Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer anime 2010: Part 2

Once again before we get started, a few helpful links for the people who aren't completely familiar with Japanese media terms. Ecchi, light novel, moe, visual novel, and chibi.

Gakuen Mokushiroku (High school of the Dead)
Director: Tetsurou Araki
Length: 12

"In Japan, several high school students and a school nurse have banded together to escape Fujimi High School shortly after it was attacked by zombies. The group now attempts to figure who or what was responsible for this plague, and in the meantime, attempt to survive the present apocalypse. The story is initially narrated through the eyes of Takashi Komuro, one of the students who had survived in the initial outbreak." (MyAnimeList)

In short, this anime looks like it will be awesome. I've always been a fan of zombies but never seem to find good renditions of them in anime (I may just not be looking in the right places), so this anime has filled a gap in my heart. One of the most essential things about zombie survival stories is the characters, and here they've done that so very right. While the first episode isn't always the best judge of such things, if it continues in a similar fashion I know I'll grow to care for these characters and be quite sad to see them die (and they will, it's a zombie apocalypse!). The setting almost seems like it's straight out of a B-grade movie but I honestly don't care, most zombie movies are like that. Gore and fan-service are a constant so far, and I hope the show continues in that fashion as it's a perfect mix.

The animation is a 50/50 effort. The action scenes are beautifully animated, very smooth if a little off in terms of perspective at times, but many of the shots at slower moments look like they've been reduced in quality to save on money. At one point there's a large stack of chairs and tables that move as one rather than individually, and it's very noticeable. I'll praise the music for being suitable if somewhat unoriginal. Fast paced electro pop rock songs go with zombies and they use that to their advantage, but the slower music is fairly generic. The opening and ending songs are both solid but lack in substance, the opening lacking a keyboard or something else to fill the gap that makes it feel a bit empty while the ending just comes off a little too ballad like for the anime. I have to praise the use of silence as well. Normally you notice a silence and feel put off by it, but High school of the Dead uses it with excellent timing to give full effect to what's happening on the screen. I can't see myself dropping this one after five episodes and I advise you get to watching it if you're a fan of zombies, good action and characters, or just plain old bloody gore.

Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu (Legend of the Legendary Heroes)
Director: Kawasaki Itsuro
Length: 26 episodes

"Ryner Lute is a lazy student of Roland Empire Royal Magician's school. One day, Roland Empire goes to war against a neighbouring country Estaboole, and he lost his classmates in the battle. After the war, Lute sets out for a journey to search the relics of a "Legendary Hero" at Emperor Sion Astal's command." (MyAnimeList)

It seems this part of the update continues to be good with this series, this time adapted from a light novel. Legend of the Legendary Heroes follows its name in being somewhat ridiculous, however it does so in a good way. The show likes to cross genres, giving a lot of comedy to its action but still keeping it nice and exciting as well as dipping a bit of drama into the mix. The plot is nothing special so far, being quite similar to other shows in the genre, but it does promise a bit more of a serious tone further down the track. The characters all seem over the top but somehow a bit more human than a lot of the characters I've come across so far this season.

The animation is pretty good, but what I love is that it avoids using a chibi in its comedy sections. The magic seems to be computer generated which is the norm these days but I feel they could be doing it better. It doesn't seem quite as good as it could be, seeming on par with the same effects from anime that's nearing 5 years old now. The music is very good, fitting into the series perfectly. It's not quite free of seeming generic or over the top but it's certainly better than most shows like this. The opening and closing are both ok but once again nothing great. Overall the show seems fairly average, might keep watching past episode 5.

Nuraihyon no (Mago Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan)
Director: Nishimura Junji
Length: 24 episodes

"Rikuo Nura - a kid that is 3/4 human and 1/4 youkai. He lives in a house full of spirits alongside his grandfather who is the leader of the youkai. Rikuo is destined to take over his grandfather leadership but his human side has no interest. Rikuo is just a normal kid who has no interest to become the leader of youkai." (Wikipedia)

I won't say this show is bad, if anything it's good. However it is amazingly clich├ęd or at least the main character is. I had my fill of angst with Evangelion, but it seems I'll be getting more if I watch this show all the way through. While Nuraihyon no Mago doesn't seem like it'll get anywhere near as bad as Evangelion, I can't help but feel there are going to be similarities between Rikuo and Shinji. Anyway, aside from our angst ridden demon lord the rest of the show looks really good. A supernatural slice of life seems to be the aim for the show and I think it'll go well if it goes that way, but I can't help but feel the overriding plot will leave me disappointed. Either way, I think I'll enjoy it even if not for the main point of the show.

