Hands-on: Mass Effect 2

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You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than Mass Effect 2's newly revealed world, Omega. (Well, apart from the Mos Eisley spaceport, that is.) This is where our latest grubby-mitts-on-the-gamepad outing with BioWare's upcoming RPG shooter role-playing shooter took place -- or, rather, inside its favorite hangout for galactic riffraff, the Inferno nightclub.

It turns out there was a purpose in showcasing this location beyond the throbbing music and exotic alien dancers -- it happens to be the same sort of locale that one of the original Mass Effect's earliest combat encounters played out in, and we got this point before our tour guide even had to make it: The environments in Mass Effect 2 are leaps and bounds better the first game's. In fact, this place seemed alive. Oh yeah -- and there just so happened to be a firefight waiting for us as we ventured further into this seedy sin palace.
Our first interaction with a local didn't go so well. Commander Shepard approached the bar and nonchalantly gestured for a drink. The bartender seem all-too-happy to comply, handing over a tumbler of -- what turned out to be -- some vile, poisonous liquid we could only identify as such after Shepard had clutched his throat with both hands and bitten the proverbial dust. Yeah, this was a bad place.

Flanked by two new squad mates, Grunt (a Krogan) and Jacob Taylor, a human who made his first appearance in the iPhone game Mass Effect Galaxy, we poked around the complex and eventually hit a cinematic of a highly proficient sniper taking out some fellow no-goodkins. Turns out, though, that this mysterious helmeted marksman was none other than one of the first Mass Effect's central characters, Garrus.

After some "nice to see yous," Garrus filled us in on the situation: Mercenaries were there to take us out (of the world of living and not for a drink, unfortunately). So that Shepard might get a better look at his new enemies, Garuss handed him his scoped rifle. when he peered through the scope, a flashing "!" icon with a L-trigger graphic popped up in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. We pulled the trigger and Shepard fired off a shot, decapitating the merc droid he was just looking at.

As it was explained to us, many of the game's cinematic sequences will feature these action moments -- some, like this one, will give players an advantage in an impending battle, others might make Shepard more intimidating in a negotiation -- and they'll be coded to let you know whether they'll count towards making the game's star a galactic Boy Scout or an interstellar jerkwad.

Mass Effect 2 is unquestionably making big leaps in areas other than its combat.

The battle was officially underway at this point, with the action feeling every bit as solid as it did when we played the game at E3 '09. We were able to use the d-pad to quickly direct our squad to cover, and the shoulder bumpers to pause the action and display an abilities menu (left bumper) and weapon menu (right bumper). There weren't much in the way of abilities for this demo, but all of the weapons were unlocked. Mass Effect 2 features three times the number of weapons as the first game, meaning we got to wield a grenade launcher when the mercs' battle droid big heavily armed robot arrived on scene.

First, though, we equipped some special ammo to more quickly take down its shield using Shepard's battle rifle. After that, we were just a couple of grenades away from one less giant walking tank on our case. (Which is always nice.)

So -- Mass Effect 2 is unquestionably making big leaps in areas other than its combat, which we'd previously gotten a taste of. We're impressed all around. There were some rough areas to be worked out in the demo build (Shepard's eyes were ker-eepy in the cinematics!) but there are still nearly three full months before it's done and we embark on what promises to be a much more engrossing -- definitely gunfight-filled -- adventure with the Normandy's crew.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.