Friday, March 11, 2011

Mass Effect 2 - Cerberus Network, Part Two

Last time we checked out a handful of Cerberus Network content for Mass Effect 2, but I rambled on a bit much about Zaeed Massani's loyalty mission and didn't get to all of it. That's what today is for!

Project Firewalker

In the original Mass Effect, Commander Shepard had access to a terrestrial rover called the Mako. Whenever you arrived at an unexplored planet, you would launch the Mako down to the planet's surface and drive this thing in search of minerals or mission targets. This generally consisted of slowly bumping your way over rocky terrain or even more slowly creeping up the sides of steep mountains, only to drift sideways and end up taking the long way through deep crevasses. Most of the main storyline planets had Mako sections where you'd drive slowly forward until you started getting shot by enemies, at which point you'd go in reverse, firing the cannon at long range until it was safe to start creeping forward again.

The Mako was almost without question the least popular aspect of the original Mass Effect. Reviews lambasted the rover, complaining about the controls, the pacing of sections that used it, the way in which you repaired it (time-consumingly and using a finite resource), and the way it encouraged you to fight enemies from an incredible distance.

It was conspicuously absent from Mass Effect 2, so it seemed Bioware had listened to the critics and decided not to bring it back for the sequel. Until now! The Project Firewalker missions add the new Hammerhead, a Cerberus hovercraft that's gone missing; it's essentially Mako 2.0.

How does it compare to the experience of driving the Mako? It's much better, possibly because it's used more sparingly (you only have access to it for the five or so missions of Project Firewalker), but also because it's much speedier, it handles well, and the jumping takes you much farther and is very forgiving. The way you scan points of interest is a little odd: you hold down Triangle and a bar on the top of the Hammerhead fills up until the action is complete; meanwhile, the Hammerhead is jittering around in the circle and you need to keep it within the bounds or start over. Once you're used to it, it's sort of interesting. Overall, I was enjoying the vehicle quite a bit.

The Hammerhead controls easily, and jumping from platform to platform is straightforward

Then the geth showed up and ruined the party, as they always do. I had entered a firefight, I was firing the Hammerhead's homing rockets at geth drones, and then I realized there was a high-pitched beeping almost completely (but not quite!) muffled by the sounds of combat. And then the Hammerhead blew up.

I tried it again, and the same thing happened. It turns out that not only is the Hammerhead made of tinfoil, but the lack of a life or armor display makes it very difficult to tell if it's sustaining damage. If you can hear the alarmed beeping, it's almost too late -- you need to turn tail, boost the Hammerhead, and get out of there ASAP, or you're going to blow up. Since you can't save while driving the Hammerhead, you'll need to restart the entire mission from the beginning. To compensate for the frustration, you start engaging any enemies from as far away as possible; I couldn't even see what I was shooting at on my non-HD TV.

Several of the Project Firewalker missions involve platforming and racing, and those were a lot of fun, but anytime you need to fight is an exercise in frustration. You uncover pieces of storyline through audio logs, but there's no decision-making or conversations with your squad, and it's ultimately fairly thin.

Normandy Crash Site

During the opening minutes of Mass Effect 2, something terrible happens to Shepard's ship from the first game and it ends up crashing onto a planet. If you have the Cerberus Network, you can access this mission to leave a memorial at the crash site. If you've played the first game, this can be a pretty moving experience, as you see recognizable pieces of the ship and Shepard flashes back to still images from Mass Effect. Meanwhile an indicator in the corner tells you how many of the twenty dogtags you've recovered from the site.

Spoiler? Doesn't this make you want to find out what happened?

It's a little less effective when you're sitting at 18/20 and have combed the site for what feels like twenty fruitless minutes, but I still appreciate what they were trying to do.

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