Players of the first Mass Effect will remember the Mako. It was the deeply flawed wheeled personnel vehicle from ME1. People hated that thing and it’s easy to see why. The Mako jumped like a three-legged dog trying to snatch a biscuit it didn’t really want. Lining up targets with the transport’s guns was scream-inducing, since anytime you were on a slope, your shots would go wildly astray. Being forced to remain immobile while repairing the Mako and the haphazard nature of getting in an out of it during a firefight were among the other things that incurred the wrath of Mass Effect players everywhere. I grew to love the Mako, though. It enabled what felt to me was an essential part of the Mass Effect experience, which was making contact on the ground through planetfall.
So it was with some ambivalence that I received the news that the Mako wouldn’t be in Mass Effect 2. No more roaming the treacherous terrain of hostile planets? No more blowing Geth to smithereens with my Mako canon? And most importantly, no more bizarrely old-school jumping-to-dodge mechanic? I liked doing those things; I just didn’t like how clunky it sometimes felt. Thankfully, Bioware’s fixed much of that–and for free no less–with the new Firewalker DLC pack for Mass Effect 2.
The Firewalker pack’s all about the M-44 Hammerhead vehicle, designed to fly close to the surfaces of certain planets in Mass Effect 2’s star systems. The Hammerhead is pretty much a hover-tank and controls a bit like a roller-coaster sometimes. But, overall, it does feel more precise and responsive than the Mako ever did. It also feels sturdier and more offensively powerful. You get five new planets to explore in Firewalker missions and they’re variously hazardous in terms of weather or seismic activity.
Two missions are relatively simple exploration assignments, with a lot of platforming and minor on-foot sequences. There is combat in two other Firewalker missions, too, which has you wielding the hover-tank artillery gun against enemy squads. It’s not a total mismatch and you’ll get blown to bits if you’re not careful. The remaining mission is a timed race from node to node before your engine freezes. Not having any useful damage indication in combat situations is a bit of a drag. Your transport blows up almost immediately after the alarms go off or the on-board virtual intelligence bleats out, “Warning! Hull damage sustained.”
Still, the most impressive thing about the Firewalker DLC pack isn’t the Hammerhead, though it improves the vehicular combat greatly from where the Mako left off. It’s the way the insertion of the pack highlights the story architecture in Mass Effect 2. You can see where Bioware’s leaving themselves an “in” and an “out” no matter where a player might be in the story. I hadn’t finished the main game yet but it fit seamlessly into the story I was already making with my Commander Shepard. There’s more ME2 DLC coming and it’ll expand players’ sense of an already huge universe. Whether we’ll get more Hammerhead missions is up in the air. But, the content that debuts in the Firewalker pack makes for a promising start for integrating ground vehicles back into Mass Effect games.