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Mass Effect (PC)

Mass Effect (PC)

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Mass Effect was originally released on the Xbox 360 last November, it was an epic game combining all the best aspects of a pulsating, vibrant sci fi world populated by diverse and exciting alien races. The player stepped into the shoes of Commander Shepard, a hero out to solve a devious scheme to undermine the future of humanity in a rich and complex environment. It was one of the greatest role playing games of recent years and it has finally reached the PC platform resplendent with a ton of minor bug fixes.

Lets get straight to the point, the PC title is identical in terms of game content to the 360 version, however it is still as engrossing and exciting as before. Benefits of the PC version are higher resolution graphics, faster load times as well as the added benefit of being able to use the much more intuitive mouse and keyboard combination, rather than being left with a clumsy gamepad. So even if you have played the game before on the console platform there will be plenty of reasons to revisit. If you haven’t played it before or don’t own a console, then boy are you in for a treat.

As with most things related to Bioware, the plot is top notch, we are treated to a rich, indepth storyline full of intrigue and mystery, it is extremely well presented and is the core foundation of the whole game experience. As the story progresses , key events fall into place and the level of cohesion leads to many moments of joyous disbelief. The sci-fi edge is polished and will be sure to appeal to hard core fans amongst you, there are many aspects stolen and borrowed from the best sci fi shows throughout the years and while it could very easily have ended up a mish mash of conflicting themes the final outcome is a polished and competent product. The graphics have a nice edge, with a grain style post processing effect similar to Manhunt, this gives the impression that the environment is more realistic, rather than looking like a low budget CGI generated sci fi film. Why more developers haven’t used this before is baffling.

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A brief story recap: Hundreds of years into the future humanity has joined the galactic community after finding alien technology on Mars which has opened up interstellar travel. Humans are the new (arrogant) kids on the block in a galaxy run by ancient and intelligent alien lifeforms. As Commander Shepard you can choose to be male or female and there are pre determined characters you can select, or if you so desire you can manually create one of your own.

The story takes a twist when a rogue spectre (one of the galatic council’s special agents) attacks a human colony on Eden Prime. It is your job to track this alien lifeform down. As simple as this sounds, everything in the galaxy from this point seems to conspire against your primary goal and you end up getting sucked into many a side quest as the game progresses. Thankfully you are in charge of a massive and rather formidable star ship with which you can explore alien worlds to solve the ever growing puzzles. Onboard there are many characters who form the backbone of your crew and in true Bioware style they are realistically portrayed as well as offering some possible romantic connections.

The storyline is relatively wide arcing and puts a considerable amount of freedom in the players hands with two main paths leading the primary direction. You can choose to be ruthless (the renegade path) or take the route of the good guy (the paragon). This system works incredibly well and having the fate of lives or even possible civilisations in your hands ends up creating some tough decisions for you to make.

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The exploration side of the game is satisfying as you will have many planets and facilities to explore by driving around in an ATV (or by foot once inside). All the members in your team (including yourself) are subject to a plethora of upgrades such as weapons and armour. Many people had issues with the Xbox 360 combat methodology and they will be pleased to hear that the PC game has changed certain key aspects, for the better. There is a new tactical combat system which lets the player issue commands directly to the two active squad members. The quick slot toolbar lets you drag and drop special abilities, this allows you to access them with a tap of the keyboard and is vastly superior to the 360’s clumsy gamepad mechanic.

To be fair, the 360 control method wasn’t a complete failure in my opinion, however the benefits of a keyboard and mouse in such a game are always noticeable so it would have been hard for Bioware not to manage improvements. Mass Effect is not a pure action game anyway and more focus is placed on selecting the right characters, weapons and armour. Character statistics and levelling up are also vitally important to your successful progression.

The combat in Mass Effect is surprisingly deep and equally satisfying, unlike many games of this genre. You can play as a soldier which means you have to use cover to shield yourself against damage on a regular basis while popping out to nail foes, very like Gears Of War. The game takes things up a notch however with the other available classes which let you use biotic and tech powers. Some of these powers look incredible during combat, as you or one of your allies can use attacks to lift enemy units into the air and throw them across the screen. The game physics handle all these very well and units realistically adjust to various impacts and assaults. Physically, every unit in your team can be upgraded from ammunition to body armour, doing so obviously increases the attack damage and defensive resources, aiding combat abilities. Even if your skill set revolves around tactical decisions rather than first person shooter style reflexes Bioware have implemented a system which lets you pause the game during live combat to issue commands to your allies. The variety of these options are sure to appeal to the widest possible audience not just hard core RPG’ers.

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One of the few negative aspects of the game would be the side quests, they tend to be rather limited in scope and offer very few new and exciting options after playing the game for a few hours. You tend to go to a planet, land, roam around for a bit and find the mission objective then battle for a little while. Rinse and repeat. Yawn.

So what gametime do you get for your money? Well there is a built in timer in Mass Effect and it took me 23 hours and 12 minutes to beat the game, that said I had already beat the game on the 360 and many aspects were familar and easy to re-master. It would be possible to charge through the game and beat it in under 20 hours, but as I was enjoying the replay I took my time to take in some of the sights and sounds. If you explored everything it is possible that the game would take another 20 hours before completion. Replay values are high and in fact Bioware have promoted this by allowing the player to replay the game with the same high level character (and equipment) used to complete the game previously. Additionally you can just restart the game with a new character and choose a totally different pa th on the replay. Unfortunately this isn’t a games for windows title so any achievements you make  will not affect your 360 gamerscore.

Graphically the same is as good as the PC you own, however if you want to run on a large screen at a high resolution I would recommend an Nvidia  8800 GTX or better. I could play at 1920×1200 with a 3ghz dual core processor and overclocked 8800 GTX. The frame rate was excellent and didnt suffer from the 360 occasional drop outs either. Running some tests I was surprised to see that the game hogs all available cpu time on a dual core and as I didn’t have a Quad core at hand I am not sure if further benefits will arise for those lucky enough to own one.  On a texture level there are no improvements, however the texture pop in problems we mentioned in our 360 review are no longer visible which is a nice improvement. Running a mid range card like a 9600 requires the user to lower resolution as well as detail levels. The game is a bit of a resource hog but ifyou have a high end modern day PC it looks superior to the 360 original.

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The surround audio is still excellent and the voice acting is just as polished as I mentioned  last year, the large acting cast brings the memorable characters to life and it remains one of the highlights of modern day gaming. Full marks to Bioware for such a complete and professional end result. The electronic music is diverse and captures the wide emotional responses of space and alien environments without interupting  the end user experience.

Mass Effect on the PC is a top game. It does not feel like a mere console port and in fact has received many improvements in the redevelopment time. The remake keeps the original’s soul and adds a new combat system as well as many bug fixes and game enhancements.

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Bioware have successfully created  one of the best single player RPG games on the PC and as this is the firs t of a trilogy the future is certainly looking very bright. The universe is interactive, brimming with life and terrific to explore. If this type of game appeals to you on any level then make sure it is next in your shopping list because you will not be disappointed.

Superb and engrossing, just make sure to remember to eat and sleep!
Requires a modern pc and video card to get the best from it, but worth the outlay.
Some of the best voice acting in a computer game which totally immerses the player in the game universe.
Well over 20 hours to beat the main missions and double this if you explore everything.
(Not an Average)
One of the killer PC games for 2008, miss this at your peril!

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About Author

Stuart Davidson

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