Based solely on how last year’s conference played out, I think everyone was anticipating that Ubisoft’s 2013 conference would be full of celebrities and crap jokes.
We didn’t have long to wait. The show opened with a reveal of Rocksmith 2014, with Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell rocking out with a virtual band, before Aisha Tyler – reprising her roles as both host of the conference, and – came out and had a brief chat with him about how great it is. No real details on what, exactly, is new about Rocksmith 2014, but considering how many hours I’ve spent with the original I’m pretty happy to see another in the series. Let’s just hope they actually hire a UI designer this time, because having Satan sorting that out for them clearly isn’t working out.
From those musical highs, the conference shuffled onto the murky moral depths of Splinter Cell: Blacklist – Now With Less Torture (okay, I added that second subtitle). A new trailer showed off the variety of modes on offer, hinting at story bits and bobs as well as the return of Spies vs Mercs mode, but didn’t show off anything overly new. On the plus side, I was faintly amused at Aisha Tyler stating that Blacklist is “everything you could possibly want.” Except Michael Ironside, Aisha! Except Michael Ironside.
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Next up was another whiplash-inducing change in tone with Rayman Legends, formerly a Wii U exclusive and now, after some feet shuffling, coming out on basically every platform under the sun. Except the PC. Apparently, Ubisoft thinks PC users don’t like joy. It might be hitting our desktops at some point, but as we don’t know for sure, I’m just going to move on to something else. Specifically: The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot.
This was a bit of a bizarre one, if only because the trailer on display is basically identical to the announcement trailer released nine months ago, only with a bit of extra pre-rendered footage. So… yeah. The game itself looks interesting, at least, insofar as it has you build up a castle full of traps and monsters, and then attempt to break into someone else’s castle to steal their treasure, but there wasn’t a great deal of actual gameplay footage shown off. It was also a tad confusing as to what state it’s currently in – from what I can gather, it’s presently in closed beta, but an open beta will be coming before too long. Something like that. Probably.
Let’s just move on again, because the trailer that came next was far more interesting. It was also really short. This trailer was, in fact, the first we’ve seen of South Park: The Stick of Truth since Ubisoft snatched the title away from THQ’s smouldering ruins. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t show anything much in the way of gameplay or details – it pretty much just reiterated that the typical South Park humour is in full swing here, with Stan’s dad teaching the player character how to perform the devastating Nagasaki Fart move and then warning him to never fart on anyone’s balls. Still, it’s looking pretty authentic, and it’s due out “this holiday season.” Unless, as Cartman points out, it slips.
South Park pretty much ended the first part of Ubisoft’s conference, with everything thereafter focused on the NEXT GENERATION. This also resulted in the first appearance of Ubi co-founder and CEO Yves Guillemot, who looked like a tiny wizened gnome next to Aisha Tyler. She claims this is because she’s really tall, but pfft; according to Google, she’s about six foot. Either she was wearing giant heels or he’s about seven inches tall.
Gnome or not, Yves appeared to announce a brand new driving game from the teams at Ivory Tower and Reflections: The Crew. Considering that Ivory Tower is made up of people who were responsible for Test Drive Unlimited, you might be able to guess at what sort of gameplay’s involved here.
Ditching sarcasm and cynicism for one very brief moment, this actually looks rather interesting. It’s an open-world multiplayer driving game, where the open world is basically “the USA”. The live demonstration showed off players in New York, the backroads of Nevada, Black Hills in South Dakota, and the streets of Miami, all taking part in different races and challenges.
Despite assurances that you can play it solo – and despite repeating Skyrim‘s old assurances of “if you can see a mountain in the distance, you can get over there and explore it” – most of the playthrough was focused on a mission in Miami. The player there was apparently having a bit of trouble, so he sent out requests to his friends so that they could come help him out in co-op. This particular mission was a Takedown, in which players needed to smash the shit out of a target vehicle that was trying to escape.
