Preview: Jason Cisarano explain why it's a still good time to be a PC gamer now that Bioware's Xbox 360 epic is coming to a rig near you.
As a dyed-in-the-wool PC gamer, it's rare that I look over at the consoles with a longing eye. Let them have their XBLA, achievements and that darned Wiimote?I'm perfectly happy tweaking GPU timings to squeeze out a few more frames per second or scouring .ini files to find the settings to get widescreen working right. But every once in a while, a game like Mass Effect comes along that makes me think twice (or more) about what's going on over in console land, and maybe even consider taking the plunge and buying a new system. Then, earlier this year, Mass Effect developer Bioware did the PC gaming world a solid and announced a version for the
Nobody likes to play second fiddle, though, especially PC gamers who have suffered so many mediocre ports from consoles that just plain don't take into account the different hardware and expectations of their platform. Or, who have suffered the greater sin of playing a game that, from the outset felt crippled by the need to make the game playable on console and PC both (I'm looking at you, Invisible War). Well, it looks like the developers are putting plenty of thought into the process of turning Mass Effect into a proper PC experience, and have announced a slew of features specific to the PC version that have 360 players considering whether they have the right version of the game, especially when the developers have promised that they've improved load times and shortened som elevator rides that had players waiting for extended periods.
The first few items come as no surprise. There's the near-obligatory announcement of improved graphics that will include sharper textures for computers that can handle them. And of course the PC control scheme will use the keyboard and mouse, allowing players to control Shepherd with the familiar WASD layout. It gets a bit more interesting when you find out that the PC version will include a fully-mappable control layout and will even give players a set of hotkeys to go with their biotic skills. Biotic skills, in case you were wondering, are Mass Effect's version of spells/plasmids/biomods that give characters powers like throwing or lifting objects, powering up shields, or paralyzing enemies. There are ?quick slots? where the player can put biotic skills to bind them to number keys, while weapons are bound to function keys. This might really speed up the pace of the shootouts, since players will no longer have to pause the game constantly during firefights to select weapons and skills.
Hotkeys are a natural addition when transferring an RPG to the PC, and it's nice to see that they were included. From screenshots released so far, it looks like there will also be a corresponding HUD element that shows which biotic skills are mapped to which key slot. In fact the HUD is one of the big changes to the PC version. Where the 360 version used a ring-shaped HUD with layers that made it easy for players to select skills and inventory items with their game controller, the PC HUD has been redesigned to put all its items in a single-layered display that they're calling a ?tactical HUD?. Both the combat and biotic menus are now on-screen at the same time, so there's no clicking through multiple layers of menus to get at the items you want. The player accesses the menu by holding down the spacebar?which also pauses the game?and then uses the mouse to click and choose desired items. There's also a new inventory screen that automatically organizes weapons and other items to put the best items at the top.
The tactical HUD also now includes the ability to give orders to individual squad members rather than just group commands for a more detailed tactical experience. Along the same lines, the vehicle controls have been redesigned to give more tactical choices. The Mako ATV will now handle a lot more like what PC gamers expect, since it's possible to use the WASD controls to move control movement while using the mouse to control weapons and point of view. The 360 version only allowed players to drive the Mako in the direction they were looking.
One thing PC players won't get is the ability to build their gamerscore in Games for Windows Live. Mass Effect for PC will include all the achievements that the 360 version carries, but they'll be tracked by a server managed in-house. But that's just about the only thing that will be missing from the PC version, since the story will remain the same and players will be able to download the first expansion, ?Bring Down the Sky,? free from the very first day of the game's release. The expansion includes a new planet, a new race, new music, and about ninety minutes of playable content. Not bad.
And now here's the best part, saved for last. One of the biggest controversies surrounding the PC version involved the use of SecuROM copy protection. Plenty of rumor and guff were bouncing around the old Internet, and Bioware responded with a change to the DRM scheme. They'll still use SecuROM, but now it only requires one on-line authentication at install. The only time you'll re-authenticate on-line will be when you grab a new download. Some folks are still upset about SecuRom, but Bioware is trying to calm users' complaints: the current scheme will allow a user to install the game on three systems simultaneously and won't require inserting the DVD in order to play the game.