Will Kinect Features Make or Break ME3?

Mass Effect is an XBOX 360 exclusive Sci-Fi series developed by Bioware. Bioware are the same developers of Dragon Age, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and Baldur’s Gate. At E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) this year, Microsoft announced that Mass Effect 3 will feature Kinect Support.

If you don’t know Kinect, it’s Microsoft’s successor to the webcam. It’s a camera, microphone, and depth/motion sensor all wrapped into one. The public opinion of the Kinect has been pretty harsh. Yes, it has potential the same way the Wii had potential. But without third party support hardware like Kinect dies quickly. So far the games released for Kinect have been children/family games and gimmicky. It’s been doubted whether or not the Kinect can appeal to hardcore gamers.

In Mass Effect 3, it appears that the implementation of the Kinect features will be voice only. This can be a very good move. Mass Effect already has a hardcore following and drastically changing gameplay could turn off their loyal fanboys. The Kinect features are completely optional, and will enhance the dialogue scenes, and the way in which we give commands to our teammates.

In dialogue scenes Mass Effect traditionally offers a wheel with dialogue options on it. The paragon choices appear at the top of the wheel, the renegade choices on the bottom, and the neutral choices in the middle. The wheel will still exist in Mass Effect 3, but now you have the option to speak your dialogue aloud, and the Kinect will recognize your voice and choose the response for you.

The problem with this implementation of Kinect features, is there’s no real advantage of using it. We’re already playing the game with a controller in our hands, it will be faster and easier to use the dialogue wheel in front of us rather than randomly speaking aloud during gameplay. It’s not as if we’d be able to say whatever we please, we have to read the options in front of us. And it’s not as if the characters will react any differently than if we had just used the controller input. Just like with the Nintendo DS, speaking aloud with no clear purpose makes players feel stupid, especially the hardcore crowd that would be playing this.

The second implementation of the Kinect microphone will be while giving commands. This, I think will be a blast. In Mass Effect 1, if you wanted to give individual commands to each of your crew, you had to hold a trigger which paused the game’s action, cycle to the character, and tell them what to do. Mass Effect 2 responded to this slowdown in gameplay by allowing us a hot-keys for each crew members to use a prespecified ability. The Advantage of using the Kinect microphone in Mass Effect 3 will be full access to each of our crew’s abilities by saying a sentence. “Garrus, Sniper” will change Garrus’ weapon or “Grunt, Concussive Shot” will tell grunt to use his Concussive Shot ability.

This type of gameplay will add to immersion, have a use, speed up gameplay, and is all around a great idea. If you’ve ever played Tom Clancy’s EndWar you know the kind of acceleration you can get from using voice commands to issue orders. It really does make you feel like you’re in charge. Here’s hoping  it actually recognized your voice, rather than telling the wrong crew member to do the wrong thing ending in a whole lot of frustration.

It’s actually because of Tom Clancy’s Endwar that I’m beginning to think this Kinect feature is some sort of marketing ploy. Endwar used a headset for voice commands. Even Hey You Pikachu! For the N64 and Seaman for the Dreamcast used voice input to control the game. This isn’t a Kinect feature by far, there’s nothing special about it. I think Microsoft is just trying to put another game on shelves with a purple “Kinect” logo on it. It would inflate the number of “Games for Kinect” artificially. They did the same thing for the most recent Harry Potter game by throwing in a mini-game you can only unlock after finishing the game.

That being said, I just preordered Mass Effect 3. I’ve been waiting the entire series to know what’s going to happen next, and I’m super excited no mater what flaws the Kinect features may have. The Endwar style gameplay will be fun, and so long as nobody twists my arm about speaking the dialogue choices, I’m going to be glued to my 360 the moment this ships. If you haven’t played Mass Effect 1 or Mass Effect 2, I suggest picking them up. I have a feeling Mass Effect 3 will be worth it.