Thanks to the stepmotherly treatment PC gaming’s been receiving of late, PC gamers didn’t get a crack at BioWare’s sizzling hot RPG last year – it was exclusive to the Xbox360. If you’re one of them and haven’t heard the good news already, well, Mass Effect has finally arrived on your favorite platform.
I’m sure a lot of you have your fingers crossed by now, hoping that this isn’t another bad port like Devil May Cry 3 or Resident Evil 4. Thankfully, it isn’t. The guys at BioWare promised us that this would be more than a port; they said it would be a ‘conversion’ of sorts, suggesting that they’d revamped things quite a bit, and delivered. While everything at its core is the same as in the Xbox360 version, once you spend a while with the game you'll appreciate the effort that's gone into making it less of a "shove it down the PC gamer’s throat" kind of port.
For starters, the interface has been tweaked to make the game more PC friendly. The most awesome inclusion is that of quick slots, which help you assign any of your powers to the numerical keys on your keyboard. You can do this, and a lot more, by accessing the character control screen – holding down the spacebar key brings up a slick, completely revamped interface that allows you to do everything from issuing squad commands to changing your squad members' weapons. I loved the way they’ve neatly split up the interface to three sides of the screen, one for each member of your team. This allows easy and seamless squad control at the click of a button.
If you’re too lazy to hold down the spacebar, you can change your own character’s weapon by using the mouse scroll, or the F1-F4 keys. All these tweaks might seem minuscule initially, but once you’ve used them for a while you won’t understand how you lived without them in the Xbox360 version.
Since this is technically just a port, not much has changed in other departments. The story's the same. For those who came in late, Mass Effect takes place in the year 2183, after human civilization discovers technology left behind by an ancient race called the Protheans. This technology allows humans to travel through space at speeds faster than light, allowing them to break the confines of the solar system. This brings them in contact with other galactic civilizations, opening up a world of possibilities.
You play the role of Commander Shepard of the Alliance Military. On a mission to procure another artifact of Prothean nature, the planet that houses the artifact – Eden Prime – gets attacked by an ancient mechanical race called ‘the Geth’. You uncover a conspiracy that can potentially destroy the delicate fabric of interstellar civilization, and it’s up to you and your inter-species squad to set things right.
Content-wise not much has changed; the only bonus you really gain is that you get downloadable content for the Xbox360 version, ‘Bring Down the Sky’, for free. This includes new planets to explore, but not too much where the game’s main storyline is concerned. The other thing that’s changed is the mini-game you play to bypass electronic locks. The mini-game in Mass Effect PC requires you to guide an arrow from the outside to the inside of a circle, while moving through many broken rings.
While I really appreciate all these little changes, BioWare could have addressed a lot more issues in the PC version. For one, the inventory is still painful to navigate. With the limitation of keys on the Xbox360 controller, it was forgivable; but once on the PC, where it’s possible to play around with the interface/control scheme, I wish BioWare had revamped it to be less crappy. I mean, sifting through 100+ items (when your inventory’s loaded) using just the up and down key, gets really painful at times.
Technically, the port is definitely on the stable side. Other than a few quirks (such as long initial load time and occasional slowdowns) the game ran pretty smoothly. Most of the slowdowns I faced were while playing on Vista – on Windows XP, the game ran near-flawlessly.
While there’s little reason for those who’ve already played the Xbox360 version to get excited, PC users should definitely look at this game. BioWare and Demiurge have put a lot of effort into churning out a rock-solid port for an awesome RPG, making this game a must have for those with powerful PCs.
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