The animation is quite nice, showing off a very nice transformation between human and demon, probably the best I've seen in an anime so far. The character designs are very nice, especially for the demons giving them all a unique look even if there are so many of them. The music I can't be so nice about. Again it's very generic. With the amount I've said that so far in these reviews I'm not sure if it's just me or if music in anime just sucks except for the few good ones. Either way, nothing stands out about it in this show at all; even the opening and ending are generic. Oh for another Cowboy Bebop!

Overall, Nuraihyon no Mago is definitely a decent anime but I'm concerned about how it will end up, especially considering its length. I imagine I'll stay with it pats episode 5, but we'll have to see when we get there.

Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin (Seikimatsu Occult Academy)
Director: Kitakubo Hiroyuki
Length: 13

"The story revolves around Maya, the daughter of the former headmaster of a private Japanese academy dedicated to the study of the occult who died in 1999; and a time travelling agent Uchida, a mysterious young man who travels back in time from 2012." (Anime News Network)

This wasn't originally on my list as I thought it was a sequel, however it turns out it wasn't so I'm watching it. I'm glad I am as well, it's a surprisingly good mix of horror, comedy, and school life. While it's hard to judge from one episode, it looks like Occult Academy will have a very good plot with great characters, I'm already interested in the female lead and her companions. I don't normally watch these sorts of shows, the closest I've come being Rosario + Vampire (which already is extremely different) but I think I'll enjoy this one.

The animation and music are both excellent, with a special mention going to the opening which has both an amazing song and the best visuals I've seen in an opening for a series to date. The rest of the show follows the opening's footsteps and has beautiful animation that's used well in both the action scenes and in the slower paced parts of the show while the music suits the moods perfectly even if it doesn't stand out as amazing. The ending is the worst part of the show, having somewhat generic music and only displaying still shots of what I can only guess to be live action versions of the main characters.

Occult Academy is definitively staying on my watching list after episode 5 unless it does something very strange to make me hate it (but it won't).


On another note, Shukufuku no Campanella has been confirmed for 12 episodes (my guess being 1 off), Seitokai Yakuindomo has been confirmed for 13 episodes (my guess being correct) and I've discovered that Tono no Issho only had 1 minute episodes, so I have dropped it. As for part 3 of this section, you'll unfortunately have to wait until the 17th of July at the earliest as Cat Shit One doesn't air its first episode until then. I may decide to give it its own update and post the other two as early as tomorrow, but I'm not sure how likely that is.

All images from MyAnimeList. Most descriptions found there as well. It's pretty handy for stuff like that (:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer Anime 2010: Part 1

Before we get started, a few helpful links for the people who aren't completely familiar with Japanese media terms. Ecchi, light novel, moe, and visual novel.

Amagami SS
Director: Hiraike Yoshimasa
Length: 24 episodes


"Amagami SS is based on a PS2 dating game featuring six different girls. The story of the anime will be arranged in an omnibus format, with each heroine getting her own version of the story animated." (MyAnimeList)

The format of Amagami SS seems interesting, and since it was a game popular enough to get an anime, I presume it will have a very good story to it. However, it gives off vibes that ring too closely to Kimikiss for me. I'm willing to give it a chance since it's likely to develop in a very different manner to Kimikiss, but some of the similarities between characters and plot are more than a little concerning.

The animation is definitely good, but the music comes across as very generic. Classical music is used in abundance with 'pretty girl still shots' and 'romantic' moments, but don't really add a whole heap to the atmosphere, another similarity to Kimikiss. I have a feeling this will be one of the series that I drop after 5 episodes, but I'm willing to give it a chance since it feels like it can go somewhere good.

Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi
Director: Iwasaki Yoshiaki
Length: Unknown (guessing 24)


"A love comedy parodying fairy tales such as "Little Red Cap", "The Ant and the Grasshopper" etc. Okami Ryoko (Okami-san) is a spunky high school girl. She is a member of a "fixer" club so called Otogi High School Bank. She runs about to fix the problems of the school with her partner Akai Ringo (Akazukin-chan)." (MyAnimeList)

Adapted from light novel, this seems like it could come along nicely. The concept is a little whack and very unbelievable, as are the characters, but the plot seems fairly solid and the characters do work well together. I'm reminded slightly of Working!! with the oddities of characters, but the environment doesn't seem to be anywhere near as good for the type of humour I think the show is gunning for. This series really don't know what it wants to be, judging by the first episode, as there are elements of comedy, romance, action, and slice of life. While a few shows have done this well before, such as Toradora!, this doesn't seem to be shaping up to be one of those. I may well be wrong however as it is handled by the same studio who did Toradora! (and the similarities are pretty obvious).

