Mass Effect 2
Xbox 360, PC
Think cinema science fiction and your first thought is likely Star Wars. Since George Lucas' trilogy is such a cultural phenomenon, try finding someone who hasn't seen them. Conversely, science fiction in video gaming is a murky mix, but EA's RPG space opera, a third-person shooter called Mass Effect, is making a strong case to clear things up.
Mass Effect 2 opens with a bang, and never slows down. Two years after repelling the Reaper threat in the original, Commander John Shepard must determine why an alien race, the Collectors, has been abducting human space colonies and put a stop to them. The threat facing humanity is so great, his mission, which spans many planets and locales, is considered suicidal. The team you assemble might have the balls to prove naysayers wrong.
Similar to The Empire Strikes Back, ME2 takes a much darker turn, while graphically it's light years ahead of the first. Using a "morality" system, your in-game choices will affect the storyline and gameplay elements. Play it by the book, and Shepard leans toward paragon; play the game as a dickhead, and you become a renegade. Your words and actions will have major implications, so choose carefully.
Everything is more streamlined since the first Mass Effect: The in-game combat and leveling system has been tweaked so Shepard moves fluidly, and you can perform status changes on the fly, which keeps you in the action. With six character classes to choose from — and the ability to load your saved character from the original game — multiple playthroughs are required to nail the full Mass Effect experience.
Though 2010 is still young, we've a contender for game of the year and there's little to fault here (if pressed, I suppose action junkies will be turned off by the heavy storyline elements). EA claims that Mass Effect 2 can be enjoyed without having played the first, and while technically that's true, you won't get the full gaming experience.
Xbox 360, PS3
You know what movie was sweet? The Rocketeer. Not so much for the storyline, because, honestly, it's unmemorable. No, it was really about the jetpack. Sure, the flying-man concept has been done, but strapping on a rocket is more plausible than hailing from Krypton. So Capcom takes that fantasy and presents Dark Void for consumption.
Set during World War II, courier pilot William Gray and crew crash in the Bermuda Triangle. Instead of dying, Gray is transported to a parallel world called the Void. Here, he fights to prevent the Watchers, an otherworldly menace, from enslaving Earth. Luckily, humans, including Nikola Tesla, have been lost in the Void before. And Tesla aids you in your struggle, suppyling a sweet jetpack that allows you to take to the skies and rain death on Watchers.
Gameplay gives you air and land, and the latter's combat uses a standard Gears of War-style cover system. What is new is the "vertical cover" system.
But we're here for the flight: When you fly, your body moves like you have a rocket strapped to your back. It takes familiarization, but once you can hang it's a great flying experience. The game handles well, makes good use of the cover system, and flies like a dream. The biggest gripes are on land; while enemies may try to flank your cover, they're not the sharpest tools in the shed and battle sometimes becomes monotonous. Also, in a video game, a man with a jetpack strapped to his back should never ever fall to his death.
Dark Void takes man's dream to fly and adds doses of alien shooting for good measure. While it's nice to see little touches, such as when Gray activates his jetpack, some more combat polish could've been added. Overall, you've an above-average shooter deserving of playthrough.