For a while there was consolation for PC gamers who were miffed that Grand Theft Auto IV wouldn't hit their platform of choice on April 29. That's because Mass Effect, the critically acclaimed sci-fi role-playing game, was scheduled to ship for Windows just one week later on May 6. Today, though, came word that the BioWare-developed, now-EA-published game's PC debut has been pushed back to one month after GTA's debut on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
"I have just confirmed with the development team that we are making a small change to the release date of Mass Effect for the PC," said BioWare community administrator Chris Priestly in a forum post last night. "The new release date for North America is May 28, 2008 and June 6, 2008 in Europe."
As to the reason for the delay, Priestly said it was to allow BioWare and Boston-based Demiurge Studios, which is handling the port, to refine the PC port. "The additional time will allow us to incorporate more play-testing feedback, add extra polish, and tune the additional features," explained the admin.
The most noticeable alteration to the PC edition of Mass Effect is the new heads-up display system, which BioWare unveiled today (pictured). As it did with the PC edition of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the developer has reworked a HUD optimized for a gamepad into one better-suited to a keyboard-and-mouse control scheme.
[UPDATE] Speaking with GameSpot, Mass Effect project director Diarmid Clarke outlined the refinements that will be included in the new HUD, which he said was "absolutely" responsible for the delay. "If it's going to work, it's got to work perfectly," he said. "It can't look like a piece bolted onto the game."
According to Clarke, the new HUD allows for much easier access to biotic powers and weapons by doing away with the radial HUD used in the 360 version. "All of the wheel stuff is now on the screen, you're not flicking between menus," he explained. "It's all just point and click now."
In particular, the new display scheme does away with the 360's inventory-management system, which drew widespread complaints for its lack of ease of use. Now, the guns will all be on the HUD screens ordered in rank of power, with customizable attachments and ammo types selectable via a drag-and-drop interface. Other keys will allow access to menu screens directly via a single key touch.
The new version of Mass Effect also takes advantage of hotkeys to let players more quickly use biotic powers. It will also have hotkeys for individual commands, which will let players issue orders to single non-player characters for improved tactical-squad combat. "It lets you be strategic and still do run-and-gun play," promised Clarke.
Clarke also said that the developer had made an array of tweaks and improvements based on criticism of the 360 Mass Effect. The dreaded long elevator rides would be sped up in certain "frequently used" conveyances, including that on the starship Normandy. The game's long loading times between interplanetary systems, another source of complaints, have also been reduced significantly. The controls for the Mako all-terrain vehicle have also been improved, and the graphics have (obviously) been optimized for PCs.
Will the improvements in the PC Mass Effect be implemented via downloadable content to the 360 Mass Effect? "You won't see any major changes to the original  game," a BioWare rep said. However, Clarke said it "would not be an unreasonable assumption" that many improvements would be included in Mass Effect 2, which the BioWare rep reconfirmed is already in development. "We're definitely working on it," he said.