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Mass Effect 3 is one of the hot new video games coming this spring from BioWare, whose previous two installments have sold millions of copies. For the third time around, there’s always a risk that it could be boring. But BioWare’s team found a way to innovate using the voice commands in Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing system for the Xbox 360.
The game debuts March 6 and be one of the major releases of the year. Electronic Arts, which owns BioWare, is counting on the title to deliver huge sales during a relatively slow time of the year for console games. If gamers like it, it could open a whole new way to control games, broadening the number of people who have the skills to play complex games.
As you’ll see in the demo below, you can use the voice commands to speed up the third-person shooter gameplay. And if you’re a neophyte player, the commands may help you keep up when too many things are happening.
While Kinect didn’t quite work well enough to play the game with motion sensors, the voice commands are a good use of the add-on system for the Xbox 360 and are a case of innovation in gaming that is sorely needed. Console game sales fell 8 percent last year in the U.S. and most of the games that came out were sequels. While this new installment is the third and final part in a trilogy, it’s refreshing to see that BioWare is delivering something cool.
I played the demo level where there is a lot of shooting. Then I filmed Stephanie Driscoll of Electronic Arts as she more expertly demoed the voice commands for us. Driscoll is a hardcore shooter fan who doesn’t like to interrupt her game play by pausing the game, pulling up the command wheel, and then selecting a command for one of her two non-player companions in the game. That’s the old way of doing things.
With Kinect, you can just say a command, such as “carnage,” and your partner will launch the attack (which explodes enemies) at the target you’re looking at. You can also give a command to switch weapons such as “Shotgun” and then your own character, Commander Shepard in this case, will change weapons. You don’t even have to shout.
You can use your voice to pick things up, bypass locks, and activate buttons. Each one of those tasks often requires you to press a button and possibly lose your concentration on the really important tasks, such as targeting enemies. As you can see below, Driscoll is a good shot. But when the action gets tough, it helps to be able to play the game faster. And since you don’t have to pause the game to issue commands via buttons, the game can be much more immersive.
Each character has different capabilities that are triggered by different keywords that you can say to Kinect. Lara, one of the “biotic” characters with special mental powers, responds to the command “singularity” by causing the targeted enemy to start floating in the air. You can then quickly follow up with a “carnage” command from James Vega, your other companion, that will obliterate the enemy into little pieces. If you panic and say, “blow that thing up,” nothing will happen.
The Kinect system offers you feedback. When the indicator light turns red on the small Kinect microphone icon in the top left corner of the screen, it means the Kinect system doesn’t understand what you said. If it turns blue, it means it recognizes what you said and will execute your command.
You can order your teammates to move, provide cover for you, or follow you. They will move to wherever your aiming reticle is set. That helps you set up a flanking maneuver to get past tough enemies.
The demo will be available on Xbox Live on Feb. 14. Check out our video of Driscoll below. For demo purposes, Driscoll played it on the casual level. You can imagine the action gets a lot more intense on the harder levels.