Mass Effect 3 PC Review: Prettier, But Pretty Much the Same

Combat in Mass Effect 3 is both a tense and tricky affair, and a frustrating one. Amping the game’s difficulty up to its Hardcore or Insanity levels really does present a fairly phenomenal challenge, augmented by some tough enemy types and good variety of bad guys who work together. For example, Cerberus forces tend to act a bit stupid on their own, but they get troublesome as engineers start setting up auto-turrets and snipers and biotic phantoms join the fray, making it tough to stay in cover at any given moment. Cover is key if you don’t want to get picked apart, but Mass Effect 3 is at its best when you’re forced to run for it, finding a new safe place, or put everything you’ve got into taking down a dangerous foe before it closes the gap on you.

That said, the combat can get troublesome over time, and this isn’t improved by PC controls in the slightest. A frustrating thing about playing Mass Effect 3 on a console is that the A (or X) button is dedicated to doing way too many things — running, diving, climbing over low walls, taking cover and picking up items or reviving teammates. The game often struggles to figure out what you want to do, and trying to revive a teammate while keeping your head down will usually result in diving or just standing up and getting blasted.

This is even worse on PC, because instead of a gamepad button, the do-everything control is the space bar. While you can re-map your keyboard to change which button does the space bar’s functions, like charge, roll and take cover, you can’t separate out those commands into multiple buttons. It feels even worse as a means of doing so many key functions in Mass Effect 3 and you’ll probably want to move that control from the space bar to somewhere else. But this opportunity to allow players to re-map some of those functions onto other keys is a huge loss, given how twitchy Mass Effect 3 can be in distinguishing what you want it to do when you press that button. We should have that control, it seems like, but the console port of Mass Effect 3 includes no such option.

But in terms of comparing the PC game to the Xbox 360 version, on which I did my original run, PC is often just a much tighter experience. Where the game lacks in controls because of the space bar, it makes up for them with the ability to use all of Shepard’s powers by mapping them to the number pad, instead of using that stupid power wheel so much. A mouse also makes shooting much easier and more fluid, as one might expect, as it does issuing squad commands. It seems the trade-off — the weakness of the space bar versus the benefits of a mouse and the number keys — falls in favor of the mouse-and-keyboard controls. Sadly, though, Mass Effect 3 doesn’t support a gamepad, so you can’t even make that decision; that was a cost-cutting move during development, unfortunately.

From a technical standpoint, ME3 on PC seems to handle a lot better than its console counterparts. I felt like I noticed fewer visual bugs (although they were definitely still there), and less in the way of texture pop-in (although that was definitely still there, too). The limits of a game developed for consoles can still be seen in the visuals, but by and large ME3 is much prettier and altogether sharper on PC, as is to be expected.

The real benefit is in loading times, however. I’m certainly not sporting an impressive rig of any kind, but my mid-range PC blew my Xbox out of the water in terms of how long it took to load any given area of ME3. In a game that constantly has you taking elevators around the Normandy and bouncing through the Citadel to find people, speedy loads is very welcome, and might be among the best reasons to opt for PC over console.

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11 Comments on Mass Effect 3 PC Review: Prettier, But Pretty Much the Same

Kenji

On March 16, 2012 at 4:58 pm

+1 to this, I really must say im loving your site and coverage of all of this, Its VERY rare anyone reviews the PC AND Console versions of a game, its something that needs to be done more often with all the garbage ports the PC Gaming community gets

Maywiki

On March 16, 2012 at 5:32 pm

On my system, I had no load time (and I’m not on a ssd). The longer I had to wait was about 3 to 5 sec, but most on the time every load was not perceptible, especially on the Normandy and the Citadel.

Stone

On March 16, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Don’t forget you can always hook up a 360 controller to your pc and have the best of both worlds!

Phil Hornshaw

On March 16, 2012 at 10:21 pm

@Stone

Actually, ME3 doesn’t support a 360 controller (or other gamepad). It’s a bummer, actually.

Zimriel

On March 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Not to be too off-topic, but BSG went wrong during Season 3 and never recovered. I didn’t even start the “4.5″ season. It would be like if ME2 went off the rails toward the end and ME3 was awful throughout. (Which didn’t happen.)

The ending of Lost did, yes, ruin the whole experience.

With ME3, probably best for players to stop the game before the ending, go out for beers, and write a fanfic.

Focusingblur

On March 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Why would you want to use a gamepad over mouse+keyboard anyway? Especially for a game with shooter elements that require a good deal of precision, especially at higher difficulties? I’ll never understand this. To me, that’s like electing to use crutches even though your legs are fully functional.

Phil Hornshaw

On March 23, 2012 at 3:49 pm

@Focusingblur

Pretty much for the cover system, to answer your question. I agree that keyboard and mouse plays better, but in terms of Mass Effect, even other PC gamers at Game Front felt it needed a gamepad.

birthofthecool

On March 23, 2012 at 8:21 pm

I would have wanted a real PC game, I found the conversion lacking in many points compared to the earlier games.
Not that it was harder to play, but the many things that were done in “console style” put me off at first.

A real was getting any items in the star systems, with reapers chasing you. You move the ship with the mouse, but you also have to activate landing or docking with the mouse. The time you lose by moving the cursor, might just give the reapers the time to reach you.

As an RPG fan, I still prefer ME1 over the other 2 games, as far as character development, equipment and exploration go.
Even the endless Mako explorations were more fun than those endless scan and fetch quest and to think that all those accumulated War effort points only lead to slight variations of the ending.
It is absurd and it does take away not only from the last game, no from the whole series.

Sorry if you don’t see it that way, it is how I reacted to it.

aviation

On March 27, 2012 at 10:26 am

Sweet learned something newjust now now I’m satisfied for this week. Best!

racing

On March 27, 2012 at 9:38 pm

I was going to encourage Sassan to continue posting in the future, by following the rules. But then I realized he’s been attempting to circumvent moderation efforts, and that should be a banning offense.

Kiljoy616

On March 28, 2012 at 11:27 pm

I have to conquer that the game lost a lot of what made ME 2 such a fun game, the RPG side of this game franchise when south, it just felt bad, empty feeling. The day one DLC which was actually in the disk also felt cheap and it did add a lot to the game, but this game was so lacking in what made mass effect cool that I really don’t care if they fix it or not anymore since the whole PR from Bioware has me thinking next game I like from them I am waiting to see if its worth playing. To many good games to play half finished games.