Music is once again generic, although somewhat better than Amagami SS as it does work to build atmosphere just a little bit, but the voice acting is cast extremely well. The characters all have extremely fitting voices and I'd love to see where they can take the narrator role to. Hopefully they can manage it as well as Hayate no Gotoku did, but so far it's been a bit lacking. Animation is slightly above average but nothing to call home about. Character designs are very interesting and I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do with them later on in the series.

Seitokai Yakuindomo
Director: Kanazawa Hiromitsu
Length: Unknown (guessing 13)


Adapted from a four-panel blue joke manga written by Ujiie Tozen. (MyAnimeList)

So, this is essentially a cross between two genres. The student council slice of life comedy genre and the ecchi genre. The two best normal examples of these genres are Seitokai no Ichizon and B Gata H Kei. I'm not looking forward to where this anime is going. At best it will be a few laughs an episode with some sort of coherent plot nearing the end of the series, at worst it will become unfunny, stupid (although in most respects it already is) and downright boring. Seitokai no Ichizon was an amusing look into an oddball student council of one male and four females, Seitokai Yakuindomo is the same look into a very similarly oddball student council of one male and three females. The male is slightly different in Yakuidomo, but in all respects I feel that I'm watching the same anime but with worse animation, characters, and music. The episode set up is nearly identical with almost all events taking place within the student council room and the jokes are nearly identical. I wouldn't be so annoyed if the jokes were different or at least better, but as far as I can tell, Yakuindomo is a carbon copy of Ichizon with more perverted jokes. And the pervertedness isn't even subtle, it hits you over the head with it making it go from somewhat funny in an immature sort of way to just plain annoying.

I don't think Yakuindomo will be staying on my watching list, but I (unfortunately) have to give it a chance until I get to episode 5.

Shukufuku no Campanella
Director: Ushiro Shinji
Length: Unknown (guessing 13)


"The story takes place in a trading city Ert’Aria. Leicester Maycraft is an item engineer belonging to an adventurer guild "Oasis". One night, he is at a party with his friends to see a meteor stream on the rooftop of a chapel. One meteor grazes them and hits the steeple of the chapel. There he finds a secret room and a sleeping girl. The girl wakes up and says "You must be my father!". The encounter with the mysterious girl brings an unexpected adventure to Leicester." (Amazon Japan)

Oh dear sums this one up. Based on an adult visual novel, this anime promises ecchiness, average (at best) plot, and silly characters. The first episode gave two of these, being somewhat less perverted than I would have thought. The first episode has done almost nothing to explain the plot of the show, nor what it's really about. We're introduced to the characters (who all seem a little too perfect or moe for my liking), the setting (which seems quite nice actually), and...Well, that's all actually. I have no idea where this anime is going, none at all. The next episode preview promises action and plot, but I don't trust it in the slightest.

The animation is pretty good, nothing spectacular once again. I really want there to be a Ghost in the Shell or Cowboy Bebop hidden among this seasons anime, but the way it's going the chances are slim. There's an over use of still shots, chibi interludes, and out of scene characters. In moderation these can be good, but almost every second joke or conversation in general used one of these. The music has been the best I've heard so far but that's not saying much. The ending song is quite horrible and the episode didn't feature an opening one so I can't comment but I doubt it'll be any good.

The anime I'm most reminded of with this series is my least favourite anime of all time. Zero no Tsukaima. If things begin to go the same way, I'm certainly not staying with this past episode 5. I'm not sure I'm happy with watching it for that long either.

All images from MyAnimeList. Most descriptions found there as well. It's pretty handy for stuff like that (:

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer 2010

So, anime has reached a new season entering the Summer releases (Winter for me) and I thought I'd try something a little different. Normally I sit down and choose two or three animes from the new season and follow them, dropping them behind a bit if they aren't great. This time, all for the sake of you, I'll be following a large majority of the new animes being released. I won't be following sequels, nor shows that look outrageously bad (I'm looking at you Mitsudomoe).

