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'Mass Effect 3' adds Kinect voice commands for Xbox 360 (hands-on)

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Mass Effect 3 will feature "Better With Kinect" voice functionality, allowing players to instruct their squad mates, activate abilities, and switch weapons with voice commands.

Mass Effect 3 Kinect_1020
Mass Effect 3 Kinect_1020

Not content with having a soundtrack scored by Clint Mansell, Bioware is pushing the aural envelope even further with Mass Effect 3. The conclusion to its sci-fi epic will feature "Better WIth Kinect" voice functionality, allowing players to instruct their squad mates, activate abilities, and switch weapons with voice commands. Kinect integration for Mass Effect 3 was first demonstrated at E3 last year, and though little has changed in the interim, we've now finally been allowed to try it out for ourselves.

Playing through a demo level with old buddy Liara and newcomer James, we quickly got the hang of yelling out our desired tactical maneuvers instead of selecting them from the pop-up menu. If you're a micromanager like us, you'll probably be giving plenty of detailed instructions to your teammates, in which case these new voice commands will make the gameplay feel much more cohesive and seamless. Whereas the previous iterations of Mass Effect had a marked gap in usability between the keyboard-equipped PC games — where you could assign ability shortcuts and avoid the menu system almost entirely — and their console versions, the new Kinect integration bridges that chasm.

We were thoroughly impressed by the way Kinect handled variations in pitch, intonation, and even dialect: it had little trouble recognizing what we wanted from it, whether we said it in an American, British, or entirely fictional accent. The official list of supported languages includes Australian, British, and US variations of English, along with French, German, and Italian. Spanish is a notable omission, but we know Bioware has been working on it, so there may still be a chance of it being added in later on. The Kinect voice controls do get a little confused if there's a conversation going on in the room while you're playing, and yes, your game can be sabotaged by a cheeky friend who shouts out "Carnage!" at the wrong time.

There's a slight delay between commands being recognized by the console and enacted within the game, but Bioware tells us the extra Kinect processing will have no impact on the actual gameplay. Frame rates during our test run were invariably smooth and we've no reason to think that anything was sacrificed in enabling the extra voice functionality. You'll be able to give Mass Effect 3 a try on February 14th, with a demo for Xbox 360, PC, and PS3, ahead of its US release on March 6th. Kinect voice commands are, as is to expected, available only on the 360, but we have a feeling Microsoft's Kinect for Windows kit might be utilized by Bioware before all is said and done.

Bioware General Manager Aaryn Flynn was also on hand during our demo with the Kinect-enabled Mass Effect 3. He told us that implementation of the new Kinect controls took nine months in total, which included some exploration of motion tracking as well, though it was eventually decided that only voice recognition could be added in without disturbing the game's sense of immersion. Having now had a good play with ME3, we're inclined to agree.