The January-launching PS3 version of Mass Effect 2 will include an interactive comic called Mass Effect Genesis. It doesn't just summarise the original Xbox 360 and PC-only Mass Effect from 2007, it simulates the experience of playing it. The comic allows gamers to make six key decisions from the original game and see their ramifications in Mass Effect 2.
The brief digital comic starts shortly after the playable introduction to Mass Effect 2 on the PS3. That introduction won't surprise Xbox 360 and PC players who have been able to experience it since the second Mass Effect game launched in January of this year, but let's not ruin things for Sony-only players. A PlayStation 3 gamer will start the game, pick a gender and look for their version of the series' hero Commander Shepard, will play the opening sequence and then reach the comic.
The comic recounts the main story of the first Mass Effect. It also exposes what I hadn't realised were the surprisingly few key decisions players made in the first game. Maybe the six choices do set up a lot of consequence, but it was odd for me, someone who spent well over 20 hours playing the first Mass Effect, to see that the actions I took could be presented in a brisk re-telling with a mere half-dozen narrative forks. Some forks involve who lives and who dies during Commander Shepard's quest to save the galaxy. One involves sex. There's some politics too.
Mix up your responses and you get more than 700 permutations, if I'm remembering my middle-school math correctly. That makes the six choices available feel not so slim a picking after all. It also presents PlayStation 3 owners with one of the only bragging points they can make to Xbox 360 and PC players who have a more than three-year advantage in Mass Effect experience: the PS3 player can re-play the comic at the beginning of Mass Effect 2 repeatedly with each new start of the game, crafting a new Mass Effect 1 history for Shepard in just a few minutes. The player can then see how any tweaks affect the story of Mass Effect 2. What if you made some pivotal decision pivot differently? It's easier to test on a PS3. You don't have to replay many hours of Mass Effect 1 and import the save file over.
I saw the comic at a Sony showcase for PlayStation 3 games in New York last week. I was also shown some mid-game action. The people showing the game say it looks better, that the graphics engine has been overhauled, but without an Xbox 360 running the game right next to the PS3, it's hard to say if and how much better things look. I was encouraged to look at the mesh on Shepard's uniform. You look at the mesh. Better lighting, they say. Better reflections.
The PS3 version of Mass Effect 2 will include all of the downloadable content released for the Xbox 360 version as well as reflect changes made in patches. A representative for the game's development studio, Bioware, said we can think of this version as what Bioware would release if they ever sold an ultimate version of Mass Effect 2.
The game will also support the Cerebus Network, which is Bioware and parent company EA's way to release free and paid downloadable content to Mass Effect 2. The Genesis Comic, in fact, is a Cerebus Network item, which probably means that it, like other freebies on the service, will only be freebies if you buy the game new. Otherwise you have to pay extra for the Network if you have buy a used copy of the game. Bioware plans to release more Cerebus Network content for all platforms in 2011.
Chances of Mass Effect 1 coming to the PlayStation 3 were always slim. Time was against it. The fact the Xbox 360 maker Microsoft published the game was against it. But in the history of humankind, comic books have often solved intractable problems, or something. So here's a comic, PS3 fans. That's your Mass Effect 1. Make your decisions, and make them again.
Mass Effect 2 is out for the PS3 in January; Mass Effect 3 is set for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC in the "holiday" season.