E3: Ubisoft Conference
Ubisoft has always been associated in my mind with halfway decent, if not great, undeniably unique and quirky games. The presentation that they’ve shown us this year at E3 expresses these characteristics very well and give us a lot to hope for and a bit more to dread.
Child of Eden: First off the bat was a new game to make use of the new Nat- er - Kinect (really Microsoft?) system soon to be released as the next generation Xbox. This game likens itself to Rez, or rather just straight out copies Rez while porting the controls to the Kinect. But really, who can blame them, Rez was a straight out damn hootin’ hollerin’ fun game. The visuals for Child of Eden look stunning in that techno trance ‘let’s always use tron to make it look like the future AND the inside of a computer’ sort of way and the controls seem as intuitive as we can guesstimate considering no-one outside of those deep in the industry have gotten their hands on the hardware yet.
Assassin’s Creed- Brotherhood: The latest installment of this highly successful and popular series continues where the last game ended – sorta. The protagonist, (whose lovely and amorously-pronounced-by French-game-designers Roman name I can’t for the life of me keep in my head) is now a legend in his own world and a leader of his people. However being the sexy adventurous man that he is, his life is still full of calamity and drama of the sort that makes for highly engaging gameplay. For instance as we see right from the get-go in the demo, just as he is bedding his (obligatory?) pseudo-feminist red-headed bombshell, cannonballs start raining through the ceiling of his bedroom and he must quickly, daringly, and shirtless-ly leap out of his bedroom window to go to battle against evil-religious dudes. Sounds fun, right? Besides a gripping plot Ubisoft promises fans of the series tighter graphics, battle systems, and new gameplay features like the new ability to ride your horse almost absolutely everywhere! Yeehaw!
Shaun White’s Skateboarding: I was a bit skeptical when the visuals for this game first came up. I’m generally distrustful of anything that starts off with an eighties color vocabulary being used to aestheticize the rougher faces of urban life. I can’t really even begin to get into my criticism of the culture surrounding this game yet (that’s for the next article) so for now I’ll just quote the designer’s response to being asked if he’s tried skateboarding – “I tried” he says, “I’m weak. That’s why I have video games.” Anyway, back to the actual game (which does in all fairness look pretty cool). In this game players transform a grey and monotone world, which has been taken over by evil corporate forces in to a lush and malleable urban landscape full of life and energy. By skateboarding through the environment players can fill the area in with color and add to and transform the surfaces upon which they ride in to new shapes and forms on to which they can continue skateboarding. Still with me? In simple terms it’s a cross between De Blob and any Tony Hawk skateboarding title – and in all fairness that still seems kinda cool.
Laser Tag Game: I forgot the name… that speaks for itself. A system to make use of interactivity and games ‘beyond the console’ - this title, scheduled for release at the end of the year (otherwise known as Christmas), is played using two plastic guns, some other pieces of plastic and a portable transceiver which can be linked back to your console. From what I understand from the demo – you (or your younger nieces, cousins, or siblings) shoot at each other and run around and break all valuables while not actually hitting the receivers and scoring points. Why Nerf isn’t the one hawking this game I just don’t know.
Innergy: this next one is quite interesting in so far as reaching eleven on the bizarreness scale. In all fairness, this game isn’t really so weird as much as it’s just thinking outside the box… or thinking about how many extra boxes we can add to the shipment of a video game. Innergy requires the use of three meters that attach to your fingers to gauge your pulse; these are your primary tools of interaction with the game. The meters on your fingers measure your pulse, which you can control through steady breathing. Having even breathing gives you a steady sine-like pulse and thus a good score. Having a bad pulse gives you a bad score. The aim of the game isn’t to win or lose; in fact it’s being marketed less as a game and more as a wellness tool. The designers claim that regular use of the product (which can be used on the computer, the console, or on the go) can lead to improved energy, immune system functionality, lower blood pressure and the alleviation of stress.
