The lights are on
Power Member - Level 10
If you are like most of the crowd this past weekend, you were knee deep in the Mass Effect 3 demo. By now, you have played your fifth run through the Single Player Demo, maxed out your Adept in multiplayer, and created a blog detailing your impressions. While the demo has a lot to offer, the Kinect functionality was a feature gaining a lot of promotion. Bioware even smacked a "Better with Kinect" tagline on the box, promising the Kinect will enhance your experience with Mass Effect 3. The game focuses on voice recognition to issue commands, read dialogue wheel choices, or choose a weapon or ability; so I broke out my Kinect sensor to take it for a test drive.
The first and most surprising realization...this actually works. Despite the few highlights above, ME3 has little trouble issuing commands by voice. You can say an ability or move a party member wherever your reticule is pointed by simply saying the action. Having not played Mass Effect in some time, I misconstrued concussive shot with concussion and it still managed to issue the command with little trouble. With so many sounds going off during combat, even at a high volume Kinect could distinguish my voice from the explosions. You could tell that Bioware did not simply tack this feature on, but have been working with it from the beginning.
That's not to say the Kinect actually improves the experience in every aspect. The single button actions, as expected, are faster than their vocal counterpart. You must also have a good idea what every move in your arsenal is called in order to use it, and being a demo, I found myself forgetting exactly what I was capable of doing. Not to mention that everything you say out loud has a small chance of accidentally setting off an ability if it's close enough to the phrase. Needless to say, do not get into a heated discussion on anything that sounds like frag grenades with your significant other while facing a wall...
While the overall experience may not be "better", Kinect does excel at one thing; it keeps you in the combat and out of the menus. Bringing up the weapon and ability wheel puts a halt on the combat as you decide your next move, but with the Kinect, it's a few words away. I found playing through with the Kinect kept me "in the moment" and combat had a smoother flow to it. One could argue that the pause in combat is actually a good thing, giving you a moment to clear your head and plan your next move.
Love it or hate it, Bioware has at least utilized the Kinect the way I envisioned since its unveiling. Bioware integrated the Kinect functionality without punishing those who do not have the technology. They simply offered a new, interesting way to play at no additional cost to Kinect owners. They did not try to implement some advanced way of moving that involved walking in place or reloading by punching the air at a 45 degree angle; they threw in a functionality that is reasonable, accurate, and capable of being utilized from the comfort of my couch.
It's the ability of the Kinect to work hand in hand with the controller, instead of replacing it completely, that I would love to see more of in future titles. The same idea was used with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary edition, in the ability to use your voice to issue commands while still being able play like normal. It puts to rest that big negativity that hangs on the Kinect - not having the feel of a controller in your hand. It's a smart way to use what is given, because if a choice is offered - most players will feel more comfortable with a controller.
I would not run out to the store immediately to purchase a Kinect to play Mass Effect 3 at its full potential, but if you have a Kinect sitting idle then it's worth plugging back in to experience. I'm sure that I will be playing through most of the game normally, but I can't say it's not tempting to use a voice command here or there. It may not be 100% "Better with Kinect", but it's a welcome addition that feels a little less like a gimmick and almost like a new way to play...when it works.
...and before you ask, no it does not work in multiplayer. Isn't Xbox Live mic chatter annoying enough without someone yelling "OVERLOAD!" every 15 seconds?