The Mass Effect series have succeeded in capturing the hearts of millions by presenting a believable and engrossing universe full of complex characters and an extensive and engaging lore. Now it is time for the third iteration in this series!
If you do not know what Mass Effect is I would advise you to stop reading this review now, play Mass Effect 1 and 2 and then come back to find out what Mass Effect 3 is all about. There is no point playing the third part of the series without playing the first two anyway, as a big part of the game is the continuing story. You wouldn’t read the Lord of the Rings either by starting at the third book right?
If you have played Mass Effect 1 and 2 then you must be very eager to jump into part 3 and find out where the story will take you. If you play Mass Effect 3 on an Xbox 360 and you own a Kinect sensor you must also be very eager to know how Kinect adds to the whole Kinect experience.
In this comprehensive review you’ll find out what is new in Mass Effect 3, how it plays with and without Kinect and if the sensor’s support really adds something to the trusty Mass Effect formula. Read on for the answers!
Perfecting the formula
Mass Effect 3 hold true to everything that was good about Mass Effect 1 and 2, but makes it even better. It looks like Bioware and EA really listened to all the feedback the fans have been giving and they changed the gameplay accordingly. This manifests itself in a whole lot of small, but significant improvements to the Mass Effect formula, making the game just that tad bit nicer to play.
Mass Effect 2 was great, but people still complained about the tedious and slow hacking, so in Mass Effect 3 there is no more hacking. People complained about the fact that there was very little customization for an RPG, so in 3 there are extended skill trees, weapon customization and armor customization. People complained about the probing of planets and how time-consuming it was, so in 3 probing is 10 times faster and not has a much bigger purpose.
And the list of little improvements goes on and on and just shows how much Bioware listened to the fans. Mass Effect 3 is now completely focused on the core elements that make the Mass Effect series great: Fast paced action and deep and meaningful conversations that unfold the story. In fact, if you are only interested in one of these core elements you can now adjust the game to your liking! You can go for all action where dialogs just play as cutscenes without any of the conversation options, or you can go all out story where the action parts are greatly simplified and very easy.
Feel like a commander
The biggest new additions (aside from the new story) are of course not the little improvements I mentioned before, but two things that are totally new to the series: Multiplayer and Kinect support, of which the latter obviously excited me the most. When Mass Effect 3 was announced to have Kinect support I seriously jumped in the air out of pure joy. One of my favorite games getting support for my favorite gaming peripheral…things just couldn’t get better. After hearing that the Kinect support would be in the form of voice recognition I went back to Mass Effect 2 and played it for a bit while imagining I was giving voice commands to my team. While doing this it dawned upon me that this choice made absolute sense and that Mass Effect with Kinect, when well implemented, could truly be a better game. Now that the final game is out I have to say…it’s even better than I thought!
With Kinect support for Mass Effect you get the ability to control the game with speech commands. You’ll be able to select dialog options, interact with object (open doors, pick up stuff), execute your own skills (biotics and stuff) and most importantly: Control your squad members. Why is the latter one so important? Well remember how you in Mass Effect 2 you had to go into the quick select ring and select each and every move you wanted your squad mates to perform? And how you would especially spend considerable time in the quick select ring if you teamed up with a biotic or tech specialist? And how this would totally take the pace out of the action? Well in Mass Effect 3 with Kinect this going into the menu and pausing is a thing of the past! Let me illustrate this with an example:
Start of battle
Pauze -> Select Liara’s Warp Ammo
Pauze -> Select Garrus’ Armor Piercing Ammo
Walk to door
Open door to battle
Get to cover
Pauze -> Select Liara’s Singularity
Take shots at flying enemy
Run to different cover
Pauze -> Select Garus’ Concussive Shot
Take shots at some other enemy
Pauze -> Select Stasis
Now let’s see how that same scene works with Kinect:
Start of battle
While walking to the door say “Liara, Warp ammo…Garrus Piercing Ammo”
Open door to battle
Run to cover while yelling “Liara, Singularity! Garrus Concussive Shot!”
Take shot at flying enemy
Run to different cover while yelling “Liara, Stasis!”
You see what is happening here? The most obvious thing is that you don’t have to pause the game anymore to command your squad mates around, but another thing is that it makes it way more intuitive to do multiple things at the same time! You won’t view a battle as a bunch of different steps, each taken by pausing the game. No, you’ll intuitively multitask and string commando’s together while being in the heat of the battle yourself.