The Fitness Games: Not the actual titles there but Ubisoft has at least two new active games to take advantage of the Kinect’s motion tracking system. The first is the generic Wii-Sports style port to the Kinect (not literally) with a very polished trailer that doesn’t tell me much about what I’ll actually be able to do. However, if using the Kinect I can actually make a fist while pretending to ski and thus hurl a snowball at my opponent - that would be pretty darn cool. Though really, I would rather just actually throw a snowball at somebody; that’s really fun. Moving along, we can also expect a celebrity trainer endorsed fitness game that seems to use the Kinect technology very well, which also makes use of existing Xbox technology, allowing you to send challenges to and compete with faraway friends.
Raving Rabbids Travel in Time: les Lapins Crétins are back…and they’re traveling through time… it’s another Rabbids game what else do you need to know?
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier: I’m not one for war-games but even I had to say this looks like a pretty neat-o game. Featuring more gadgets than a geek could ever dream of, the latest installment in this future-war series gives players advanced camouflage abilities giving players the power to be the ultimate deadly assassin. This battlefield, though set in the ‘not as distant as you think’ future (their words not mine) seems like a remarkably and unsettlingly (for more than a few reasons) familiar desert landscape the only difference being the enemies you mercilessly take down speak in English with Russian accents. Seeing the demo for this game did make me wonder, however, if there isn’t something is lost in this genre if the technology we’re allowed and given is so advanced that there’s no point in being sneaky anymore.
Driver San Francisco: Along with war-games I generally don’t play racing games either – except Wipeout and Mario Kart; those are awesome. That said, this game still looks like something I’d pick up. This latest installment in the Driver series brings back two old friends – Jericho and Tanner ready to face off in the city that invented the cinematic race – San Francisco. The boys at Ubisoft have also come up with a killer new mechanic for the new game: you can now switch to any other car in the game at a moment’s notice. Cool, right? Using this new ability called ‘shifting’ you can charge up your shift and then use it to teleport to another car in front of you. As you advance in the game your Shift ability levels up and the area in which you can shift expands until you basically can shift to any car anywhere in the city. Only problem with this is that the designers had to come up with some sort of narrative justification for this fantastic ability in an otherwise straightforward game. Their solution? Tanner’s been in a coma, except (wait for it) except he doesn’t know he’s still in the coma! That’s some storytelling gold right there, I tell ya.
Dust: The first in the new lineup of downloadable titles, Dust takes place on a remote semi-offensively primitive island. As the deep and chain-smoking announcer voice tells us – the people of this island used to be able to control the elements to keep nature in harmony, but now they’ve forgotten these skills and the island is in peril of collapsing in upon itself. It’s up to you to teach the island-folk the ancient arts and help them preserve their home. Is this going to be fun? Maybe. All I could tell is that the art and graphics were over the top (in a now typically seductive way) and I could hear the P.C. sirens a-blazing already.
Rayman Origins: The latest installment in the much-neglected series is back in downloadable 2D side scrolling awesomeness. The art is solid and the story quirky…and that’s all that really matters with this one. This isn’t the title that Ubisoft is pushing to break the mechanics mold (they got like five other ones doing that now) but it’s a classic with a classic formula that’s got one thing going for it: stupid five year old level dead funny moments. Who can beat that?
….and that’s pretty much it. The only other concrete announcement Ubisoft made at E3 was that they will be continuing and expanding the Uplay system which already has ten million users. The expansion will include support for not just racing games but also other genres such as rpgs. Ubisoft finished off its talk with a performance by fresh attractive young dancers moving to Michael Jackson’s Beat-It while coping moves from the legendary music video to said song. Ubisoft’s CEO promised that by buying this mysterious Michael Jackson Kinect game we too, the humble and overweight geeks of America, could dance like them. This statement seemed to me indicative of what the entire night’s tone had been; boisterous claims from a company developing ambitious games for systems no-one even knows what to expect from yet.