Mass Effect 2 Xbox 360

Mass Effect 2 Xbox 360
Beloved Edmonton, AB studio BioWare's Mass Effect sequel is the Empire Strikes Back of its sprawling sci-fi trilogy. As with the best gaming sequels, the developer has applied the lessons learned from the original to create a more vital, vibrant and engrossing experience for its action-RPG instant classic. In fact, BioWare has been sharpening its skills since it first pioneered digital role-playing games with 1998's seminal Baldur's Gate.

The much-vaunted emotion-based dialogue trees, which turn the franchise into a cutting-edge choose-your-own-adventure, remain firmly in place. As does the complex, galaxy spanning (and, yes, somewhat boilerplate) plot, which is no doubt indecipherable to those who missed the first game. Newbies will also miss out on being able to import their character from the original, a real treat for fans who spent so much time developing their version of Commander Shepard, though you have to have actually finished the first game to transfer your save file.

While the innovative, non-linear narrative structure (also enjoyed in recent traditional fantasy RPG Dragon Age: Origins) is impressive, the game's really driven by character, as each choice affects moral stats ("paragon" or "renegade"), which combine to give every player a uniquely interactive experience as you navigate the game's grey shadings.

Mass Effect 2 begins with you being brought back from the dead by the awesomely named Illusive Man and his pro-human Cerberus organization after having saved the universe, for a little while, from the scourge of the organic machines known as Reapers. You start to gather up a rag-tag team that can help you fend off a new race of insectoid beings known as the Collectors, which have been wiping out human colonies. Much of your time will be spent roaming the galactic frontier, in the fringes of deep space, as the threat of Reaper genocide once again rears its head.

The space opera sandbox is bigger ― there are countless planets to be explored off the main storyline, though scanning for minerals is dishwater-dull ― the graphics prettier, set-pieces more stunning, inventory and customization simpler (arguably too much so, albeit not in my books) and your team-mates better developed. Even the romantic and sexual entanglements feel more intrinsic to the game. The biggest change is the evolution from action-RPG into a hybrid third-person shooter.

The production values are top notch and they've also gathered an unparalleled geek-pop voice cast, including Martin Sheen, Star Trek's Michael Dorn, The Matrix's Carrie-Anne Moss, Chuck's Yvonne Strahovski and Adam Baldwin, Battlestar's Tricia Helfer and Michael Hogan, 24's Shohreh Aghdashloo and returning ship pilot Seth Green.

BioWare's ability to create a believable world ― make that, universe ― and allow you to create a believable character within it is what has allowed the hardcore-honed company's new masterpiece to reach the masses. (BioWare/EA)