Mass Effect - hands-on

If you never played Mass Effect on the 360 you probably won't notice most of the improvements that have been worked into the upcoming PC version. But in a way, that's a good thing. BioWare's epic space opera still looks gorgeous and will keep you busy for hours on end as you trek across the galaxy with your ragtag posse outcasts and aliens. But most of the tiny problems we had with the console version have been addressed, which makes the PC version feel much smoother than its 360 forefather. If you missed out on our review, you can catch up on what you've been missing by headinghere.

First off, the HUD has been completely redone. Gone are the radial menus required to manage you and your teammates' equipment and powers. Although it didn't take long to get comfortable with the 360's HUD, everything is now much more intuitive and easier to read, making combat more fast-paced and frenetic. Since you can map your skills to the number keys or quickly select them manually with your mouse, players who prefer to do most of the killing themselves can quickly switch between their weapons and skills without pausing the game for lengthy stretches to navigate through the menus. But if you choose to create a more supportive class or just like ordering people around, pausing the game to assign commands with points and clicks also feels much smoother and convenient than the 360 version.

Below: Mass Effect's new HUD makes switching weapons and skills much faster. It also makes combat a lot more fun

The decryption mini-game has also gotten a facelift. In the 360 version, you were prompted to push the face buttons in the correct order in order to open locked crates and doors. It was rather boring and because the universe has so many conveniently placed boxes with new guns and items for you to find, the decryption mini-game quickly became a pain.

Now, when you try to hack your way past an electronic lock, you're presented with a circle filled with red and orange blocks rotating within a series of concentric rings. You'll need to use left and right mouse clicks to work your way towards the center. Orange blocks simply block your path, but running into an angry red block result in an epic fail. This new mini-game can be described as “Frogger with circles,” and it’s a lot more fun than just pushing buttons in the right order like a trained monkey waiting for his banana.

Above: Talk about the uncanny valley. Mass Effect’s lifelike models look even more realistic in the PC version