Mass Effect 3 Kinect Impressions

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There’s no question that Mass Effect 3 is one of the most highly anticipated games this year.  But now there’s a major advantage to getting the Xbox 360 version – Kinect integration.  And we don’t mean the kind of cheap integration with shoddy motion controls and the kind of targeting that makes it feel like a second-rate Child of Eden.  Bioware wouldn’t dare take such a second-rate route.  Instead, it has put together a system that blends vocal commands with the traditional gameplay that fans have come to know and love.  At a recent event this past week during the Consumer Electronics Show, Bioware showed us just how easy it is.  It’s the same demo we saw back at San Diego Comic-Con, taking place in an outdoor base during an enemy invasion, but it was still cool to try it with a different play style.

So here’s how it works.  There are various sets of commands you can say when you’re in the middle of a game, divided into categories.  Some are directed at Shepard, depending whether they’re exploration commands, combat commands or soldier class abilities.  Others will require you to call for your teammates to do something, requiring you to say their name and then the action you want them to perform.

For instance, let’s say you want Shepard to change weapons.  You can either say “Switch weapons!” and have him go to the default that’s provided as his secondary, or you can actually say the weapon you want him to switch to, and he goes right to it.  You can also activate special abilities, such as “Cryo ammo”, and, provided they haven’t been overused, they’ll activate automatically, without the need to tap a bunch of buttons or go into a sub-menu to set them up.  (You can also say “Activate” to hit panels or open doors, rather than pressing the A button – you know, in case you’re feeling lazy.)

As for directing your parties, you’ll simply say the name of whoever you want to perform the action, followed by the command. You won’t need to do it rapid fire like “LIARISUBMACHINEGUN”, but rather like you would talking to a regular teammate.  So, if you want James to throw a frag grenade at a targeted enemy, line them up in your sights and say, “James, frag grenade!” and he’ll throw it with great success.  Likewise, if you want to use Liara’s Stasis, say, “Liara, stasis!” and the enemy will be floating a second later, leaving them open for attack.  On a side note, if you’re issuing a non-attack command, like “move” or “follow me”, they’ll acknowledge your request by saying something back, so you know they’re listening.

We were surprised by the responsiveness of the Kinect when it came to receiving commands.  We even tried different vocal volumes (first saying, them screaming, then quieter) and found all of our sayings read accurately.  What’s more, the game will support multiple languages, including English, French, Italian, German, and British/Australian English.  And though the game will have a pre-set list of commands (which should either be included with the Xbox 360 game, or released on Bioware’s site), you can always try shouting stuff out for Easter Egg effect.  Who knows, maybe if you say, “Garrus, take a missile to the face!” he might just laugh it off.

One thing we should mention, though – the Kinect integration will only work with the single player Mass Effect 3 mission, and not with online co-op missions.  But, really, you don’t need friends screaming back and forth trying to follow commands, do you?

Want to try out these features for yourself?  Well, you won’t have to wait long.  Bioware also confirmed that it would be releasing a demo for Xbox Live Marketplace on Valentine’s Day, February 14, where you can test out the features for yourself.  (Don’t worry, PS3 owners, you’ll get a demo as well, though obviously without the nifty voice features.)

While some of you may see Kinect integration as a novelty rather than a useful gameplay device, Bioware has included it to great effect with Mass Effect 3, and we’re eager to see how the final game holds up with it.  Be sure to check back for more impressions and the final review over the next few weeks.  Shepard’s saga may be coming to an end, but it’s definitely one worth speaking up about.

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Robert Workman
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