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Big Versus: Mass Effect

In Big Versus we tackle multiplatform releases that land on PC and console and weigh the pros and cons of the PC version against its console sibling. In each installment we compare games based on included content (such as single and multiplayer features), visuals and everything in between. While our mascot may show an admiration for PC gaming, we're all about telling you the truth in Big Versus.

In our second installment of Big Versus we're tackling BioWare's epic roleplaying title Mass Effect, which hit retail on May 28--six months after its original release on the Xbox 360.

Which version of the critically acclaimed role-playing title comes out on top when we pit them head-to-head. This week we go galactic, so grab a spacesuit and jump in. This is Big Versus.

Gallery: Mass Effect

Developer: BioWare | Release Date: May 28, 2008
System Requirements | $49.99

Download all the latest videos for Mass Effect (PC) now!

Nearly 200 years in the future, mankind has discovered the technology necessary for space travel and upon being introduced to new races becomes a fledgling part of an alliance that watches over the galaxy. In Mass Effect gamers take on the role of Commander Sheppard, an agent of the alliance known as a Spectre, tasked with stopping a rogue Spectre named Saren by any means necessary.

The story remains the same throughout both versions. However, the recent downloadable content, "Bring Down the Sky," available on Xbox Live will be released for free to PC gamers (hopefully soon). The 90-minute sidequest expansion is not available at launch, but gamers will have free access to the content as soon as it is made available. The content is included as part of the initial entry price whereas it is only available as Premium Downloadable Content on Xbox Live (priced at 400MS Points -- $5).

Recap: While it only adds 90 minutes of gameplay to the potential fifty-hour experience (with sidequests), the PC version of Mass Effect has the content included with the initial price of entry so it has the edge.

While Mass Effect was critically acclaimed as an overall achievement when first released, most players expressed concern for the game's overly complex control scheme in battle. Utilizing a radial menu that slowed the action, gamers could program two face buttons to unleash any of the Commander Sheppard's powerful abilities. While functional, continuously pausing the action and swapping abilities was one of the most valid arguments against the game.

The PC control scheme in Mass Effect has been completely revamped to include up to eight (8) programmable hot keys for any ability gamers wish to add to Sheppard's arsenal.

Gone is the radial HUD menus for ally control, replaced with a more intuitive and less intrusive menu system that opens on opposite sides of the screen per character in your party.

Mass Effect's new PC HUD vs. Xbox 360's original HUD (inset)

Also improved from the Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect is a new inventory-management system, a component that drew widespread complaints in the original release for its lack of ease of use. Now, weaponry will display on the new HUD screens ordered in rank of power, with customizable components (attachments and ammo types) selectable via a drag-and-drop interface.

Mass Effect allows players to install the entire experience onto their computer, chewing-up 12GB of hard drive space in the end. The install allows gamers to cut the long load times prevalent in the console release in half, but you may still need to wait a few extra seconds for level-to-level load times which are masked via a lengthy elevator ride. While not as long as the console version, they do still exist.

The new decryption mini-game is a more futuristic fit

The button-matching mini-game used for decryption has also seen a revamp in the PC version of Mass Effect. Now, concentric circles with gaps, spin and display openings in the center, failure to decrypt still forces gamers to trade in Omni-gel as a quick unlock but the the change is more fitting based on the futuristic setting of the game.

Overall the experience is more refined for the PC audience. The mouse and keyboard support will make you sneer at anyone claiming the PC version of Mass Effect is a port of a console release. However, those expecting all of the glitches to be ironed out in this version should keep in mind that some errors still occur throughout the experience, as they did on the Xbox 360.

Recap: Based on the multiple changes made to the control and accessibility of Mass Effect on PC it is the clear victor in terms of overall gameplay.

While Mass Effect touts higher-resolution textures gamers may be hard pressed to notice a difference unless they can run the title at the highest PC setting. While some differenced exist, both platforms seem to offer their strengths and weaknesses (see our screenshot comparison below).

Click any image to enlarge

The PC version looks crisper and displays more realistic textures in human faces but has washed over alien characters giving them a more clean look, detracting from the ruggedness of the original version.

Mass Effect's included auto-config utility automatically adjusts system settings on first run, in an attempt to give players an optimal play experience--gamers can also manually adjust these settings. With the ability to install the entire game, texture pop-in has also been reduced but the PC version's new periodic mini-loads throughout missions can become a nuisance (something that shouldn't be happening after the 40-min full installation).

Recap: While the textures have the ability to look better on better PC rigs, the Xbox 360 version is comparable overall. Mass Effect is a beautiful experience on both platforms but each version battles graphical issues. In some situations the PC version will outshine the Xbox 360 in the environments and setting, which the Xbox 360 version can outshine the PC release with better looking characters from time-to-time. It's really a too close to call and for the average PC, either version is gorgeous.

Microsoft has released the first "in a series" of planned downloadable content for Mass Effect (which ships with the PC release) on the Xbox 360. When asked about downloadable content plans for the PC version of the game BioWare's Diarmid Clarke and Matt Atwood remained silent on the subject.

With no confirmation on downloadable content or the ability to create MODs for the PC version, the future outlook for content is hard to guess. Considering Mass Effect is the first in a planned trilogy of titles there may be little in the way of future content for the epic RPG on the PC platform, but that is pure speculation based on previous statements from Clarke and Atwood.

Recap: Happening or not, with no confirmation on any future content we have to give the nod the Xbox 360 version of the game. Microsoft has stated new content is incoming, we'll have to hope that content sneaks its way onto our PCs eventually.

Mass Effect's PC release inches out the Xbox 360 version of BioWare's epic RPG. With an enhanced control scheme and refinements to core complaints from the original, as well as the added benefit of including the first downloadable pack at for free this is the definitive version of the game.

Recap: While the PC release of Mass Effect isn't without its share of problems, the game adds enough new front and back end content to make it the first recommendation. That is if you're in the market for a game to take over your world from start to finish.

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