Then there is another thing that will happen when you use Kinect to give voice commands to your squad…something that will probably never happen when using a controller: You will feel like a real commander, in control of the situation and having the respect of your teammates! There is nothing more satisfying then telling Liara to use her warp ammo and moment later hearing the switch of a gun and hearing her acknowledging that she did it. Or being ducked behind cover, bullets whizzing past, unable to get up, and as a final resort shouting at Garrus in pure frustration to use a grenade and for him to comply and blow up your enemies. It is seriously the best feeling ever, and because there are no pauses in the battle you will be drawn into it more than ever!
Although I thought Kinect with Mass Effect 3 was a very cool thing and really drew me even further into the game I had some doubts whether that effect would last. Well, I have now playing the game for an extensive period of time, both using Kinect and the controller to do stuff and I must say that my feelings are mixed.
The Kinect functionality to select dialog options is kind of fun at first, it feels like you are whispering in Shepard’s ear what kind of response he should give and afterwards hear what he has to say. But after having used this for some time I experienced it becoming a little tedious to do and with a controller it’s faster to select. After some playing time I found myself not using this Kinect option at all anymore and didn’t really miss it either.
The same goes for interaction with the world: Although it seems cool to be able to say “talk” or “open” or “interact” it is just so much more responsive to just press a button on the controller. Having to tell Shepard what to do doesn’t really feel natural anyway because…well….you are Shepard right?!
So then we get to the part where you use Kinect to control your teammates. I tried to go back to the good old quick select ring, but even as I tried to force myself to use it I would accidentally blurt out orders. I just couldn’t stop using Kinect! It’s just faster, more immersive, more intuitive and give me the feeling of being in an actual battle where there is no “pause”. Using Kinect to control squad mates is great and stays great, all the way to the end of the game!
This is the first game that uses Kinect’s voice recognition in such an extensive way and when using it in battle you’ll come to rely on it to work. Because of that it’s important that the Kinect voice recognition works every time you use it and that there are no problems. The question is…is it really without problems?
The Mass Effect 3 I played is fully in English, and so are the speech commands. But my native language is not English, nor is the country I am in an English-speaking country. In fact, because of this I don’t even have Xbox Dashboard voice support yet. Still, the voice recognition in Mass Effect 3 was enabled for me and I was even able to select my accent (American, British or Australian). My accent is neither of those but let me tell you that Mass Effect 3 picked up my accent without any trouble. Comparing this to Binary Domain (which does have voice recognition support but not via Kinect) this is really good, because Binary Domain does not understand a thing of what I am saying. This shows that the speech recognition hardware support of Kinect is just superb and that it in no way can be compared to software speech recognition.
While Kinect was able to perfectly pick up my accent and understand all of my command it is not all without problems though. When you turn up your speakers too loud (and you want that with a game like this) Kinect can get confused with all the in-game noise going on and your commands at the same time. At times like this is sometimes doesn’t pick up commands. The solution to this is to turn down the sound or use headphones (like I did). Sometimes the microphone can be a little bit sensitive too and I had time where it picked up background noise from my girlfriend talking and interpreted that as voice commands.
I found that for the best Kinect experience you have to play Mass Effect 3 with headphones, only then you can turn up the volume to a high level and have all voice commands working all the time. If you do not want to play with headphones you either have to not have the speakers so loud or accept that if you sync a voice command with a massive explosion it might not be executed.
Mass Effect 3 is a worthy successor and brings many welcome improvements to the gameplay to focus more on the core elements of the game (and less on stuff like probing and hacking). The story is once again a masterpiece (apart from the ending which is fueling quite some discussion at the time of writing) and the dialogs are engaging and vivid.
The biggest addition to this Mass Effect is Kinect support, and while using it to open doors and select dialog options gets old quickly it is incomparable cool and engaging when using it to command squad members. The fact that you can go about a battle without having to pause it and by screaming orders a squad mates is just so cool that it will suck you into the atmosphere of the game more than before.
The voice recognition works superb and is even able to pick up my non-native speaking English accent without any problems. Only when the in-game noises of explosions and gunfire is too loud Kinect might not hear a command, but this is easily countered by using headphones or turning down the sound a bit (or screaming louder).
If you like Mass Effect and you want to experience the epic conclusion of the series in an even more intense and immersive way, then you have to play it with Kinect, there is just no other way! I’m loving it and you will too, trust me.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect 3
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