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Review: Dragon Gaming Speech Pack

Although there have been a number of attempts to simplify the controls for PC games (some more successful than others), there are still a number that have a complicated series of commands and menus to memorize and flip through. Role-playing, strategy, and a handful of action shooters can usually fall into this category, but players with control difficulty now have an alternative. Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the well-known and very accurate voice dictation software, now offers an add-on called Dragon Gaming Pack. Using it, players can use their voices to control actions in some of their favorite games. Unfortunately, ease of use is a relative term in this case, not to mention the low practicality of using this kind of software in fast paced shooter games.
I won't overlook the fact that I reviewed a similar type of voice recognition software called Say2Play a few years back, which offers comparable accuracy and far more flexibility. That being said, it should pointed out that the complete package with both Dragon Home and the Dragon Gaming Speech Pack is pretty expensive, retailing at $129.99. The bundle also includes a small and simple headset, which helps justify the price but not by much, and the Gaming Speech Pack can be purchased by itself for about $30 if you already own Dragon Home. The Speech Pack doesn't come pre-loaded with a list of games. Users receive three codes and must visit a website to redeem them in exchange for specific command pack keys, which are then activated within a separate add-on program called VoxEnable. It's an altogether clunky process, which could have been simpler if users could simply purchase speech packs from the VoxEnable program itself.

The list of supported games is pretty slim (twelve in all) and includes popular titles like Mass Effect 2, Call of Duty Black Ops, and StarCraft II. Additional packs can be purchased separately, but with so few games, it's difficult to imagine why they wouldn't all be included for free. The speech packs have a fixed set of commands that cannot be modified in any way. This completely negates the program's usefulness, because it's suppose to save you from having to memorize a bunch of commands, but you're basically being forced to memorize the same list as voice commands instead of keystrokes. I'll concede that voice commands are easier for some people to remember keystrokes, and using voice activated shortcuts can be very useful with real-time strategy games for multitasking, but for the most part this software simply redirects the problem instead of solving it. Furthermore, there's no way to create a custom voice profile for unsupported games, which significantly takes away from its value. So unless some sort of physical impediment prevents you from hitting "R" for Reload and "F" for Interact, there's really little use for having voice recognition.

Now I was tempted to write this review using Dragon Home as a sort of proof of concept, but ran into a problem that became prevalent while testing the software out: I can type WAY faster than I can talk. At the same time, games such as Mass Effect 2 and even Call of Duty: Black Ops have a short list of commands that can be bound to new keys if people have trouble remembering them. Let's be clear on the fact that the software works and translated my voice commands into actions with no training necessary. However, it's far easier and faster to hit the R key to reload instead of saying "reload" every few seconds. There's also the matter of having to use the mic for voice communication during multiplayer sessions, so in the long run, it's far more beneficial for most gamers to learn the key commands. It's a nice idea, but there's no practical use for this software in first-person shooter games.

Voice recognition is more useful for real-time strategy games like StarCraft II, where players can use voice commands to quickly select squads, go to a camera bookmark, or bypass the menu system to build units. There's still the problem of having to memorize a long list of voice commands, but I found that memorizing a few key commands and relying on the keyboard/mouse for the rest made an excellent combo. Now, the only problem is unless StarCraft II and Dawn of War (original) are the only RTS games you play, you're completely out of luck, because there aren't any others listed.

In an era of the Wii and PS3 Move, and Xbox 360 Kinect, this is a good time for PC gamers to get some form of hands-free gaming for themselves, but voice recognition isn't necessarily the way to go. As stated, we found some great use for voice recognition to help with multitasking with real-time strategy games, but I can't say that I'd choose the Dragon Gaming Speech Pack over something like Say2Play to fill that function. As things stand, there are far too many limitations to make the program worthwhile, even if you already own Dragon Home and want to extend its use to gaming.

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