Bioware’s Mass Effect was certainly one of the most noteworthy games ever to have rested comfortably in the disc tray of an Xbox 360. With its amazingly life-like character designs, well-crafted environments, and novel NPC interaction system, the game made a definitive splash everywhere, particularly in Singapore. The popularity of the game has only continued to increase, however, and has lead at last to the release of a PC version of the game that has been published under the Electronic Arts label but represents a dual development project between Bioware and Demiurge.
When you first load up Mass Effect for the PC and begin to play, you will see that it is the same intro you know from the console version of the game, perhaps with an improved graphics system, but still the Mass Effect we console gamers have come to know and love .Once you get under the hood of the game it becomes an entirely different beast, however, as there have been a wide variety of improvements made to the game. Foremost amongst these improvements is the UI, which has been updated to make the control process easier for PC gamers due to the wide gulf separating a console controller and a keyboard-and-mouse setup. Fortunately, it is a pleasant thing to discover that the learning curve behind the controls of the PC version of Mass Effect is not as sharp as one might expect.
Players control Commander Shepard through the standard W,S,A,D arrangement that is familiar to all players of FPS-style games everywhere. The weapons are fired with the left mouse button, grenades are thrown with the R key, and if the player hits R twice the grenades will stick to the ground at the feet of the enemy and can be detonated remotely. Bioware and Demiurge have been careful to make the transition between control schemes as simple as possible and thankfully, they have succeeded in their object. If, for instance, you want Commander Shepard to take cover behind a rock there is no need to keep pressing at a button until she or he at last cuddles up to the rock: the key that allows the Commander to take cover is the same one that allows for forward movement-W-so Shepard will start hugging the rock with heightened alacrity. Avert your eyes, kids.
Two other changes come from what might be called Mass Effect’s mini games, the decryption and Mako exploration segments of the game. When you attempt to opening a locked door or hack into an object, there’s no longer the button matching game from the console: instead there is a series of interconnecting circles set in a maze like pattern that you have to navigate through before time expires. This is done through the W,A,S,D keys; it’s all rather TRON-esque. You can also zoom in with the guns on the Mako, but only in cases where it’s in the vehicle’s line of sight.
The squad control screen has also been updated and indeed improved by the fine people at Demiurge. The somewhat rounded grid that players of the console version of the game have been acquainted is no longer there, having been replaced by a square screen which allows the player to make a variety of changes from armor, weapon, and accessories swapping to activation of the various abilities your squad possesses. Shepard’s interface is located on the bottom and the other party members will be assigned brackets to the left and right. Once the spacebar is hit, this screen will remain open until you hit escape, giving you all the time you need to configure all the gear you need. You can also switch between weapons while still in-game, as it has been hot keyed to the function keys: pressing one key switches to the next weapon up and hitting another brings it down. It all depends on the preference of the player but once the adjustment period is over, you’ll be getting along just fine.
This period of transition is lessened by the in-game help system that shepards(ha ha) you through your first trembling steps into the PC version of Mass Effect. The system is relevant to the environment so that you learn as you go by, for instance, learning how to toss a grenade at the ground of an enemy so that you can sweep it off its feet. For those Mass Effect console players, this comes at the time of the first Husk attack and so a black bordered box will appear telling you how to throw a grenade, how to stick a grenade, and will end with the words “let’s try throwing a grenade now.” It may seem somewhat smothering after a while, but it is quite helpful in learning the ropes; in time, you’ll be blowing up aliens like no tomorrow.
To conclude, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that the PC version of Mass Effect is a very well-crafted version of its Xbox 360 counterpart. When the various improvements to the gameplay mechanics and GUI are accounted in, not to mention getting the downloadable content for free, it becomes clear that anyone who wants to play Mass Effect and has the PC power to handle it will be in for a very worthwhile experience.