's no real way to speed things up, so if you're looking to do a thorough Scan of a planet, you'll be at it for a while and likely bored to death. What would have worked better would have been to simply Scan the basic face of the world that you're originally presented with, or at least allow an Upgrade to pre-detect or speed the process up.

Should you actually land on a planet, however, things pick up considerably. Gone is the horribly designed Mako and trekking it out around a barren landscape. Now, a shuttle drops you off right at the site of your mission, and the missions are as varied as the locations. They can be a very simple exploration that lasts you only 5 minutes to a complete cleansing of a Merc base that takes 30 minutes. The overall result is that, aside from scanning for resources, Uncharted Worlds are now fun to explore and fight on, and add a great deal more depth to the overall game's experience. I did find it annoying that you needed to actually use Fuel when traveling between Systems in a Cluster, but it was easy enough to "gas up" at Fuel Stations in key Clusters, which is also where you need to buy more Probes for Scanning.

Unlike the original game, the Collectors' Edition for Mass Effect 2 was actually properly available in Canada with no misinformation, however unlike most limited editions, it truly was limited. Most stores sold out during the first day, and if I hadn't ordered online on launch morning, Best Buy would never have held my copy, which was the last one they had when I got there after business hours.

The Mass Effect 2: Collectors' Edition is a very cool compilation. It comes with a SteelBook DVD case with three discs. The game itself is actually spread across two discs (just over a 12 GB HDD install), and whether you install it or not you will need to swap discs twice, which is nothing for such a long and detailed game. The third disc is a traditional "Making of" with a roughly 40 minute documentary and some trailers, nothing too crazy, but you also get a very cool Art Book (Spoilers within) and the first issue of the Mass Effect: Redemption comic series. There's also the standard game manual, your code for the Cerberus Network, included free with all new copies of the game (Retail or Collectors' Edition) which functions as the in-game Portal to free DLC, and the Collector's Armour and Assault Rifle for use in the game. For an extra $10.00, this truly was a Collectors' Edition worth its weight, and the only real negative was that my SteelBook case was damaged inside due to a manufacturing defect, but since it was the last copy, I couldn't exchange it. Not the end of the world, but a bit of a downer.

My Commander Shepard, a male Engineer, made it to Level 28 by game's end and this took me a total of 54 hours! I had one Squad Mate die (so I replayed the climax so everyone would survive), and unlike the original game, you can continue exploring the galaxy even after you're done, which will prove very handy for the inevitable DLC.

When all is said and done, it may appear that the RPG elements of Mass Effect 2 were lightened over the original game, but the depth is still there and simply hidden under the hood. What BioWare has delivered is a much more refined experience with better combat, item management, exploration, and the most detailed and intense character development I've come across in a game. I'm not going to lie to you, some moments, and the relations I built with some characters had me completely misty eyed, and there's more romance options than before, which are also better fleshed out.

There is still room for improvement in the franchise, however. The cover system still needs some tweaking, I'd love to see some kind of a dodge feature, and scanning for resources needs an overhaul, but otherwise, BioWare has really nailed the core gameplay. Mass Effect 2 isn't just one of the best games on the Xbox 360, it's one of the best games I've ever played period, and if you own either an Xbox 360 or a PC, this is an experience you do not want to miss.

Halo: Reach Multiplayer Trailer

Showcasing the current Alpha build of the game, Bungie has released a Multiplayer Trailer for Halo: Reach.

In it, you get to see Sprinting, Jetpacks, and new game modes like Spartans vs. Elites! The video is available for viewing here, below, or via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace right here.

The Multiplayer Beta launches on May 3rd, and you'll require a copy of Halo 3: ODST to gain access.