ME2 is every bit as unique as ME1. There are no games really comparable to either. I think you’re stretching quite a bit with ME1 as “weird future”. It’s basically a straight rip from Alistair Reynolds in setting, events, and tone and he’s smack bang in the middle of conventional space SF. All the books it resembles are mainstream. It only looks “weird” if you ignore most SF written after 1987 or so, or look only at TV or games. Sunless Skies is a particularly odd comparison, given that it’s aggressively wierd, chasing a China Mieville style “New Weird” deal. There’s nothing weirder than say, the less weird bits of 2001 in ME1 and as noted, most of ME1 is Reynolds-esque, with some Banks and Vinge. Mainstream space SF authors.
ME2 is in the same area as it. And it’s actually more Banks-esque than ME1, particularly resembling Consider Phlebas at times. Plus as you say it has that heavy spacepunk deal, and I wonder if its merely you being more familiar with cyberpunk as a genre that makes this seem normal and the Reynolds/Vinge stuff seem “weird”. I mean, I read I read “A Fire Upon The Deep” in what 1992, 1993, and to me ME1 seemed directly inspired by but far less wild than it. And that’s a classic at this point and was in 2007.
Further, they did try to replicate ME1, albeit entirely unsuccessfully, with Andromeda. Unfortunately it ended up seeming like rather cheesy space fantasy of a much lower standard than ME1 to 3.
And I think it’s worth looking at why ME2 dumped exploration, for the most part - because ME1 didn’t find a way to make it not suck. There are a handful of memorable planets you spend maybe 5 to 10 minutes each exploring, then there’s maybe driving on the sky bridges as the only other interesting use of the MAKO. That’s like an hour and a bit of a 30 to 60 hour game. And there are dozens of dull, unmemorable planets, and other missions where the MAKO is used but sucks. So it was a failure of ability to design that lead that way.
And no one since has made a genuinely good space exploration game. Yeah I’ve played NMS. It’s a weird grinder, and doesn’t really feel to me like space exploration at all, just like that’s the theme/set dressing of a basic bitch wannabe Terreria type game. So I don’t think there is an alternate reality where ME2 has good space exploration elements. There’s probably one where it’s basically a remake of ME1 and got poor reviews though! There’s also probably one where Andromeda stuck with the original NMS crossed with ME vision, which is at least likely interesting and probably better than NMS.
Don’t get me wrong, though. My number 1 most wanted game would be a good space exploration game (don’t even get me started on how stuff like Elite:Dangerous fails to be that), and ME1 with it’s mass effect drives and their mechanics would be perfect for that. But no one has managed it. Outer Wilds seems cool but that ain’t space exploration.
On the games played front, I have been playing Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2 with my partner and holy shit it’s great. The sheer number of dishes is staggering, the mechanics are great, the restaurant building is fun, and the 2p control method where one of you has the mouse and the other the keyboard works amazingly well, with both having upsides and downsides.