E3 Recap of the Ubisoft Press Convention

The Los Angeles Theatre, on South Broadway, is a site in LA that’s rich in history, so it stands to reason that Ubisoft would use it as a celebration of their twenty five years of history as well. The theatre, located in the middle of what is now a tacky jewelry district, still has a lot of character, as you can see from the moment you come inside; crystal chandeliers line the room and beautiful artwork adorns the walls along all sides in the Moving into the theatre proper, however, shows its age a bit more clearly, between the faded architecture and the peeling paint in the doorways, but this only adds to its character in a lot of respects. It really kind of seems like an odd place to hold a gaming press conference, on first consideration; the area is dilapidated and classical in design, something that really seems to contrast with the shiny and new games that pop up on the three screens surrounding the stage. However, as Ubisoft began showcasing how their games would have looked “on the Commodore 64″ and randomly displayed hair metal bands and Sega master Systems to showcase their roots relative to where they’ve come, in its own way, the choice of locale actually kind of makes sense.

Or maybe I’m defending the choice because they gave me free water, an Ezio poster and a cupcake. One of those.

Anyway, the conference started off with a brief celebration of Ubisoft’s roots and the explanation of their evolution before the floor was turned over to Michel Ancel, creator of the Rayman franchise and Beyond Good and Evil, who came out to show off his newest game, Rayman Origins. The game is a 2D platformer at first glance, looking like some sort of evolution of what Nintendo did with New Super Mario Bros., but as Ancel and his associate played the game, it seemed like there was a bit more than that going on. The demonstration featured Rayman and some giant blue monstrosity running around various different levels, from an icy cave to a volcanic zone to an underwater grotto, and the level designs were pretty interesting and colorful. I got kond of an Earthworm Jim vibe from the levels on display, up until the game switched to a side-scrolling shooter about two thirds of the way through the demo, which was pretty neat, as was the brief Tetris rif about halfway through. Rayman Origins, as well as most of the other games in the presentation, will be playable at the Ubisoft booth at E3, and we’ll be sure to bring you some impressions as we play them. That said, however, if it plays as good as it looks, it’ll likely be a fun four player platformer that will be worth checking out, and it’ll be a good addition to the Rayman series, all in all.

At this point, Aaron Priceman, AKA “Mr. Caffeine”, came out to regale us on the 80’s and remind us about old consoles and hair bands, as a segue into introducing how modern Ubisoft franchises would look if they were released back in the 80’s. So as an introduction, we get a forty five second clip of a blocky car driving through Atari-looking streets before the demo demanded Disc 2 (as in, floppy discs, yeah) before we’re introduced to the game this is hyping, Driver: San Francisco. The demonstration only really shows off what looks to be CGI, hyping the experience as being something of a fast-paced driving experience, but it’s looking like the game might be shaping up well, even if there wasn’t any gameplay footage on display. There’s supposed to be a single and multiplayer demo on the E3 floor, however, which should be something to check out, especially to see how the multiplayer looks.

We’re then introduced to Dan Hay and Jamie Keen, who give us a cryptic introduction to the next game to be showed, pointing out that this was a surprise introduction in Ubisoft’s lineup being unveiled. From there, we go into what looks to be a first person introduction to a beautiful jungle environment, one that immediately brings to mind the first Farcry, which proves to be a good assessment, it turns out, as the game in question was none other than Farcry 3. After a bit of the game setting the scene, we’re introduced to a wild looking man of what seems to be Hispanic descent as he regales us on the definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different conclusions”. This goes on for a bit before he, well, tries to kill you by kicking you into a hole with a rock tied to your legs, before you fight your way out and try to make good on your escape. This was all gameplay footage from this point, as we see the character silently make his way into a local village and take out several guards before turning the sequence into a massive firefight, then hopping into a helicopter and trying to take off… before being shot down, leaving us with one last scene of the main character being confronted by the same wild looking man, once again asking us if he’s told us the definition of insanity. From what little was shown, Farcry 3 looks like it might finally be going in the direction the developers have been intending since the beginning, and if so, it seems like it might be worth checking out.

At this point, a representative from Gearbox software makes his way out and talks up the Brothers in Arms series. The franchise has generally taken a more realistic approach to presenting its first person shooter experiences, which is noted here, before the point is made that this isn’t what we’re here to talk about. Rather, the point here is to introduce a new sort of narrative line, one following a band of soldiers who are a bit more unorthodox than your typical band of soldiers, as they take it to the Nazi’s in World War II. Dubbed Brothers in Arms: Furious Four, the game, again, is only shown in cutscene form here, as the main characters are introduced by showing them taking out an entire bar full of Nazi’s in generally ridiculous fashion. The game looks like it’s got a personality on it, and Gearbox is known for their quality FPS titles, but the game also seems like it could be biting more than a bit from Battlefield: Bad Company by way of Inglorious Basterds. Whether or not it manages to forge its own personality remains to be seen, though it’s certainly looking promising, if not especially original.

