E3 2014: Ubisoft Press Conference Reaction
The Division, Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, more!
Following the extremely lacklustre EA press conference it was a relief when Aisha Tyler strode out on to the Ubisoft stage. Her chirpy nature and occasional potty mouth instantly pepped the room up as she chatted to the camera, pressing home her credentials as an avid gamer and – most importantly – an actual presenter. You can imagine Yves’ relief when yet again her presence granted him the evening off.
In between less than ladylike language and taunts at her script writers, she assured us that the vast majority of what we were going to see would be playable on the show floor, with a large bulk of those also having a 2014 release date. A proud boast, though one that would have probably been grander if we hadn’t heard the same thing last year with mixed results.
None the less they opened strong and they opened with Far Cry 4. No actual gameplay was on display but instead we were treated to the opening five minutes of cinematics. Riding in a carriage surrounded by villagers and one rather evil looking monkey you bounced your way up through a stunning mountain scene, all the time swapping important looking papers with the fellow opposite. Before long your ride is stopped at a guard post and after two of your party try and leg it bullets fly and you find yourself face down in the dirt. The situation looks bad as the blonde guy from the box art appears but somehow you’re pals, this information leaking out as he sets off on a monologue that wouldn’t sound out of place if read by Benedict Cumberbatch when cast as the next Bond villain. It’s all a bit curious but before it gets too far a bag is slipped over your head and it’s fade to black.
The darkness didn’t last long however as the neon colours of Just Dance 2015 were paraded out next. Pharrell William’s Happy filled the theatre and the usual mix of grinning families and annoyingly attractive twenty-somethings were shown dancing along, swinging their arms wildly in time to the music. Shots of the game creep in too and it’s the usual heavily stylised Just Dance figures though this time dressed up as astronauts, surfers, and princesses. It’s all harmless fun. Or at least it was. Community remix is the newest feature and appears to suggest that the game will film you dancing along before uploading the clip and allowing other players to move along to your motions. I’m sure in a group of friends after a couple of lager shandies that sounds a hoot but sat sober as I am at my keyboard the thought alone is horrifying at what might emerge from such a stunt.
The other news from the Just Dance universe is that Just Dance Now lets players use their phones instead of traditional motion controllers. It’s a cunning move by Ubisoft given the lacklustre Wii U sales and the decline of Kinect. It also removes the reliance on the console and in doing so removed the cap on multiplayer matches, as proved by the hundreds of people that filled the stage and aisles of the theatre all swinging their iPhones perilously through the air.
Up next was The Division and given the gameplay demo we saw earlier in Microsoft’s presentation it was disappointing that we were limited to just a trailer. As trailers go though it was impressive, starting as The Division always does high above New York City, a Christmas song playing away in the background, and the camera descending towards the streets. Although on this trip the camera swings through an apartment, showing us through time lapse the effect of the outbreak on a family. From prosperity through to loss we see the household change from a joyful suburban family home to a make shift bunker in a state of decay. The second half then changes tone and we move out to the streets as a squad of The Division assembles to save an innocent man from thugs only for themselves to be harassed by a masked man armed with a flame thrower. It was an effective trailer but it’s fair to say Microsoft got the better deal.
Another returning franchise was The Crew, the open world racer that claims to have mapped the whole of the United States and that you can drive from Miami to Los Angeles without ever seeing a loading screen. A mighty boast and one that couldn’t be put to the test on stage as yet again we were treated to only a trailer. Ubisoft must have got a special on a time lapse plugin as it was again used liberally showing very shiny cars drive across deserts, through canyons, round snowy mountains, and in the heart of built up cities. It was hard to take anything meaningful from it.
More trailers followed as attention turned to Assassin’s Creed Unity, reinforcing the message seen at the Xbox show that this is a world where four players can work together to help speed along the revolution. As with during the gameplay demo the quartet also stopped short of assassinating their target, choosing instead to throw them to the justice of the mob which if it becomes an actual game mechanic could prove very interesting indeed.
Thankfully Ubisoft indulged us and picked up the pad and set forth into the world of pre-revolution Paris. What was great about this was that it began not as a carefully choreographed mission but simply a player wondering the streets, handing us a chance to see the ambient life and a snap shot of the missions found scattered around the city. There were the usual “Catch the Thief” and “Protect the Public” but tucked away were also more meaty propositions. One entitled “Murder Mystery” not only seemed to have more to it than a chase and a stab but also mentioned a player limit, indicating that online assassining is more than just a dedicated mode it’s woven into the traditional single-player.
As the demo progressed we once again saw the huge crowds and beautiful cityscapes that the new engine is capable of. Even when leaping through a window and entering a captain’s dwellings there’s a great deal of care and attention lavished on the insides too. We got a good look at it too as our assassin chose to skulk behind tables and chests and sneak through the room rather than massacre everyone in it. A refreshing change for the series and an approach I very much welcome.
Following Ubisoft’s flagship was Shape Up, a fitness game that’s exclusive to Xbox One. “Fitness is boring” proclaimed the bearded chap on stage, “so we changed that.” And fair play to them, they have. Tracked by Kinect you’re snipped out from the background and composited into an increasingly bizarre set of scenes, each one designed to put the fun back into exercise. The first stage they showed off was of a player on a giant piano, a huge note track ala Rock Band rushing up to the keys which he then played by leaping back and forth. The next took place down on a quay in front of a giant octopus and two pirate ships. Focused on press ups the players dropped to the floor before the game popped treasure chests, elephants, tanks, and whales onto their backs. Painted in bright colours and with a very carefree Japanese gameshow feel about proceedings the focus is definitely as much on fun as burning calories.
What came next took the mood down a little, but it’s hard to find laughs in a game that sets out to teach us about the horrors of World War I. Rightfully so Aisha put on a more sombre tone and introduced the latest user of the UbiArt engine, Valiant Hearts. Sadly, as it looks like it would be a treat to see it in motion, we were again left with just a trailer. Heavily outlined and stylised cartoon characters were featured as the team explained that the whole experience was inspired by letters sent from the trenches during The Great War whilst finishing on a series of very poignant shots. We’ll find out more soon as it’s out before the end of June.
At this point it was reiterated that everything we had seen up until now was playable and could be found on the show floor. That run ended with some very early footage of Rainbow Six Siege. It opened with shots of terrorists securing a house in which they were holding captive a girl, each man hurling out a host of devices that appeared to be either booby traps or frames that reinforced doors and windows. Cut back to Rainbow team (though there were only five of them) and them breaching the walls of the house. With dust and bullets flying the two sides fight back and forth with unfolding shields, explosive mats, and a host of other gadgets, tearing the house to shreds in the process. Holes are cut into each and every wall as bullets fly, some disappearing almost entirely as they take round after round and demonstrating a ridiculously impressive destruction tech. Or it would be if it were real. Staged as though it were an actual play through it soon became clear that it was a very fancy target video. There were too many convenient moments, too many custom animations, for it to be true, but given the rest of the press conference you can’t hold that against them.
Ubisoft may not have as many gameplay demos as I’d have liked during their hour on stage but they presented a strong and varied hand. From the big hitters to the family favourites, the artsy digital titles to the return of well-loved names you have to give them their dues. Though most are out in the coming months the focus will be on The Division given not only its initial slip but the promises that were made with Watch_Dogs previously. Will we be seeing it again a year from now? I look forward seeing Aisha explain that one away.
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