Mass Effect PC
Remember Mass Effect? You should – it only came out last year, and it was really bloody good. A sci-fi RPG from the talented chaps at BioWare, it was released on the 360 to critical acclaim, and went on to sell a boatload of copies. It wasn’t without its flaws – dodgy AI, lengthy loading screens, blurry textures that take a second or two to sharpen up when entering a new area, and so on. But it wasn’t enough to bring down the experience as a whole. If you grew up watching Star Trek, and a part of you still wants to live out your ridiculous childhood fantasies of jetting around the universe, saving planets and making love to aliens, Mass Effect was a dream come true.
Playing as Commander John Shepard (though you can customise the character completely, down to the gender, appearance, and name – as long as your surname is ‘Shepard’), you’re charged with the task of saving the galaxy from the looming threat of the Reapers, a mysterious alien race that are due to come and devour absolutely everything. Along the way you meet a whole host of characters, some of whom will join your crew, as you fly around the galaxy doing pretty much whatever you like. While the game’s much-hyped intention of placing the player in morally-grey situations with no obvious ‘good’ solution wasn’t quite so prominent as we’d hoped, the game does ask you to make the occasional call which will have you scratching your head for a while as you weigh up the potential consequences of your actions. Unless, of course, you simply don’t care how you get the job done – while Mass Effect does insist that you play the game as the story’s good guy, it doesn’t dictate that you can’t be a total arsehole about it.
So why are we reviewing it a second time? Well, because the PC version’s been released, and it makes a couple of interesting and worthwhile additions to an already excellent game. Put simply, no corners have been cut in the process of porting the game over. Speaking as someone who spent over 40 hours with the game on the 360, it took me about five minutes on the PC to make me wonder if the game had actually been designed for a keyboard and mouse all along. I’d expected to find myself plugging my 360 controller into the PC in order to play ‘properly’, but I quickly found myself flying around the game’s menus, and the third-person combat was a total breeze.
The changes to the PC version don’t end with the interface, either. The 360 version was criticised for giving you very little control over the whereabouts and actions of your squad-mates, and the strategic side to the game’s combat sort of fell apart – while a few preview videos had shown a system for giving specific orders to squadmates, this was stripped down for the final release. The good news is that this system seems to have made it into the PC version, and the player can now direct his or her squad-mates to take cover in specific places, attack certain enemies, and so on. Admittedly, the game was never hugely challenging in the first place, and the AI is still pretty ropey in places, but the systems are in place for those who like to aim for efficiency in combat, instead of just charging in and shooting at anything that moves. Which is equally fun, to be fair. On top of all this, you’ll get the game’s first expansion, Bring Down The Sky, for free once it becomes available. Considering 360 owners had to cough up three or four quid for it, it’s a nice little addition.
Visually, the port doesn’t do much that the 360 version didn’t – but then the game looked pretty incredible to begin with, so that’s hardly a criticism. If you’ve got the hardware to set all the detail settings to max, you’ll find little to complain about. The blurry texture issue from the 360 version is gone too, and the load times are noticeably shorter. All in all, it’s a pretty far cry from the days when console-to-PC ports would fill you with dread by asking you to ‘PRESS START’ on the title screen. It’s clear that a lot of love has gone into making Mass Effect work on the PC, given that it’s not only a faithful port to a very different machine, but that the developers also saw fit to fix issues from the original, improve certain features and even give away some extra content for free.
Admittedly, the game isn’t for everyone – there’s a lot of dialogue to wade through, so if you’re not into sci-fi or having conversations with your crew members just for the sake of finding out their back-stories (all of which are brilliant, by the way), you might get bored pretty quickly – and obviously there’s not really enough new here to interest those who’ve already finished the 360 version. The rest of the PC gaming community, though, has got one hell of an adventure to look forward to.