This is followed up with a display of Ubisoft’s licensed Tintin game, based on the upcoming film. We get clips of Spielberg and what I’m mostly certain was Peter Jackson talking about bringing the film The Adventures of Tintin to life, then we see how they segue into the creation of the game and how they were really looking to see the game brought to life in a way that compliments the game well. We’re shown various static images of the artwork for the game before the game is actually displayed, as the points are made that the game not only compliments the film but also goes beyond it into new territory, before the actual game footage is displayed in various sequences. The game looks like your standard side-scrolling action game at this juncture with a couple of flying sequences thrown in, but Ubisoft Montpelier, AKA Michel Ansel’s studio, is heading up the development on the game, so it’s entirely possible the game might have something to it after all. At this point, the game looks fine enough, however.

At this point Mr. Caffeine comes out to show us another retro clip, this time of a thirty second strategy sequence that looks similar to the Ghost Recon game for the 3DS, before Tommy Jacob and Roman Campos Oriola come out to discuss Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. This time we’re given nothing but gameplay footage, as four players are shown on-stage playing through an entire segment that’s promised to be available on the E3 floor. From what the display showcased, however, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is looking impressive. The “Future Soldier” part of the game is put to good use, as the players are offered neat tools like optical camouflage and what looks to be some kind of Predator missile, which they put to excellent use while taking out the various enemy forces in front of them. The game also pulls back when the team is working on an objective, showing the player their display in the main window as well as three smaller displays to line up allied viewpoints, for coordinating assaults. The gameplay seems to be borrowing significantly from Gears of War, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing, as the game seems like it might have gotten what Splinter Cell: Conviction was trying to do right this time around, mixing stealth and action into a game that looks legitimately fun. This is a game I’m highly looking forward to putting through its paces in the coming days, in other words. The announcement of a PC exclusive Ghost Recon Online is mentioned, which will apparently be free from what I gathered, and you can apparently enroll for beta testing now if you’re interested.

We’re then joined by Adrienne Pechere and Anna Blondel-Jouin, who introduce ManiaPlanet, a brand dedicated to allowing customization options to games. They showcase Trackmania2, a racing game with track and car customization elements, though there was only a demo video on display. They go over how the team will be releasing three games based in this MainaPlanet brand: Trackmania, a racing game, Shootmania, an FPS, and Questmania, an RPG. The concepts behind this sound interesting, but the names are silly, honestly, so there’s going to be some serious ground to cover before the company can make the headway they’re looking for. Antoine Henry then joins us to talk about Raving Rabbids: Alive and Kicking, shortly before he smacks the hell out of a Rabbid. Okay then. Despite this amusing beginning, the demo becomes a showcase for this Kinect-based game, as you once again play various mini-games to deal with the Rabbids, and while it looks amusing enough, it’s fairly stereotypical of both the franchise and Kinect games in general, so unless smacking around Rabbids is something you can do for personal amusement, it could be a bit of a downer. Tony Key then joins us to talk up Just Dance 3, and we get a video showcasing about ten seconds of gameplay and a minute or so of people talking about playing, and then actually playing, the game. It’s mostly an advertisement, one that the Just Dance 3 bot linked to me twice through Twitter… the second time a bit more insistently, which… was actually pretty creepy, guys. Having your advertising Twitter account go “yesssssss… video” in response to a tweet is… probably not going to make anyone excited for a game so much as it’s going to make them lock their hotel room doors and sleep with the lights on. Just saying.

We then get a video demonstration of Rocksmith, a rhythm game that proclaims it allows you to play a guitar game while learning to play guitar. The demo itself showcased some solid gameplay footage, but the big focus was on the talking heads, as several industry (both gaming and guitar) folks talked about the game, thought the biggest name of the lot was Dave Navarro, who is astonishingly healthy looking for a forty four year old man. The game itself looks fine, though it kind of seems like Power Gig: Rise of the Six String, and it also seems like Ubisoft really missed the boat on this being relevant. Also, the song list on the Wikipedia page, assuming it’s accurate, is kind of… uninspiring, featuring a few “exciting” tracks and a bunch of bland ones. Whether or not this works out well, the game certainly looks interesting, and Ubisoft will apparently be touring the US with it to show it off in the near future.

Finally, we close with the big announcement, as an eight bit Assassin’s Creed is shown (which is something I’d actually buy, might I say), before we get into the real deal with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Billed as the final chapter in the saga of Ezio Auditore, we’re shown an involved cinematic featuring what appears to be an older assassin fighting off several templars to what is possibly the end of his life in impressive fashion before we jump into the gameplay itself. The game looks mostly similar to its predecessors, from all indications, though we’re shown an involved sequence featuring a boat-mounted flamethrower and a massive freerunning sequence through several burning boats that more than makes up for the familiar feeling of the endeavor. In other words: while the game certainly looks like more of the same, I’m not mad that a Hershey bar always tastes like a Hershey bar, and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations might well be worth a look, familiar or no.

All told, Ubisoft has certainly come a long way from their roots, and it’s not hard to see why. With several Triple-A titles announced at the press briefing, as well as several more less well received but no less interesting titles coming down the line, they’ve got plenty of games to offer and plenty of things that should appeal to a wide variety of gamers. Odds are good that more than a few of the games they displayed will be worth a look, but most of them will be on the convention floor at E3, and we’ll do what we can to take a look at them in the coming days and give you a good impression of what you can expect when they hit store shelves.

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