Squad control is a big factor in Mass Effect's combat system and can easily be the overriding factor in whether you succeed or die during a mission. Throughout the storyline you will be given the opportunity to pickup a few allies from most of the prominent species, where naturally each have their own special abilities to offer. At any given time however only two squad members can be with you, so choosing the best ones to take before a mission is a strategy in itself. There is plenty of real
time squad strategy to be had too however, including the ability to order movements, all the way up to dictating which gun a member has drawn, who to attack, and even orders to use specific special abilities on specific enemies. This is done via the game's 'Tactics HUD', which you access by holding down 'Space', and while it takes a little getting used to, it is a powerful tool during combat, albeit one you may grow to ignore after a while as your character becomes capable enough to take on most foes alone.
The third and final major element to the gameplay is one you will encounter a little later on into the game, and that's space travel. Without spoiling too much, a little while into the storyline your character will gain captainship of a space craft, which you can navigate to star systems and planets of your choosing. Of course notall planets are habitable so you can't land just anywhere, but there are quite a few planets to explore, and not always as the storyline demands either. While the storyline will
usually require you to go to a particular system or planet, you're free to do this at your own pace most of the time, so you could go and explore elsewhere if desired. Besides, the vast majority of the time the game features a mission system with multiple on-going missions that can be tackled in any order, not to mention a fair few secondary missions you can pickup during conversations, so you're generally free to do as you wish most of the time. While space travel in Mass Effect is nothing more
than a navigation system with no real control involved, when you land on a planet without a docking station you will be launched down inside a buggy with gun and missile capabilities, so there is some degree of vehicle control.
With these three elements to gameplay, Mass Effect encompasses a large scope of variation and their seamless integration with one another makes for a reasonably fresh gaming experience from start to finish. After a while a few patterns will emerge and repetition may start to settle in slightly, but the strong storyline really keeps you going as you're always eager to see what's around the corner next. As well as this, like any good RPG, Mass Effect also keeps you hooked with its character
development system, which can be quite rewarding. One thing we found though was even if you focus on as many secondary missions as possible, chances are you won't max out your character before finishing the storyline however you can always start from the beginning again with a character you have already built up, which is a nice touch as you could play the storyline again with a different approach (for example, as a bad guy and not a nice guy) and manage to experience some new events and outcomes you
may not have seen the first time around. In general though, the game could stand to add a few more hours to the play time, but I guess they had to leave some stuff for the next two titles in the planned trilogy.
As far as the PC version goes, not a whole lot has changed since the Xbox 360 release. There have been a few GUI changes here and there, plus the controls and graphics have been enhanced with hot keys and higher resolution textures respectively, but the game is basically identical really. This is not a bad thing though as the folks at BioWare have ample experience in this genre, mostly on the PC, and this comes through with Mass Effect PC. I wouldn't say it feels exactly like it was built for the PC
platform, but as far as console ports go, it's definitely not blatantly obvious. The controls are very PC friendly, adopting a 'WASD' system every PC gamer will pick up on instantly, and the presence of stuff like quick saves and a detailed graphical options menu show that BioWare has put some effort into making this RPG feel at home on the PC. So much so, it seems you have to use the keyboard and mouse combination, as I couldn't get my USB 360 controller to work with Mass Effect at all.
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