The concepts behind this game are rather excellent. There are no lobbies or anything; you just send an invite to players and they’ll join your game pretty much immediately. Other cars driving around at silly speeds will likely be controlled by other players. You can customise your vehicle to a borderline fetishistic extent, stripping it right down to the basic frame and then replacing every part however you like (in a similar manner to the gun porn of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, come to think of it). In short, it looks really slick.
It’s apparently a tale of forming a “crew”, infiltrating a criminal organisation, and taking it over from the inside, so that’s your multiplayer angle right there… but the big, overriding question is whether or not the driving is actually fun. It looks highly arcade-y, with cars pulling off drifts so improbable that I could hear the laws of physics creaking under the strain, but unless the driving is really good fun then all the open worlds and cohesive multiplayer in the world won’t make a difference. This one’s due out on PC and next-gen consoles at an unspecified date.
From this, Ubisoft finally moved onto the game we’ve all been waiting for: Watch Dogs (or Person of Interest: The Unofficial Game, if you watch TV). Slightly depressingly, all that was on show here was the pre-rendered trailer that was leaked/released earlier on, but hey, it’s a nice trailer. On the plus side, the game’s senior producer Dominic Guay stated that more will be revealed during E3, so keep your eyes and ears open if you’re a fan of privacy breaches.
Next up was a bunch of stuff of absolutely no relevance to us whatsoever: an announcement of a Rabbids TV show with Nickoledeon, complete with interactive challenges via Xbox One, and Just Dance Again: Dance Harder – Electric Boogaloo, which is only called that in my fevered imagination and is actually called Just Dance 2014, so I guess the Originality Police were having a nap when that was decided. Neither of these are on PC, so I immediately starting checking YouTube for videos of cats and squirrels.
I made it back just in time for a pair of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag trailers. The first was a pre-rendered thingybob, showing protagonist Edward Kenway getting into a fight with some soldiers in a bar and then getting into a spot of naval combat, in which the enemy captain was killed in a particularly wince-inducing manner. The second was gameplay footage, but rather than being a mission or anything, it was just an amalgam of different scenes: here’s a town in the Caribbean, here’s a swordfight at night, here’s a boat, here’s some underwater stuff, here’s a beach…
I’m a little unsure whether or not to be enthused about Black Flag, truthfully. On the one hand, Assassin’s Creed 3 was rubbish (and I’m well aware that not everyone shares that opinion). On the other hand, Assassin’s Creed can be – and has been – very, very good. It certainly looks pretty, and the idea of searching Mayan temples and underwater shipwrecks definitely appeals, so I suppose I’m hoping that enough refinements have been made to the engine and structure to make this one actually fun to play. It’s got to be better than AC3 on the basis that it doesn’t have bloody Connor in it, at least.
Don’t worry, we’re nearly done! Following an announcement of two new, interconnected Trials games – the futuristic, roads-in-the-sky Trials Fusion for PC and next-gen systems, and the not-talking-about-this-here Trials Frontier for mobile devices – we got a glimpse of another brand new title, and this one looks interesting. Oh yes, it does.
This new title is Tom Clancy’s The Division, and it’s an open-world multiplayer RPG set after a very real Operation Dark Winter occurs. It looks sort of like a highly-polished Day Z – roaming a stricken landscape in a multiplayer group, fighting off looters, picking up water bottles and the like – but there was no mention made of a PC release so that’s all I have to say about that. Raaargh.
With Watch Dogs, The Crew, The Division, and Assassin’s Creed 4, Ubisoft seems pretty heavily invested in open worlds, but not the detriment of smaller games like Trials and quirky experiments like that Rabbids thing we don’t care about. Regardless of the potential quality and the lack-of-shits-given factor of some of the titles on offer, this was probably the most interesting conference so far. Yes, okay, so that isn’t saying much, but there was a varied slate of titles on display that cater towards different gamers, and there’s plenty of stuff going on that isn’t Yet Another Shooter: 2014 Edition. Nothing as mind-blowing as last year’s Watch Dogs reveal, admittedly, but it’s hard to call the conference anything less than “steady.”
You can watch the full conference here.