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Why Mass Effect 3 is the smartest Kinect game yet

OXM goes hands-off with BioWare's latest

When Kinect-capable core games struggle, it's often because developers haven't found the middle ground between merely supporting the peripheral and sacrificing their firstborn children to it. The dismal Rise of Nightmares is unplayable without full-body motion controls - a shrivelling prospect even if you do possess a living room roomy enough to swing a dead cat in. The otherwise awesome Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, meanwhile, handles the functionality so gingerly it barely justifies a mention on the box.

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At the risk of trotting out the one about "untapped potential", much of that's down to growing pains. Kinect has been surface-side for a while, but its much-vaunted design vocabulary is still smoking hot from re-entry, still in the process of solidifying. It's all too easy to burn your fingers. Despite brilliant efforts from the likes of Q Entertainment and Twisted Pixel, no developer has meshed Kinect features and traditional design concepts convincingly enough to be worth imitating. Until now.

On the strength of Mass Effect 3's demo, released today, BioWare is about to give Kinect its Halo moment. The game's recognition software isn't just technically solid - far more sensitive than that of any comparable game we've played, digesting Welsh, Mancunian and Irish accents with barely a hiccup. It also permeates established Mass Effect systems so slickly and suavely you'll forget you're using it. The results are both a testament to the care with which BioWare iterates on battle-proven formulae, and an enticing window into Kinect's future. If only all Kinect titles were this flexible, this fluent, this considerate.

Mass Effect 3's voice commands are there at the stem cell level, whether you're bowling Singularities at a Cerberus mech or ordering Wrex to wind his neck in, but they're never shoved down your throat. Unplug your Kinect unit, and Mass Effect 3 is simply a smarter Mass Effect 2, retaining the cover-shooter mechanics with tweaks while layering on scenarios that emphasise positioning and combined power usage. For many, doubtless, this'll be the only way to play, and there's absolutely nothing stopping you.

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But you can break the silence at pretty much any moment, cued by the updated Mass Effect HUD. No clumsy menu toggling necessary here - approach an interactive object, and you'll see the relevant voice string hanging below the button prompt. Commands for weapon changes and powers appear in the centre of the inventory wheel as you skim the options. In battle, an unobtrusive microphone icon up left flashes blue to indicate that a command has been recognised.

There's audio feedback from your team, too - in case the sight of Cerberus troopers levitating, catching fire or crumpling bonelessly leaves you in any doubt as to whether your frantic requests for back-up have been heeded. As we wrote in an earlier feature, the command tree branches off cleverly according to context - if Liara's the only Biotic in your squad, the game will assume it's her you're talking to when you call in a Singularity.

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