To give you a run down of the Summer 2010 seasons, the guys over at Chart Fag are gracious enough to always put together season charts for the new releases. The one pertaining to this challenge is this one. Out of a possible 21 animes, I will be watching 11 of them. 7 of the 10 I'm missing are sequels and the other 3 really look terrible, either in art, plot, or both.

After I've seen the first episode of the 11 I'm following, I'll give my first impressions on each and leave it alone until episode 5 of each. At that point I'll decide which shows I'll continue following until their conclusions and which ones I'll be abandoning with all haste. Hopefully this will help you guys choose which animes you want to check out after the season is over, or catch up on while they're still running.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Anime Review - Working!!

Director: Yoshimasa Hiraike
Length: 13 episodes
Year: 2010


Well, I should start the review ball back rolling with one of the few animes I've watched in the 2010 seasons and enjoyed. Working!! is based off the original 4 panel manga written by Karino Takatsu and is still current
ly being printed in Young Gangan in Japan. I hadn't heard of this series before seeing it pop up in comments on a few forums and being intrigued by the setting and genres it promised, I started watching it.

Working!! is a mix between comedy, r
omance, and slice of life. It follows the working days of the staff at the family restaurant Wagnaria. When the main character, Takanashi Souta, is recruited into the team, to say that wacky hijinks ensue is an understatement. All the characters have wonderfully unique (if unbelievable) personalities to them and the interaction between them becomes like that of a family. Even with such unbelievable personalities, you begin to fall in love with each one of the restaurants staff, learning to accept their little quirks (although some are far from little). While the main characters all receive a good chunk of exposition, there are a few characters that don't really appear for more than one episode. Somehow both these characters don't feel forced or rushed in their introduction and execution, but I would have liked to see just a little more of them. There's also room for an excellent spin of series to be found in the Takanashi family home. All of his sisters are introduced in the anime but they all feature very minor roles bar one who features for one episode. A short 13 episode series of their home life would be great fun to watch and I hope it's in the works. There is a slight overarching plot mainly concerning two of the characters while others look on, but it doesn't kick in properly until the final few episodes where it starts to become the spotlight of the show. In this sense it's a slice of life, but it doesn't quite have the same feeling as shows like Lucky Star or Quiet Country Cafe since it isn't focusing on the characters in different environments so much as focussing on the environment itself and how the characters change within it.

There's nothing special about the animation of Working!!, a thoroughly standard affair throughout until the final episode in which one or two scenes have noticeably had much more time put into them, being extremely fluid and graceful in movements. Clearly some animation budget was left over. The contrasting styles throughout the anime were a nice change of pace, keeping the somewhat Moe style of normal events but using fully chibi comical interludes. Quite a common thing in these sorts of shows, but done very well here. It also helps accentuate the fairly common visual gags that pop up throughout.

The Working!! opening credits takes it's spot in the limited set of anime openings I refuse to skip since the song is so good, earning a position next to both Haibane Renmei and Moyashimon. It's a fast paced rock song that refuses to let you feel anything but happy while listening to it, the perfect song to start the show off with. The ending theme is quite a bit more mellow, but still upbeat, ending the episodes nicely but not as well as the opening. Background music throughout is average, nothing jumping out to be amazing or worth getting the soundtrack for, although I did find myself tapping my foot along to the songs occasionally. The voice work was very good overall, all the characters had very fitting voices but once again there wasn't anything that jumped out and said PERFECT! to me.

Working!! is definitely an enjoyable watch for a lot of people. The strange characters will probably put some people off, as will the genre in general. Until I see Azumanga Diaoh, this is my recommendation as a more accessible Lucky Star as it doesn't have the specific knowledge gags and is set in a more open environment. Working!! is great for a lot of laughs, big grins, and plenty of chuckles, but also has some sweeter 'awww' moments as well. I'd advise watching this not only for the fun you'll have whilst doing so, but to see some of the more ridiculous character personalities you'll come across on TV.

Scores
Plot 8/10
Animation 8/10
Sound 8/10
Enjoyment 9/10
Overall 33/40
Grade B+

Pros
- Unique and loveable characters
- Great use of location for the show
Cons
- Characters maybe a little too out there for some

Friday, June 18, 2010

Slight redesign

As you can see, there's been a bit of a visual change. I thought that my previous column sizes were far too small so I made them much, much larger. I'll also be adding some more banners around the place and getting some links going (hopefully) to make the post easier to find and navigate. Give me your opinion on what the site looks like now (especially if it scrolls sideways, I don't wish that upon anyone) so I can improve it some more. It's all a work in progress.

