Testing Kinect in Mass Effect 3 (plus, demo coming February 14) [update: more demo details]

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Testing Kinect in Mass Effect 3 (plus, demo coming February 14) [update: more demo details]
"James, move. Liara, move.

Liara, Singularity.

James, Carnage.

Sniper rifle!

Liara, Stasis!

Concussive shot. Follow me. Activate. Open."

Yeah, that's pretty much how it works.

The good news is that Mass Effect 3's Kinect voice commands, as tested at CES in Las Vegas last week, don't feel as gimmicky as they probably should. The whole affair works well -- when you combine some good old joystick tweaking and button pressing with some very specific shouts from the word list, you do end up with a mostly fluid experience.

Mostly, that is, save for the slight bit of lag that the Kinect takes to first understand your voice, and then work out what you mean. To BioWare's credit, the game does at least understand you -- when you point your cursor at a location, tell a crewmate to "move" there, and then move your cursor away before they respond, the game will still send your crewmate to the right place, about a second later. It's hard to really test weapon switching until you've built a weapon menu yourself, but shouting out "shotgun" and waiting for the about-one-second lag takes probably as long as pulling up the usual pause menu and switching the gun yourself.

At the same time, it's a little disappointing that the Kinect function simply replaces the standard actions of combat, instead of actively displacing them. In the heat of battle, it'd be great to just yell "Get down!" to your crew, sending them running for the nearest bit of cover. You can tell "James" to "attack," but it would be more fun to say "Kill that guy, James!" or "open fire!" and trust that he'll do it. The rather specific choices in the voice commands remind you that you're playing with a bunch of computer-generated characters, when the voice interface should be working the other way, convincing you that you're with a bunch of real aliens who will do your real, vocal bidding.

It's early in the Kinect's lifetime, so maybe that's too much to ask for this early on. BioWare has kindly included visual cues for all of the vocabulary available, so you'll know that when you get close to a door, you can either press A to open it, or just say "Open" to make Shepard do it. Browsing around the pause menu brings up similar reminders, so even if you forget that ability's name, it's right there in the menu when you need it. It might be faster to just hit the button, but if you want to shout it out, you can.

If you happen to have a British or Australian accent, or speak French, Italian, or German, EA says that Kinect will work for you as well. We weren't able to try any of those out, however.

Finally, it's worth noting that what's probably the best bit of Kinect's integration in the game, the option to actually speak out dialogue choices, wasn't available in the press preview at CES. For that, you'll have to wait until a full Mass Effect 3 demo is released to the public on February 14. The demo will include full Kinect integration, including a few dialogue scenes. Hopefully that feature provides the immersion we're all looking for, because as handy as it might be, just shouting out "Liara, attack!" didn't really do it.

Update: EA released additional details about the demo. It will be available February 14 on PC, Xbox 360, and PC, and include both campaign and cooperative multiplayer content. "The extensive demo will allow players to experience the all-out galactic war against an ancient alien race known as the Reapers from multiple fronts, including the mind-blowing opening attack on Earth that kicks off the single-player campaign," the announcement reads." Thrilling!
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