Ubisoft’s Winter 2009 Line-up

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Trendy, minimalist chromatic room space? Check. A gaggle of well informed female types, and a smattering of producers and press co-ordinators? Check. Catering? Check. Well, it must be a PR event! The people at Ubisoft had graciously invited us to have a cheeky gander at some of their upcoming titles for the festive season, and who are we to refuse?

Three big sequels were on offer at the Winter showcase, with Assassin’s Creed II, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction and Red Steel 2 all jostling for journalists’ attention. A myriad of smaller titles were also on display, and lets not forget the main event, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game, which was viewable in stunning 3D style. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here!

Assassin’s Creed II shifts the gameplay to Renaissance Italy, and makes a new hero out of nobleman Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Cue much leaping around and attaching yourself to windowsills and barricades that you swore were not there as you made your ill-fated jump into empty space. The gameplay mechanics seem tighter than the first, and the addition of NPCs that offer new weapons add a certain amount of customisation to suit one’s individual playstyle. There are also tailors that can personalise Ezio’s clothes, and doctors that can heal you if you’ve taken a lot of damage in a recent scrap.

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A notoriety system now means that you have a degree of control on how infamous you are, with posters of your mug that can be ripped down to lower the amount of heat on your runny-jumpy ass. This sequel seems to possess a lot more depth, and hopefully it’ll be enough to convince both new fans, and those who have tired of the game to take another voyage back inside the mind of Desmond Miles.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction takes the series on a 24-esque romp, with Sam Fisher now presented as grizzled, chiselled and above all, pissed off. A search for his daughter’s killer has thrown up all kinds of problems for our hero, and as well as dealing with his loss, Mr Fisher will now have to cope with a terrorist group hell-bent on doing what terrorists do best…terrorism. Terrorising the populous, these terrorists plan to wreak even more terror unless…okay…sorry. Enough overuse of such terrifyingly terrible repetition.

Heh. Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, the game. Conviction plays like a charm.

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Where once Sam Fisher was a wooden puppet searching a series of blacked out corridors for a hard-to-find document, now he’s a responsive and, above all, intuitive character who can climb, grapple, interrogate and execute his way around the level as the player sees fit. The backdrops and locations are all visually enticing and match the high quality of the Tom Clancy storyline. The playthrough saw us first bashing a bald gentleman around a bathroom for a while, before sneaking into a mansion to apprehend a suspect. There are multiple ways to do this, and against all better judgement we chose to sneak in (running and gunning being a staple manoeuvre for this particular writer), and found that it was even more satisfying to dispatch enemies subtly and making use of the surroundings, then simply blasting them in the face with whatever weapon Mr Fisher has to hand. We are very excited for this game, and advise that you be so too!

Speaking of too, Red Steel 2 (we’re on fire today!) has all the hallmarks of the first game, with added improvements in the sword fighting mechanism. However, the game seems to have lost some of its graphical sheen, with noticeably jerky gameplay going hand in hand with jagged and cartoony buildings. That didn’t stop the demo being essentially fun though, and after being dragged through the desert by an angry biker, we had a good time slashing up various enemies, before getting utterly destroyed by a massive boss right at the finish. This is obviously down to our gameplaying skills rather than the game itself, but the second time round you will all be relieved to hear that we killed the bugger dead.

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Saving the best until last, it’s time for James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game. Taking inspiration from the book-full of lore and language that Mr Cameron compiled himself about the Na’Vi and the world Pandora, this game follows the footprints of either a marine or a Na’Vi (dependant on your choice), and has a fully independent storyline for each race. Our playthrough saw us landing an aircraft, shooting stuff, activating stuff and shooting more stuff. Then onto a boss (which we shot), and then after shooting some more stuff, the demo ended.

And surprisingly, it was a LOT of fun. Especially in full 3D, where things don’t so much jump out at you as hide in the murky depths of the television set. The controls were easy enough to pick up and play but not TOO easy to be passed off as just another third person shooter. There is a promised experience system too, and plenty of weapons to choose from. The enemies seemed smart, especially the Na’Vi, a bastard hybrid of Alien and Jar Jar Binks, leaping around the level at intimidating speeds whilst all the while looking approachable and friendly. If you ignore the whole ‘Human race are parasites’ moral schtick, Avatar looks especially promising thanks to its level of detail and considerable production values. Ubisoft and Cameron himself have clearly put a lot of effort into this game, and hopefully the release version will live up to their collective expectations with the public as well as the critics. Just be warned, the Wii version is about a quarter as fun, but that’s mainly due to the Wii Remote itself, not the game.

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The rest of the time was spent watching Rabbids Go Home, an action adventure featuring everyones semi-favourite maniac bunnies in an attempt to collect enough human waste (not THAT kind of waste) to reach the moon on a giant scrap-ship. It looked amusing enough, but will probably end up catering to a younger crowd with it’s 3+ age rating and kiddy friendly visuals. Don’t rule out the possibility of some adult humour though, as with previous Rabbid games.

We also watched other people play Just Dance, the latest dance simulator whose main perk is that fact that you’ll be able to bust out the big pants and dance to MC Hammer’s seminal “U can’t touch this”. Unfortunately though, just as we were about to get on something urgent came up and we had to forgo public embarrassment. The shame.

So that’s the big bases covered, there were more small games there (and a host of kids games that we sadly missed out on), but if you want coverage of that…then you should have gone yourself. Ungrateful gits.