On the review front, I'm currently slogging through Heroes of Might and Magic V (and enjoying it) and Overlord. I've also got quite a few animes and mangas that I can conjure to review. First however comes a lot of band practice, so you won't be seeing these reviews until Monday at the earliest.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My opinions on Nintendo at E3 (with trailers)

This is just a quick show of my opinion on the Nintendo E3 conference. It’s very opinionated so feel free to disagree with everything I say (:


Ok, for the most part, I’m hating the way Nintendo are taking the Wii in terms of art design. By far my largest gripe is with the new Zelda game. While the controls look unintuitive (I'm willing to give that it may be decent), Skyward Sword has the most hideous art of any game I've ever seen. Why they would choose to make a blend of Wind Waker (WW) and Twilight Princess (TP) I will never know. WW was the most beautiful game on the GC. It had such a brilliant charm to it and everything was a perfect fit for the cel shading style. TP is the most beautiful game on the Wii to date. It pushes the Wii's hardware to its limit and gives a sense of realism (aside from all that bloom). Skyward Sword (horrible name by the way) fuses the scenery of WW and the characters of TP which just makes for an extremely jarring composition. The background seems to simple compared to the characters, like they've just not bothered to make good textures, while the characters look like they've just been dumbed down from TP, given brighter palettes and simplified textures, but they still want to seem realistic. The contrast just leaves you wondering why the hell your semi realistic link is running around in an animes.




They then use this same sort of simplified style in Metroid Other M. Why they didn't just use the Metroid Prime 3: Corruption’s (MP3:C) engine again I won't know. That's probably the best looking sci-fi game on the Wii. Other M Samus looks over the top (more so than normal) but with such simple textures and shading that it's just painful to look at. They've also simplified the scenery down, leaving it looking somewhat barren compared to MP3:C. At least they can't screw up the controls since they can just work of MP3:C which has the best controls of any FPS on the Wii. Seriously, if they change them they're the stupidest company ever.




Now Kirby...I'm really, really excited to get a chance to play this. The game mechanics look great, but one again the art style is just horrible. See through characters rarely make for good gameplay. Whenever second player was on the screen I had a lot of trouble seeing his character and it generally makes it a lot harder to tell what's going on. It seems a lot like a simplified Paper Mario but with less good.



I'm sort of concerned for Donkey Kong Country Returns as the general consensus is that platforming with the wiimote is kind of crap. I honestly think that putting it on the 3DS may have been a better decision. However, it's on the Wii so nothing we can do. The art style looks very similar to Super Mario Galaxy but a tad simplier (I think I'm seeing a trend here), but it definitely works well with the game. This is probably my most anticipated Wii title that was announced if nostalgia doesn't factor into the decision.



Now, for the best news anyone has ever heard ever. GoldenEye on the wii. This will be so reliant on the controls being good that it's just sad. Their best bet (and what I hope they do) is take a page from MP3:C and use a control scheme similar to that. If they go the way of Red Steel millions of N64 veterans will cry out in pain. I would also like to see Classic Controller support so you can get a proper console FPS experience, but I doubt that will happen. Sure, the graphics look pretty horrible, even for a Wii game, but there’ll finally be a good FPS on the Wii that has great multiplayer support.



Now onto the beast that will be the 3DS. I think this is Nintendo's masterpiece so far. The thing looks absolutely amazing. I don't normally buy consoles or handhelds close to launch date, normally waiting a year or so, but this thing looks so worth getting a pre-order that it just hurts my wallet. The game list is impressive beyond all belief, rivalling my love for PS2 diversity.

The games/franchises I'm most looking forward to are: Resident Evil, Contra, Bomberman, MGS, Super Robot, Kid Icarus, Mario Kart (so long as they go back to the N64 roots and not the Wii version), Pilot Wings, Star Fox (Lylatt Wars, god yes), FF, KH.

Now, I'm not sure how many of these games will actually benefit from 3D, but the fact that the graphical outcome will be on par with the PS2 at least (judging by the Kid Icarus trailer) is impressive enough on its own. The controls are interesting, and it seems that Nintendo are taking a page out of Sony’s book and adding both a joystick and movie playability to the 3DS. Both are very welcome features and even if the movies won’t be very important, the joystick is a move in the right direction for getting more serious games onto the Nintendo handhelds.

