E3 2008: Ubisoft Press Conference
When Laurent Detoc, President of Ubisoft North America, took the stage at Ubisoft’s press event, he began his speech by saying “this is our best lineup ever.” He made a joke that he says that every year, but he encouraged us to believe him. I didn’t want to. Though I am new to E3, I’m not new to PR hype, so I sat skeptical and stone-faced waiting to be impressed. And to be honest, I really wasn’t at first, but by the end of the Ubisoft press conference, I was thoroughly convinced that this was not only one of their best lineups ever, but one of the best lineups of any company this holiday season.
Detoc opened the show by sitting down on a Wii Balance Board, putting a Wiimote in one hand and a nunchuck in the other as Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party came on. I was still skeptical at this point. Watching the middle-aged man wiggle around the Wiimote and rock back and forth on the Balance Board looked fun, but I was hardly floored. Though the collection of mini-games looked fun and comical, I didn’t really see anything that looked all the intriguing. The game will allow players to surf through an asteroid belt, slide down a mountain on the stomach of some unrecognizable four-legged beast, dance, and presumably much more. There’s definitely a family-orientation to the game.
We were then introduced to a trailer for Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway. The cinematic direction the game employs was reminiscent of Call of Duty in some regards, but it seemed grittier and more realistic than the Call of Duty games. This edition also seemed a little more action-oriented than I remember previous games being, but Detoc promised that the game will “go far in storytelling.”
Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway
The next part of the presentation focused all on Tom Clancy’s EndWar. This was one of the more confusing segments of the show and Detoc himself admitted that no trailer can really describe the game and encouraged all of us to actually head to the show floor and play it. The game is controlled entirely by voice commands, which sounds intriguing, but I have to say, I’m extremely skeptical that it will work well. I remember in the first SOCOM, I could issue commands to my AI-controlled teammates in the single-player mode, but the recognition was very poor and ultimately worthless. I’ll have to get to the floor and play it.
Then, FarCry 2. They first played a cinematic trailer that didn’t reveal much, but after the trailer, we were treated to a live demonstration of the game in action. Set in Africa, the game revolves around the hunt for The Jackal, a legendary killer who can’t be stopped. You’re sent in to take him out as you search for him through the 50 square kilometer game world. As far as the story goes, it’s clear that the team is hard at work making the plot a little darker and a little deeper than the paper-thin throw away plot of the first FarCry.The developers decided to show us the game being played at night. I was pretty disappointed by the night effects. After I saw S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Skies earlier in the day and witnessed just how dark it gets at night, seeing the comparatively well lit night scene in FarCry 2 was underwhelming. The brightness did however give me ample time to appreciate the beautiful graphics engine. And I have to say, I was equally impressed with the AI. As the game was played, the player made a mistake and a whole swarm of enemies began to aggressively flank him and they all took up defensive positions when he went on a counter-attack. It was cool to watch how fluid and fast the whole battle was.
Ubisoft decided to fill a very long middle portion of the conference with a segment on their “Games for Girls” strategy. There wasn’t much worth mentioning, but I will say, I found the whole thing to be remarkably sexist and stereotypical. To make video games for girls based around interior decorating or wedding planning seems, quite frankly, insulting to girls of any age. While some girls may enjoy these games, I would have liked to see their strategy involve something a little more progressive for girl’s gaming instead of embracing negative stereotypes.
After sitting through the intolerably long “Games for Girls” segment, we then got back to the real games. Louis Lamarche, Producer on Shaun White Snowboarding gave a multiplayer demonstration of the game running on the Xbox 360 and it looks great. The draw-distance was phenomenal as we could see mountain peaks miles away. The mountain was completely open-ended and the two players were able to go wherever they wanted. We even got to see Shaun White for the second time that day (he was also at Nintendo’s press event to push the game). It was clear though that the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game will be far superior to the Wii version (even if the Wii version does support the Balance Board) thanks to the much larger levels.
Shaun White Snowboarding
The most impressive game of the conference was up next: Prince of Persia. I’ve truthfully never gotten into the other Prince of Persia games, but I can assure you, this is one I will be playing the day it comes out. With an illustrative art style, the characters look like they were pulled straight out a comic book. The Prince battles his way through enemies much the same as before, but the whole game is much more stylized, fluid, and bigger in every sense. The developers emphasized that the game was much less linear and allowed players to take multiple paths to get to their destination. We also got to watch one of the developers lay waste to an enemy known as The Hunter. As swords clash, the game slows down and zooms in on the action, making the rest of the screen white as it emphasizes the struggle between the fighters. It was very impressive looking and I can’t wait to do it myself.
Prince of Persia
The meeting closed with a brief glimpse at I Am Alive. I can’t tell you anything about this game because no one I talked to knew what it was about. It appears to be a post-apocalyptic survival game, but even that assessment could be wrong. No gameplay was actually shown, but I was left intrigued and I think that was the whole point.
I’ve been to a handful of conferences now with a variety of companies and I can say that there is not a single company at this show besides Ubisoft with more games that will end up in my collection (with the possible exception of Microsoft). Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway and Prince of Persia are going to be great. Shaun White’s Snowboarding looks really good too, particularly since there isn’t any other snowboarding game in sight. And though I have my doubts, I know I’ll be playing FarCry 2. I wouldn’t be surprised if both Tom Clancy’s EndWar and Raving Rabbids are both top sellers. All in all, I’d say that Ubisoft has a well-rounded lineup of games that can appeal to a wide market. Though I was left with a bad taste in my mouth after their “Games for Girls” demonstration, I think Ubisoft has a very solid lineup for this holiday season.