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E3 2009: Ubisoft Press Conference

E3 2009Ubisoft

Ubisoft pulled out all the stops in their star-studded press conference that included appearances by director James Cameron and soccer great Pele to talk up Avatar and Academy of Champions Football. After they first walked on stage, the crowd interest seemed to wane. It wasn’t until some actual games were shown that things became interesting.

The fact that so much time was spent on Avatar, based on the upcoming movie by Cameron, was a little odd considering how these movie games often end up. Without any game footage of screenshots shown to the captive audience, it was up to the Terminator 2 director to explain things as well he could.

“Games derived from movies, historically, some of them have kind of sucked and I didn’t want anything associated with Avatar to suck,” he said.

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He explained far too much of the storyline for his long-awaited film but then said the game will be one of the first mainstream releases in 3D. This is awesome, but no footage being shown at all was a bit awkward, but the game will be on the show floor this week.

Several games were demonstrated by the developers, and one of the surprising ones was Red Steel 2. The original was mildly amusing solely for the gimmick factor of a FPS on the Wii, but the second one looks like it might be a bit more of a quality product with the unique Wild Wild Japanese West setting.

In the opening video, the main character is dragged from a rope attached to a motorcycle over desert, under a truck, on asphalt and into some drainage ditch until he whips out his pistol and kills the biker. Things definitely got started off with a bang.

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The gameplay seems to move at a slower pace than a typical FPS, but this might not be a bad thing. Jason Vandenbergh, the creative director, described the action as more of a beat ‘em up. Enemies don’t go down so easily, whether they’re shot in the face or slashed with the sword. This makes for lots of movement rather than mindless run and gunning.

The swordplay seemed fun (but who knows how long that would last), but in the very least Red Steel 2 will sell because of the inclusion of the Wii Motion Plus accessory. Whether there’s a sizable market for mature games on the system with the sluggish sales of Mad World will make for an interesting trend to watch later this year.

The jewel of the demonstrated games was Splinter Cell: Conviction for the Xbox 360. Purists in the series will be just shocked -shocked I tell you – about the new route that this series is taking. Gone are the slow (some may say plodding) stealth elements and present is lots of brutal action and an extremely stylish presentation.

Conviction has Sam Fisher going renegade. His daughter has been killed and he’s off to find answers without asking politely. The level demoed perfectly exemplifies the new gritty style. A couple dudes are shown standing at a urinal with the Ubisoft logo above them. In the empty urinal between the gentlemen, a body crashes into the porcelain. Fisher is on a fact-finding mission that involves some nasty torture and a hilarious encounter with a poor bystander taking dump nearby.

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The heads up display is extremely limited, and mission objectives are often shown on objects as if they were the opening credits of a movie. Films are projected on walls to show Sam’s anguish over his daughter and to move the plot along without slowing down the action.

Where Sam was limited and vulnerable in past games, he is now strong and predatory in this one. He toys with the goons and there are many more explosions. He can play cat against the mice with a new feature that shows his last known position to the enemies. With the generic soldiers focused on that spot, he can slip behind and blast them all way.

One aspect that didn’t seem to fit, or at least may take some getting used to, is the automatic action that can be performed with little control by the player. For example, if Sam peeks under a door and sees a light and two goons, shooting the light and taking out the left goon, while leaving the right one in the dark, can be set up. With the press of the button, these actions appear to be performed automatically. It works in Swat 4 with squad members, but it seems to neuter the sense of controlling a gruff killing machine.

Of course, this is all based on a demonstration rather than hands-on play, so take with a grain of salt.

The third game demonstrated, with a variety of trailers (most of which contained no gameplay) for Ruse on the Xbox 360 and PS3, some random games for tweens, and TMNT: Smash-Up (it looks like it might be a fun Smash Bros. knock-off), was Rabbids Go Home for the Wii.

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It was cute and adorable, as these goofy creatures tend to be. Unlike the past collection of mini-games, this game has these rabbit-like things driving a shopping cart and collecting objects in order to make a pile of junk big enough to get to the moon. I don’t really know what else to say about the game, but I’m sure IGN will crank out a couple thousand words on it, and god bless them for that.

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In the end, a lot of people seemed fairly bored with the conference once the excitement of seeing James “Titanic made lots of money” Cameron and then Pele leave the stage. The games shown were good, but the number of non-gameplay videos was disappointing. Even their A-game, Assassin’s Creed 2 was fairly invisible aside from a gorgeous cinematic that ended with the sneaky protagonist firing some sort of gun at his target.

Still, this was only a press conference. The real fun will be on the show floor and behind closed doors. Stay tuned.

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @akarge.

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