I feel that Nintendo may be running out of fresh ideas and that's why they're rebooting so many of their franchises, but I'm not one to complain about classics coming back. I'm just sad to see the poor art direction on the Wii compared to the sheer magnitude of the power in the 3DS and what they're bound to do well with it. I feel that Nintendo are gearing their art direction more towards a casual market with the simplified graphics of the new games, but leaving the gamers who are most interested in these new titles in obscurity by taking away the rich detail that they're used to from the games. Overall, Nintendo have had by far the best conference of E3 and will probably have the best response from all their new software and hardware.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Not yet dead, Animelol, and update status

Ok, so, this blog may seem dead. It's not. Really, I swear! Uni has gotten the better of me and non-essential activities got put on the backburner, this is one of those things.

I've been slowly putting together more Animelol discussions with Tom Clift of Plus Trailers and posting them on youtube. The entire playlist can be found here, and more should be coming in the next few weeks after both Tom and I finish exams and can watch more anime together.

On that note, after exams I should start getting some more reviews up and even trying to build a backlog so I can post while I'm actually doing uni work without too much hassle. Don't expect wonders from me, but I will be trying for one update a week at least. Don't expect any book or music reviews for a long time though, they take too long to go through the material meaningfully and write the review. I may post some impressions of things though, mostly music. Just advising some bands that I think are worth checking out. Game reviews and anime reviews are the most likely things to come since I have huge backlogs of them to watch or play, and write about.

Anyway, the short of it is that this blog is still alive and will start updating again soon.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Game Review - Mass Effect 2

Developer: BioWare
Playtime: Approx. 25-30 hours
Genre: Cover Shooter/Action RPG
Platform: PC, Xbox 360

So, Mass Effect 2. The first game I'll be reviewing on this blog, and hopefully not the last (it won't be, I have some gems I want to talk about). There was a lot of hype surrounding Mass Effect 2, something I never get into (unless it's Iron Man 2) so I didn't care about the game and it flew under my radar until a good friend recommended it to me. We have similar taste in games, so I thought I'd give it a try. Not having played Mass Effect 1, I didn't know what to expect gameplay wise, story wise, or for anything really. I installed it expecting a mediocre experience that would leave me wanting to play Knights of the Old Republic (an earlier game by BioWare that I love). What I got surprised me quite a bit.

