Let's face it: If you're at all into role-playing games, then there's a good chance you've already played Mass Effect. BioWare is a certifiable master of the genre, and when its magnificent space opera first hit the Xbox 360 last November, it was awarded perfect score after perfect score.
Despite my adamant PC fanboyism, I couldn't resist grabbing the 360 version the moment it was released. I spent three solid days blowing through every nook and cranny and it was an experience unlike any I've had in all my years as a gamer. Though it was hamstrung with flaws like annoying graphical pop-ins and hands-down ridiculous loading times, I was grinning from ear to ear the whole way through. When the PC version came along, I couldn't wait to fire it up: all the glorious gameplay, I thought, without the annoying glitches.
And I was right — sort of. The PC-only features are impressive and include higher-res textures, a completely revamped HUD and UI, blissfully short loading times — no more insanely long elevator rides — and much-improved squad management options. Unfortunately, these welcome improvements are offset by jarring inconsistencies that really rob the game of its shine. While some of the more glaring glitches of the 360 version were addressed, the PC version has problems of its own and they're just as distracting.
Take, for example, the texture work: almost universally pristine, but here and there it's so pixilated that some characters' outfits look like stitched quilts. Similarly, the dynamic shadows are gorgeous, except on faces, where they buzz and twitch so much that I had to turn them off so I could concentrate on what the characters were saying. The painful loading times are gone, but they've been replaced by periodic micro-loads that are just as distracting. Frankly, after a 40-minute install onto a high performance system running a DirectX 10.1-compatible graphics card, I shouldn't even be getting hiccups at all.
But really, this is just me nit-picking. As annoying as the glitches may be, Mass Effect's gameplay, which is just as good as it was on the Xbox 360, more than makes up for it. The new squadmate-specific combat interface and mouse-centric UI are a joy to use, and the story is theatrical and compelling, with a galaxy worth of content stuffed into one hell of game. If you've already tackled the console version, you certainly don't need to shell out for the PC version, too, but if you haven't yet experienced this magnum opus, this is the version you should play.