|System: X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: BioWare, Demiurge Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: May. 27, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
The Mass Effect Way
by Derek Hidey
Just when you thought good RPGs had to have elves, swords, and magic, BioWare threw gamers an original idea called Mass Effect. Originally created for the Xbox 360, Mass Effect puts players in the shoes of Commander Shepard, the story's protagonist, during mankind's struggle to become accepted in an arena of intergalactic politics and war. For the PC version, all the bits and pieces of the story are essentially the same, but that doesn't mean BioWare didn't make any changes.
The player begins by creating their version of Shepard. The character's back story, eye color, specialization, and even gender are all customizable from the start. As soon as that is finished, the game begins with some cutscenes, a little background on the current situation, and then lets the player loose. Most of the differences between the two versions aren't apparent until after the initial character creation.
One difference between the two versions is how the player navigates the plethora of menus. Everything from inventory management to the galactic map used to travel between major locations has been tweaked and redesigned. What used to take several steps to do on the console version has been easily reduced to one. Of course, this isn't necessarily a triumph of the game's programming but rather the capabilities of a mouse/keyboard combination. Nevertheless, Mass Effect's redesigned menus far exceed what most PC gamers have come to expect from console-to-PC ports.
Combat with the mouse is smooth and easy to learn from any PC gamer's perspective. While BioWare didn't take the time to incorporate a first-person style camera option, the attention to handling first-person controls in a third-person environment is considerable. Unfortunately, the lack of the ability to jump makes for a sometimes frustrating gameplay experience. For example, there are several areas in the game that require you to walk up a not-so-tall catwalk to retrieve a hidden create full of armor, weapons, and upgrades. Once you spend between 1-2 minutes running to get the crate, you'll find yourself making a very repetitious return down the same path again. These trips become particularly annoying when your vehicle is just a couple feet below and you wish you could just hop over the railing and get going. To Mass Effect's credit, the Xbox 360 version didn't allow players to jump either, which is a detail BioWare probably left out on purpose.
Although character movement is mostly perfect, the same cannot be said for the vehicle movement and controls, which is odd considering all the time players spend going from point A to point B on each planet they encounter. For starters, the Mako's (land vehicle) forward, left, right, and reverse functions are all controlled by WASD, which makes complete sense except when A and S not only turn the vehicle, but make it accelerate at the same time. This can become frustrating when attempting to make sharper turns because holding W and then A or S results in a much slower turn. Luckily, players will spend so much time driving the rover/tank hybrid that managing these issues becomes second nature, and, eventually, barely noticeable.
Additionally, while having the skill to handle the Mako is good, most of the outdoor fights are rather lackluster. Instead of having tense and adrenaline pumping chases, most of the combat amounts to seeing the enemy; the enemy firing a slow-moving burst; hitting a key to jump over the burst; and finally shooting the enemy. The number of times the player repeats this step depends on how big the target is. For some reason, it would appear the enemies in Mass Effect learned nothing from Star Wars slow moving tanks with legs just aren't that great.
Another oddity to Mass Effect's movement controls is the player cannot sprint outside of combat. By the time a player finishes the game, they've had their character practically running a marathon, which can be tedious when the only time you can speed yourself up is during combat. When not in combat, the normal sprint key just locks the camera behind Shepard in a kind of cinematic mode. While the subject of travel time is still on the table, it is important to note that BioWare has apparently sped up the notoriously slow-moving elevators that were the talk of many irritated Xbox 360 users.