BioWare have weaved a masterpiece of a story with this game. Normally they pull stories off well, sometimes it's lacking, but normally engaging. Mass Effect 2 is the most I've cared about a game in a long, long time. The characters are beautifully designed and you end up caring so much about them. Romance is nearly always a subplot of BioWare games, but often you do it simply for the 100% run or the extra influence points. In Mass Effect 2, you actually care. I found myself putting consideration into who I'd romance and why, rather than arbitrarily choosing a character and ploughing through it. The pacing of the story is excellent, giving a well rounded tale suited to a movie while still maintaining an anxious mood for the setting. Most of the characters are fleshed out brilliantly, but the members you pick up later in the game suffer from a much more rushed exposition of their personality and it seems forced for the last two or three characters you explore. The universe in which Mass Effect 2 is set is wonderfully diverse and filled with a huge variety of creatures and environments, but this unfortunately isn't used to full effect. Most of the time you find yourself talking to the same two or three species of alien and killing another two or three, out of the 15 or so that are available, and your missions will almost always take place in a very similar environment, rarely venturing outside of a space ship or station.However great the writing is, Mass Effect 2 can be a very linear game. You can choose to either be a Paragon (goodie), or a Renegade (baddie/badass (as the game describes it)). The problem with this, as is present in all alignment orientated games, is that you always end up choosing dialogue options that max out the alignment you're aiming for. This wouldn't be so bad if there was a middle ground between the two, but unfortunately to do anything useful you have to have significant points in either paragon or renegade, especially in the end game. But back from my ramblings of alignment, combat is always the same. Take cover quickly, let team mates be killed, use a power, wait for enemy to stop shooting, lean out from cover, headshot, repeat. Occasionally an enemy will come along that requires you to run away and shoot at the same time, but often it just comes down to ammo management. Weapon choices are ridiculously limited, offering only two or three different weapons within each category, of which only 6 exist, but don't be fooled by the seemingly 12-18 different choices of weapon. Soldier is the only class than can utilise all of them, over half the classes are limited to only two weapons. And to make matters worse, very few of the guns are truly an even choice. Only snipers and assault rifles truly offer two weapons that are of the same calibre (badum-tush), and then it only relies on play style rather than different situational use. So in effect, there are about 8 guns in the game, not really a good choice. Armour is much of the same; never situational, limited choice, and hard to come by. Another horrible, and overall very boring, part of the gameplay is the upgrading. You can choose to upgrade your armour, weapons, powers, and ship, but all at a cost of minerals. There are 4 types of mineral that can be found on planets by scanning and sending probes to dig it up...Or something. That part isn't explained well. But what's annoying is that some upgrades cost in excess of 25,000 of certain minerals, and at best, you'll get 8,000 of a single one per planet, but 3-4,000 is more likely. So, to get some upgrades, you need to go through an hour of mining. This is not fun, and ends up hurting your wrist more often than not. While many of the upgrades aren't essential, if you're playing on Insanity (which I am) you need them to keep alive more often than not. A few bugs are still present in the game, the most annoying of which is one where your character will glitch out on a wall or some cover and be unable to move. I had it happen three times where I was unable to get myself off it and had to reload. Not a game ender, but certainly annoying.The soundtrack to this game is excellent. It could easily be used in a movie (although in my opinion, the Moon soundtrack would suit this game better) and is used to great effect for mood and cues. The battle music is intense, while the music for exploring is calming and suits space to a tee. There's even some great club/dance music for the bars scattered around the various planets you visit. The music absolutely beams in the late game though. In the ending levels, the atmosphere provided by the music suits perfectly and I honestly don't believe they could have done it any better. Sound effects are good, although sometimes intrusive upon the dialogue, especially on ships where various beeps and boops of equipment will distract you from the person you're interacting with. The thing that really shines are the voices. Unlike Oblivion, where the entire several hundred character cast is voiced by 4 people, they've used a huge variety of voices for the hundreds of people found throughout the 'verse. Generic characters have generic voices, but they're rare enough that you don't notice, while every named character sounds different, there's even a Scottish engineer. The massive diversity adds to much depth to the game, making it feel so much realer compared to a lot of other games in this genre.
Another thing that adds massively to the realness of Mass Effect 2 are the graphics. Great textures and optimisation make this game look great even on lower settings, but most recent computers will be able to run it on maximum. My only complaints are that often there's a lot of blur around light sources or characters that give them a very fuzzy look, and occasional clipping of skin through clothes and some awkward model placement, but nothing dramatic that kills the mood. The diversity of environments can be amazing, but more often than not isn't used. There are some breath taking levels that include a military facility overrun with jungle and a 'desert paradise'-esque portion of landscape that you can do battle on. However, you'll normally find yourself looking at the same old ship interior, or industrial landscape that's all grey or brown, and it really starts to wear you down. The different races are all extremely visually interesting, but different members of each race often look so alike you're not sure if they're twins or not. When you can tell the difference, it's normally because of a pallet swap (especially in the case of Quarians).While a lot of this would point towards a reasonably fun game, but not overwhelmingly so (especially because of the combat), for some reason it all comes together to be one of the best games I've played in a long time. This will most likely be the first game I play to completion at least twice for both endings (good and bad) and I may even attempt a 100% run for fun. The last game I did this with was Knights of the Old Republic. While the combat is samey, it still manages to remain fun even when you're doing the same thing for most fights. However, what really saves this game are the plot and characters. Sure, BioWare are always good at this, but I think this is their best work yet. I'll be playing through on the easiest difficulty purely to see as much dialogue as I can. However, to really enjoy this game, you need to play it on the harder difficulties. Playing on easy is boring during combat, but on Insanity it gets really, really fun. You need to think about where you take cover, who you kill first, and who you take on missions with you. It becomes more than a cover shooter and begins to incorporate strategy, something that I think is welcome in shooters these days. I think Mass Effect 2 is a must buy for a lot of people. Shooter fans will like it, RPG fans will like it, action fans will like it. Actually, it's a well rounded game that pretty much anyone will like.

Score
Plot 9/10
Gameplay 7/10
Sound 9/10
Graphics 8/10
Enjoyment 9/10
Overall 42/50
Grade B+

Pros
- Excellent story and characters
- Decently fun combat on higher difficulties
- Looks good and doesn't need a beast to run
Cons
- Combat can get boring and repetitive
- A few path finding glitches on cover
- Doesn't use the universe it has to full effect