By Kevin Kelly
Mass Effect 3 features both the end of a trilogy, and "the end of a galaxy at war" according to Bioware. It won't be the closing chapter in the entire Mass Effect franchise, but it is the end of an era, and while we're unsure if it will close the book on Commander Shepard, it will be the end of the story as we know it so far. With each game, Bioware has upped the ante by including new gameplay mechanics for players, but when Mass Effect 3 comes out on the Xbox 360, the Kinect voice control really changes how you play.
Thankfully, Bioware hasn't tried to integrate motion control in the game to have you fake-firing an air gun at the screen. Instead, they're using the Kinect microphones to pick up your voice and issue commands to your squadmates, to interact with the environment, to swap weapons, and even to save the game. We recently got to try this out, and we're happy to report that it actually works. Barking "James, frag grenade!" will cause James to toss a grenade wherever you're looking, and "Liara, singularity!" will do the same thing.
Using just your voice, you can switch from your sniper rifle to your shotgun, insert incendiary ammunition, have a squadmate move up or follow you, along with many other commands. There will likely be some easter eggs hidden in the voice recognition as well, and we discovered that "Boomstick!" will cause you to arm your shotgun. Sadly, Liara wasn't up to preparing my taxes no matter how many times I asked. But, she will understand your requests in English (including British and Australian dialects), German, Italian, and French as well.
What this does is keep the game flowing quickly, as before you had to bring up the wheel, select a command, and then issue it. Now you can just issue an order verbally, just like you would in the real world. Well, a real world where you're fighting aliens and struggling to repopulate a species. While you can now blast through combat and environmental exploration quickly using voice commands, you can also speak your responses on the conversation wheel. The ability to save the game by saying "Quicksave" also speeds things up and makes the interface even more transparent, which we are big fans of.
We've seen Mass Effect evolve since 2007, and the addition of voice commands is another step along that road. Thankfully, it feels fluid instead of clunky and we're looking forward to checking it out when the demo hits all platforms on February 14th. What a perfect gift for your Valentine, and at the price of free! Luckily, the Xbox 360 version of the demo will also include all of the Kinect integration, giving you a chance to try your own voice out on Shepard and company. Then you can experience the full version of Mass Effect 3 on March 6. Boomstick!
Keep reading our CES 2012 coverage for more tech, voice related and otherwise.