I can understand why game developers working on next-gen games might be psyched to play around with voice commands. They represent an interesting and relatively new way to let players interact with games. But there's at least one next-gen voice command I can happily do without.
Every Xbox One owner (and every PS4 owner with a microphone or PlayStation Camera plugged in) can theoretically control their consoles with their voices. As a result, game developers can add voice functionality to next-gen games and assume that a large number of players will be able to use it. Games offer a lot of potential applications for voice, both interesting (tactical commands and complicated menu-navigation could theoretically get a lot easier) and less interesting (no one is going to switch weapons with their voice when the d-pad is right there).
However: I submit that we do not need to use our voices to pause the game. I learned this last week from Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, the graphically gussied-up next-gen remake of last year's Tomb Raider reboot. In addition to a graphical face-lift for the environments and a literal face-change for its protagonist, the Definitive Edition adds a host of small next-gen (or, "next-gen") features. They're mostly little things: The DualShock 4 lightbar flashes when Lara Croft fires a gun, the Xbox One Kinect camera lets you lean your body on the couch to see some scenes from different angles.
Those additions are mostly tacked-on and not particularly useful, but they're also easy to ignore. (I guess you can put some electrical tape of the PS4 controller, if the light bugs you.) Unfortunately, as long as the game's voice commands are activated, they're a lot less ignorable. That's mostly because among the included voice-commands is the ability to say "pause" and pause the game. You can then say "resume," and it'll resume.
In theory, I can see why it wouldn't seem like a terrible idea. Unfortunately, I found that both PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game were far too excited to pause the game for me. The game would pause pretty regularly, regardless of whether I'd pressed a button or even said "pause."
"Holy shit that's a lot of graphics" once paused the game. "Hey, can you grab me some water?" once resumed it. At least once, the PS4 version paused and restarted even though I hadn't said anything at all. I'm not the only one complaining, and the game isn't even officially out yet. The game regularly stops, sometimes during heated action sequences. You can't pause and talk to someone in the room for fear it'll start up again unexpectedly. Calling it "a bit annoying" is like calling the weather on Yamatai Island "a bit rainy."
I actually do like the ability to pause videos with my voice: Vocally playing and pausing videos is one the most useful applications I've found for the Xbox Kinect. (I recently bugged Sony about whether they'd add video playback commands to the PS4 camera, but their response was a standard-seeming "We're always looking at ways to enhance the PS4 experience based on what users are asking for and the camera has proven popular with early PS4 purchasers." Hopefully they'll expand the PS4's voice commands soon.)
Of course, pausing video and pausing gameplay are two different things. Especially when the pause function is as touchy as it is in the Definitive Edition of Tomb Raider. It'd be great if the developers who made the Definitive Edition could re-tune (or better, just remove) the pause voice command. Here's hoping they do.
As for other voice commands in the game, I have my doubts—from the time I spent testing them, the weapon-selection commands also seemed a bit overzealous and the d-pad is far easier to use. But really, I went into the menu and deactivated voice commands after an hour or two of play and a half-dozen or so unintentional pausings and unpausings. While I'm sure not everyone will have identical problems to the ones I had, I'm also guessing that most players will just turn the voice commands off. (And hey, at least you can turn them off—it sure would've been a bummer to have a solid next-gen upgrade like this marred by annoying voice commands.)
Game developers, hear my plea! Get as creative with voice commands as you want, but keep "pause" where it belongs: On a little button near my thumb.
Image via Shutterstock.