Microsoft has teased 360 owners with Kinect applications for hardcore games like Forza Motorsport and Ghost Recon Future Soldier, but up to this point the voice and gesture controlled peripheral hasn’t impacted core gamers in a meaningful way outside of giving them new ways to navigate their Netflix queues. Changing your view of a car’s interior is a nice touch, but what about gameplay? BioWare takes up this challenge in Mass Effect 3.

For BioWare, the solution was leaving the gesture recognition behind in favor of a robust suite of voice commands. The Mass Effect 3 demo used to showcase the Kinect functionality is the same level we saw at E3, Gamescom, and PAX Prime. In this mission, Shepard and his crew are fighting to extract a Krogan female from the Salarian homeworld of Sur’Kesh before the Cerberus agents snatch her.

The voice controls integrate into the action seamlessly. Instead of accessing the power wheel to issue commands to your squadmates or using waypoints to guide them into cover, all you need to do is point your reticle at a target, say the name of the teammate you want to act, and issue a command. Anything you can do on the controller is available as a voice command. When you verbalize your instructions, a small microphone icon in the upper left-hand corner of the screen indicates whether Kinect heard you properly. Outside a few instances where room chatter drowned out my voice, the Kinect understood my commands and processed the information quickly.

Moving to engage the Cerberus agents, I had no problems directing Liara and new squad member James Vega to cover and commanding them to use their special abilities on the fly. It’s a very satisfying feeling to say “James, Carnage” and watch an enemy explode into several bits of flesh seconds later. Even better, if your squad members have different specializations, you don’t even need to say their name during the order. My group was smart enough to know that went I said, “warp,” the order was intended for Liara. 

Voice commands also work for managing Shepard’s inventory and interacting with the environment. By saying a few simple words, I had the commander chucking grenades, switching weapons, changing ammo types, opening doors, and interacting with consoles. Best of all, if the going gets rough, you can save your progress without drilling into the menus by saying, “quick save.”  

I came into the demo skeptical of the Kinect voice controls, but after churning through baddies by issuing battlefield commands I’m pleasantly surprised how streamlined it integrates into the basic action. Not having to open the power wheel to order your squadmates around allows you to keep firing downrange, improving your overall battle effectiveness. As EA demonstrated during E3, the voice controls extend to dialogue situations as well.

The Mass Effect 3 voice commands aren’t a standalone reason to pick up Kinect, but if you already own it, give them a shot when this demo hits Xbox Live on February 14. You may finally have a Kinect experience worth talking about.