Mass Effect 3 Kinect Voice-On: You're About To Start Yelling At Your TV

Kinect launched a little over a year ago. I'll bet you can't name very many games for it, and if you can, they probably fall in one of two or three categories: sports/exercise and dance, and they're prooooobably not exactly AAA titles.

And not for lack of trying, but Microsoft's had little success convincing "core gamers", fearful of having their hard-fought controllers ripped out of their hands forever, that Kinect can make their games more fun too. Mostly because they've had no software to prove it.

That's about to change with Mass Effect 3. It's one of the most anticipated games of the year. It's as "core" as a game can get — a complex action RPG from beloved powerhouse developer Bioware (you know, the guys who just dropped The Old Republic on the world). And it's a Kinect title. If you've been wondering how Kinect might change the way we play video games — from Dance Central to Halo — Mass Effect 3 might provide a taste.

Mass Effect 3's Kinect integration is drop-dead simple. It's simply voice. And it's really simple. You shout commands to your squad mates — "James! Frag grenade!" — and they follow your orders. You can instantly switch to whatever weapon you want or activate whichever skill you want to pull out of your bag of tricks. Or you can just open a door. No menus, no buttons, no pausing the game play. Fluid, simple and, most importantly, natural. Kinect with Mass Effect 3, while optional, doesn't feel like a bolted-on gimmick. It feels right. James, move your arse and kill that guy. It feels like it's always been there, even though Bioware's Aaryn Flynn told me they didn't start thinking about voice commands until they started thinking about Kinect how to use it with Mass Effect 3 in a meaningful way.

I'm talking a lot about feelings. Let's talk function. The genius of Mass Effect 3's voice commands is that they both radically simplify the game's controls while simultaneously allowing more complex gameplay action than ever before. Example: I hadn't played Mass Effect in a while, and I forgot how to use the radial menu very smoothly. But it didn't matter. I knew how to tell my party members to drop some stasis skills on the arsehole shooting at me, and how to instantly switch. It's Microsoft's natural user interface holy grail. On the flip side, you suddenly have dozens and dozens of commands at your fingertips, instantly — far more choices than there are buttons on a controller. (One of them that's sorely missing? Reload. But Flynn says they might add in new voice commands, depending on feedback.)

A somewhat major change in gameplay thanks to the Kinect is that the start-stop-queue-and-attack turn-based rhythm of the old Mass Effect is obliterated by the stream of constant, real-time commands coming out of your mouth. The game — and you and your party — never stop moving. It's more immersive not just because you're yelling at your party members, but simply because you never have to break the cinematic game play to jump into an abstract menu to switch guns or tell a party member what to do next. Of course, there's that immersive storytelling element too — you're able to talk to every character, speaking the dialogue instead of silently reading it, even though I didn't get a chance to mess with that part of the game.

Overall, in the time I got play Mass Effect 3, the voice controls were fairly spot on, perfectly translating the vibrations from my vocal cords into the appropriate onscreen chaos around 95 per cent of the time. Accurate enough that I never felt frustrated, even as Bioware reps were careful to emphasise it wasn't final.

For all the excitement about what Kinect brings to Mass Effect 3 gameplay-wise, what's potentially more exciting is the very real possibility that in the next year or two, we might look back at Mass Effect 3 as a watershed moment — the game that brought Kinect to gamers, that broke it out of the motion-control-gimmick ghetto. That made a Kinect-powered Halo suddenly seem like a real possibility, and for all the right reasons. I hope so, because it feels like something that's just the beginning.


Comments

    This gives me more hope than I had when I first heard about it - you have given it pretty glowing praise.

    Oh, and seeing the gameplay video makes me pine for ME3 even more - take all my moneys now!

    Over the Christmas break I was playing my brother's XBox 360.. we played the usual dancing games and all that but then when everyone got tired of dancing and went back to other stuff I plopped Kungfu Panda 2 in and gave that a try.. this game has the voice commands thing where you had to shout out the names of your companions so they could do their finishing moves on the enemy and to be honest it just felt extremely awkward and didn't really add a lot to the gameplay

    On the other hand, voice commands in SOCOM and other similar games, was pretty cool back in the day..

