Mass Effect 3 hands-on preview "It feels like 1 and 2 are just the prologue"

There’s no denying 2011 was one of the greatest years for gaming in recent memory, with a slew of high profile titles. However, in 2012, there are only a few titles on every gamer’s mind and Mass Effect 3 has more than a few people grinding their teeth in anticipation.

“If you play this game, it feels like 1 and 2 are just the prologue for this big massive game that is Mass Effect 3,” said Aaryn Flynn, Studio General Manager at BioWare Edmonton. Smooth gameplay, stunning graphics and wide-open customization – mainstays of the series – were all present and accounted for in our ten minute walkthrough of the game. In fact, many of these were noticeably improved.

One major change is a tightening of the cover system that includes a guiding arrow letting you know where you’ll be diving next. Moving in and out of cover, shooting exposed or just dancing over barriers, Shepard looks and feels better than ever. “We wanted the cover system to be both more relevant to the gameplay and at the same time more seamless,” Flynn told us, “we tried to make cover feel more natural.”

The game now includes a four-player co-op multiplayer mode that allows friends to finally show off their skills with their friends online. This new mode, called Galaxy at War, allows you to improve your "galactic readiness" level, which unlocks better endings. You can also improve your readiness level through the single player campaign too, so the friendless among us need not worry – the multiplayer is just another way to max out your readiness.

There are some other minor changes, such as added verticality in the game (ladders and the like), but the most obvious in our demo – and by far, the coolest – change is the Kinect functionality offered on the Xbox version. Using voice recognition to great effect, you can simply call out commands to Shepard and her squadmates without interrupting gameplay.

Our playthrough took place on what looked like a traditional base with all of the requisite cover and computer terminals. Within moments we had picked up on the voice commands and were yelling at our companions James and Liara to throw grenades, lift up enemies out of cover, and perform flanking maneuvers. We even used voice commands to open doors and switch our weapons - though these were less efficient. Voice commands through the Kinect essentially replace the Power Wheel of previous incarnations.

The rest of the playthrough featured the gameplay we’ve all come to expect from a Mass Effect title. Shooting from behind cover and moving aggressively toward enemies both felt smooth and seamless. Our demo ended with a battle against an armored mech and some other enemies. The baddies showed a noticeable improvement in AI as they moved to flank us while we tried to outflank the mech.

Having only ten minutes with the game, it’s hard to come out with a reliable opinion, but we’re pretty excited by what we saw. Look for more info as we get close to Mass Effect 3's March 6 release.