In May of 2008 Mass Effect will boldly go where many former console exclusives have gone before -- to the PC. The game will be the first project published through BioWare?s new relationship with Electronic Arts. The transition from console to PC is being handled by Demiurge studios with close supervision from the original BioWare development team. Don?t expect seismic difference between the original game and its new incarnation. Apart from some minor tweaks and one all-new addition, the experiences on the Xbox 360 and your home computer are fairly similar. Of course, the port takes increased processing power into account, allowing users to view alien landscapes with much more fidelity.
BioWare?s sprawling science fiction adventure plays much as it did before. Players slip into the identity of Commander Shepherd and command the crew of the SSV Normandy as they explore the galaxy. You?ll have the option to play the game with an Xbox 360 controller, which will provide an experience quite close to the original version. Playing with mouse and keyboard controls, on the other hand, will make room for much more customizability. Standard movements are mapped to the traditional WASD keys, but can be (along with all the other commands) reassigned to anywhere on the keyboard. The mouse makes navigating the game?s many menus quite easy. More than a few menus have been reorganized to take advantage of PC controls. Weapons and equipment can now be sorted and navigated using a traditional scroll bar. Adjustments to the equipment menu make it easier to make side-by-side comparison of the gear your characters have on and the stuff you?re browsing.
There are more than a few perks to having a mouse in hand when playing Mass Effect. Players have finer control over their team. A new wheel menu lets players quickly relay orders to individual crew members. The mouse also makes for quicker placement of combat waypoints. Steering for The Mako personnel carrier is now independent from the camera controls, making the tank much easier to control. On-screen quick slots mapped to the function keys and a hotkey for quick saves further streamline the experience.
The benefits of a fast gaming machine can be seen immediately. Zippy load times make the transitions between scenes more immediate. Alien scenery is rendered with more detail -- the background textures throughout have been punched up. Though the game will take advantage of high-end PCs, we were assured that the experience would be optimized for machines across the performance spectrum. Horsepower will be a boon, but not a necessity.
The biggest tweak to Mass Effect can be seen in the new decryption mini-game. Hacks can still be sidestepped with an Omnigel bribe, but the new puzzle looks a little more engaging than the ultra-simple puzzle that shipped with the Xbox 360 game. Now players are presented with a series of concentric circles, each rotating in different directions and at different speeds. Players must guide a cursor through gaps in the rings and reach the center in order to successfully pull off a decryption.
All of the achievements that could be earned while playing the game on the Xbox 360 are intact, only now this data will be maintained on a BioWare server. These achievements will not earn Gamerscore points. The game is not ?Live Aware? and, apart from leaderboards, it has no other significant online functionality. There are plans to provide downloadable content, but it hasn?t been determined which, if any, of the new missions will be shipped with the Mass Effect PC retail box.
It should be noted, after all the controversy surrounding Mass Effect?s sex scenes, that all content remains intact. BioWare made a point of showing one of the game?s sexual encounters and even went so far as to set the tryst in context. Not only are these moments optional, but they come only after the culmination of a relationship between Shepherd and another character. During our demonstration BioWare showed how the moment of intimacy comes just prior to a dramatic plot point. The scene plays like the sex scene in the original "Terminator," when Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor find a moment of intimacy amid their life-or-death struggle. This falls directly in line with BioWare?s assertion that videogames are a maturing medium -- an art form capable of telling more complex and nuanced stories than ever before. Like all of BioWare?s games Mass Effect remains a game about choice. In May, PC users will finally be able to explore the same universe of options about which Xbox 360 users have been raving.
This preview was based on a publisher-driven demo of the game. The game is scheduled to be released on May 6, 2008.