      Someone paid actual, real money for Kung Fu Panda? Was it on a dare?

        Actually my brother works for Microsoft, so he gets them at a discount.. but of course he can't resell them or lend them etc.. Not sure on the full conditions of the staff discounts.

    You can bet they'll make a new Halo and a new Gears of War just because of this.

      Well they won't make a new Halo "just because of this" cause Halo 4 has been known about for a while now.

        Your comments seem to suggest that you believe the new Halo 4 will be the last ever Halo? Are you serious? They will milk it for all its worth. Once they see other games use Kinect, they'll definately jump on the bandwagon and do something similar so people keep buying Halo games.

      Halo is not known for following trends, it sets them... Now that bungie don't have anything to do with Halo anymore might make your prediction possible - I honestly doubt it tho, not Halo.. Anything but Halo!!!

    I'm all for Kinect hype but to be honest, couldn't this been done the same with any microphone? Like a headset - free with almost any Xbox bundle? I don't see how this is making Kinect much more than a microphone.

      This.

      I've bought 2 xbox bundles in my time gaming on the console, and neither had a headset. In fact I can't remember even seeing a bundle with headsets. Your assessment of "free with almost any Xbox bundle" doesn't hold up.

      I however got a Kinect with the latest bundle I bought, so I'm definitely gonna try this out.

        My last bundle had a headset, (no Kinect though, was before Kinect) and one other item I bought had a headset bundled with it - was points or Live Card or something like that.
        Having said all of that, I will definately be trying this Kinect part of ME3 as well, just wanted to put the hype into perspective.
        Once a AAA title using total Kinect functionality well then I will be happy with statements like: "what’s potentially more exciting is the very real possibility that in the next year or two, we might look back at Mass Effect 3 as a watershed moment — the game that brought Kinect to gamers"

          Fair enough. I do agree you could do the same thing with a headset, in fact I'd hope the option is there to just use a headset since it's just voice commands.

    How advanced are the commands? Is it just "Throw Frag"? Or can I say "FUUUCK! Grenade! Kill Him!!!"

    And, if Im Fem-Shep, do I have to talk in a girls voice?

    Still more worth getting a Kinect.

      *not worth

        Yeah, I mean cause I have Kinect already I wanna try it. I wouldn't go out and buy a Kinect just for this though.

    It would be kinda cool to integrate Kinect into the hacking mini games somehow . Like some sort of touch interface that would come up and you had to connect nodes with ur hand or sumthin. I love the interface design in ME.

    So kinect is just a large and expensive microphone?

    For all the people going on about it being just a microphone, my understanding is that Kinect has some hardware in it to help process the information for a specific set of API's. Sure you could do voice recognition in other games, but the game would have to try and process it in memory while the game is running and doing a bunch of other stuff. Plus the devs would have to create the API's themselves as well as the game.

    Kinect lets devs use an established system and hardware to process the input, without having to program it from scratch themselves.

    Someone correct me if I'm wrong - which is likely :-)

      No you are absolutely correct. Voice recognition, noise cancellation and 3D tracking is all built into the platform... Not just the hardware, but software drivers too.... People see the Kinect as just a camera and mic addon for xbox but there's a lot more to it... You can give a developer a couple of webcams and quality microphones and would take him years to accomplish anything on the same level as Kinect.... But with Kinect all the hard work is done by the platform and you can really have results within hours rather then months... This is why it's so important, even Microsoft knew it from the start, they wouldn't have purchased it otherwise!... It's like... Think about every time someone makes a website... Imagine if they had to hard code all the mouse moving and clicking events, they had to render the mouse cursor and paint buttons and labels... But with common web frameworks, like HTML and ASP, all these controls are already in the framework, so the developer only needs to worry about the content.

    Can I try out pickup lines on Liara? No? Then NO DEAL.

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