Can a Game Truly Be ‘Better With Kinect’? How Mass Effect 3 Changed My Views
Now that Microsoft’s Kinect has been out for nearly two years, we’re finally starting to get a picture of how it has affected the gaming landscape as a whole. It’s certainly had a tough time breaking into the core gaming experience, as many will simply dismiss it as a peripheral best left to the dance, fitness and kids genre of games. Developers are clearly more comfortable with the technology now, both in regards to its strength and weaknesses, and with talk of the next generation of both the Xbox and the Kinect device, there’s no better time to be implementing new and innovative features that will give programmers a head start when it comes to the Kinect’s successor.
The range of games which require Kinect are usually few and far between, and it’s primarily been the core first party published efforts that have truly clicked with me. Kinect Sports, Dance Central and The Gunstringer are all entertaining experiences, but it’s the ‘Better With Kinect’ moniker that can demonstrate how well implemented voice and gesture controls can be an additive experience to the game, working in tandem with the conventional controller, as opposed to instead of it.
That’s not to say that the Kinect required games are anything to scoff at, as Happy Action Theatre, Haunt, Sesame Street and Child of Eden are some great experiences of my recent gaming memory, however it’s been Mass Effect 3 that has shown me how much the device can aid the core experience. The Xbox Dashboard itself has seen many revisions, and I constantly find myself using the reliable voice commands to navigate, search and launch applications instead of reaching for the controller, for instance to have LastFM on in the background while I’m using my iPad or Laptop.
The three pillars of Kinect (Gesture, Voice, Full Body) need to be taken and developed for independently if there’s any chance for the device to produce great results. The idea of ‘Better With Kinect’ primarily relies on the gesture and voice support, though it’s no lie that for the most part using a controller is always faster than gestures. A quick tip, if the voice commands aren’t being responsive, be sure to run through the Kinect Tuner.
The Voice support offers up the most compelling gameplay mechanic that can be added to a game through the Kinect. While Peter Molyneux’s Project Milo is long gone, the concept of ‘Commands’ when utilised correctly can be a great experience. Mass Effect 3 chose to focus on this aspect, and the results speak for themselves.
This became apparent to myself upon playing the Leviathan DLC for ME3. I’d been using the Kinect’s Voice Commands throughout the core ME3 experience months back, but since then I’d moved my gaming setup round a bit, and in doing so had rather limited my ability to use the Kinect, resulting in it being left unplugged. Upon booting up the game again, I felt that something was missing, and it took me a little while to work out what. The Kinect implementation is seamless and once you’re familiar with how to string commands, it simply fades away, providing an invisible interface for keeping the game moving at top speed.
Mass Effect 3’s combat is the fastest and most action packed that the series has seen, and it’s important to be aware of your environment at all times during these sequences. The bumper buttons are used to pause the action, allowing you to select and equip both powers and weapons, and while it’s nice to have a breather, it can sometimes break the flow of the immersive action that the series is known for.
One quirk that I found annoying with ME3 was that on beginning each mission, the power ammo that you’d selected for your weapons was forgotten, and if you relied on the controller you’d have to go through quite a convoluted process to get everything set the way it was. This is where the Kinect works a charm. ‘Assault Rifle’ ‘Cryo Ammo’, ‘Sniper Rifle’ ‘Incendiary Ammo’ ‘Shotgun’ ‘ Disruptor Ammo’ can be thrown out in quick succession, allowing you to keep moving through the combat scenario while adapting your weapon style. The powers work in the same way, though you’ll have to remember who’s on your team with which abilities. There’s nothing quite like shouting ‘Liara Warp’ as you roll backwards from an enemy as they explode into pieces. The same goes for the weapons. Charging forward shouting ‘Shotgun’ as you pop round and surprise an enemy can be o-so-satisfying.
There’s also the support to say the lines in the conversations, though it always felt a little out of character when I said them, especially considering I played as FemShep.
It’s never good practise to force gamers to use the Kinect functionality, instead it should provide options, allowing the gamer to chose how they want to play. Mass Effect 3 does this perfectly, and it stands to show how future games can follow suit. Developers should focus on a single aspect and incorporate it seamlessly into the experience.
The next generation is looming ever closer, and considering the sales success of the Kinect, it’ll certainly be coming along for the ride. Performing better skeletal tracking such as fingers, or even facial expressions will open up the door to new experiences which could result in some very unique games, and here’s to hoping that this is just the beginning.