Gorgeous, cinematic and with great a great story
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. Before you accuse us of spoiling the story, 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. A shady human splinter group called Cerberus reconstruct Shepard, almost cell by cell. 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.
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.
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.
Mass Effect 2 PS3: Controls
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).
Other actions, such as squad management are handled by tapping a button. Point at something, press either left or right on the d-pad and your squad member goes there. They handle things like taking cover autonomously, and - mercifully - they're smart enough to know when they're in your line of fire.
In fact, in Mass Effect 2 your squad plays a key role. The over-arching story sees you assembling a crack team to undertake what appears to be a suicide mission to help save every sentient race in the galaxy.
The majority of the game sees you cruising off to alien worlds on a recruitment drive, which all leads up to one epic scrap at the end. However, you don't command loyalty from your crew automatically - you have to earn it. Getting one crew member on side can mean isolating another. Choosing between them is genuinely tough, and it has a bearing on how the game plays out. Without giving anything away, we felt bona-fide remorse during some of the end scenes because of the choices we'd made during the main game. That's the real kicker when it comes to Mass Effect 2.
Mass Effect 2 PS3: Conclusion
No, it doesn't have the deepest RPG mechanics, nor the most fluid combat, but what it does have is a world that is so utterly believable, populated by incredibly fleshed out characters (in both senses of the phrase) - all bound together by a plot compelling enough to keep you engrossed for weeks and still leave you wanting more at the end.
It effortlessly draws out emotions with the same frequency, say, a COD game throws angry, shouty men at you. Quite simply, if the sci-fi setting appeals, Mass Effect 2 is unrivalled. It's an adventure you're unlikely to forget, and even less likely to put down before its thrilling climax.
Mass Effect 2 PS3 release date: Out now
Mass Effect 2 PS3 price: £35-40