Mass Effect 3 with Kinect Hands-On Preview -- Shepard, I Love You...I Mean, Grenade!By Stephen Johnson - Posted Jan 18, 2012
I admit it: I went into my Mass Effect 3 Kinect demo with a preconceived notion. I thought the entire thing was a gimmick, a cynical money-grab aimed at separating hardcore Mass Effect fans from the price of a new Kinect. I also didn’t think it would work really well. Within moments of issuing my first voice commands to Shepard, though, I realized I was completely wrong. Kinect for Mass Effect 3 is cool, useful, and solid; not vital to the enjoyment of the game or anything, but definitely a cool bit of extra flavor.
It’s a simple concept: Players use the Kinect’s internal microphone to issue simple orders to Commander Shepard–whether he’s in-combat, just walking around, or in dialogue sections–and the game responds as if you’ve issued the orders on your controller. It might sound like something you’d never actually do, but once you get used to the awkwardness of talking out loud to an inanimate object, it begins to make perfect sense. And it supports English (British/Australian), French, Italian, German, so even if you feel strange talking to your television, just know there are plenty of other people around the world doing the exact same thing.
Mass Effect’s firefights can be intense and complicated, with you commanding multiple squad mates and juggling various weapons and abilities. The Kinect makes this sometimes daunting task easier by removing the need to remember how to switch to a shotgun or change to incendiary ammo. Instead of hitting a button and navigating a rotary menu, you simply yell “Incendiary Ammo” and you’ll be shooting flaming bullets in no time at all.
In combat, Shepard responds to commands such as: “switch weapons,” “sniper rifle,” “shotgun,” “submachine gun,” “assault rifle,” “heavy pistol,” and “sidearm.” These are all useful commands, but you’ll note “reload” is not included. Hopefully, this will be rectified by the time the game comes out in March.
Even more useful than commanding the Commander is commanding his squad-mates. The demo featured James and Liara, and you could pretty much order them to do whatever is needed. They respond to simple squad commands like “move,” “attack,” and “follow me,” and also to character and ability specific commands. So you can order Liara to use “warp” or “singularity,” by saying: “Liara: warp.” Or, you can order James to throw a frag grenade by saying, “James: frag grenade.”
You don’t directly target your squad-mates’ abilities. Instead, you look in the general direction where you want them to aim their attacks, and they’ll respond by (hopefully) targeting the right enemies. While I didn’t have extensive time to test out all the abilities, the level I played was long enough and varied enough to serve as a true test of the service. It passed with high marks.
Once the novelty wore off, the voice commands proved a useful and fun way to eliminate some of the clutter and minutia of combat management in the Mass Effect universe. It frees up your eyes and attention during key parts of your fight, plus it’s fun. There’s something primal and great about facing a lone, cowering enemy and yelling “Shotgun” while approaching him to deliver a shell to the dome. I like to imagine he hears me.
When exploring, the Kinect integration does seem a little extraneous, though. When faced with a choice between hitting the blue button to open a door and saying the word “open,” most gamers are going to pick the “X” button after a couple tries of the voice commands. That’s mainly because opening a door or examining something is a one-button move, performed in a relatively calm situation. Combat, though, is another bag of hammers.
Technically, the Kinect does a good job of recognizing voice commands. Our demo was performed in less than sterile conditions, in a relatively crowded room, with cross talk and environmental sounds. Even given these not-ideal circumstances, the device still answered my orders, even when I spoke them quietly.
The ability to recognize quiet speech is a bit of a double-edged sword, though. This is prime trolling ground for anyone else in the room. If you were, say, lining up a perfect solo shot, a prankster could come by and yell “Shotgun” to totally destroy your game; that’s just the kind of thing a prankster would do.
The demo for Mass Effect 3 comes out on February 14 for the 360, PS3, and PC, so you can test out ordering around your virtual compadres then, assuming you're playing on the 360; Kinect support for the PC version is yet to be confirmed (even though it seems hard to believe that it wouldn't support it).