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.