Ubisoft Christmas Lineup (Part 1)

Last week, Loz and I headed to London’s glamorous, world renowned Future Gallery, the go-to events space for stars of all industries and the speed-dial destination for the capital’s cultured literati. Well, it’s actually just a building down an alley in Leicester Square, opposite a Broadway showing of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical”, but it does have Wi-Fi and is Wheelchair Accessible and if that doesn’t scream “swanky” I don’t know what does.

But we weren’t just there to sample free wireless internet and review the Disability Discrimination Act, we were there on the ultra important mission that is “testing out rad video games”. Ubisoft had invited Ready-Up to play the socks off their upcoming winter line-up and we were the writers born to preview them.

But while we were born with thumbs for playing, eyes for staring and mouths for drooling, our collective sense of direction was seriously lacking. One stamp-sized map (printed across two pages, thanks to Loz’s technical mastery) and five minutes of walking later, we found the venue. And a doorman.

So Loz explains, with her trademarked enthusiasm, “We’re here for the Ubisoft shindig.” “Oooh, shindig! I like that one”, says the doorman, “got any others?” Now Loz starts rattling off synonyms for party like a machine gun loaded with thesauruses, “Hootenanny, bash, jamboree.”

And then he looks at me. “Your turn.” My stomach turns to butterflies, a thousand spotlights shine on me and a drumroll begins. “I’ve got nothing.” Bitter disappointment, the doorman is horrified, Loz is mortified to even be seen in the same postcode as me and I reconsider my entire future as a writer.

I should have said “hoedown”.

So thus began Ready-Up’s tour of Ubisoft’s Winter Line-up. First up was Splinter Cell: Conviction which, along with Assassin’s Creed 2, is the centrepiece for Ubisoft’s winter line-up. It even had two demo stations available while poor Your Shape Nintendo Wii Yoga had to make do with just one. What a meanie!

Splinter Cell Conviction

This time, Splinter Cell is darker and more violent than ever. In previous games, Sam finished his missions with pinpoint precision and the utmost professionalism; he was a counter terrorism agent, remember, and he wasn’t shooting guys and snapping necks for laughs. But now, with his daughter dead and vengeance on his mind, Sam is more brutal and vicious than he’s ever been – he’ll break your leg in a one-on-one standoff, he’ll shoot you in the think kettle without getting the “OK” from HQ and the interrogation scenes… let me tell you about the interrogation scenes:

In my line of work, as a games journo, I usually get answers by sending off an email, picking up the phone or scheduling an interview at a smoky London pub. If I was Sam Fisher, though, I’d be more likely to shout “How many levels are in your game!?”, and then slam your head into a tree trunk. I’d scream “What were the reasons behind removing the HUD!?” before arranging a one-on-one interview between your face and a brick wall. Finally, with nearly enough questions for my feature, I’d yell “Thank you for your time, may I have your email address for any follow up questions!?” and then shove a knife into your hand so you’re playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey with a car’s bonnet.

This is the new Sam Fisher. He’s hardly got any gadgets but he’s got years (and four best-selling video games) worth of experience to call back on, as well as hard wired intuition and instinct. As such, the game has radically changed the way it presents information to you; information is no longer fed to you via earpiece, but plastered onto scenery in size 20,000 Helvetica. Your visibility isn’t communicated by an iPhone app on your backpack, but screen-wide visual cues; if you’re hidden, the game will have a grainy, sepia spasm and your last seen position will be indentified as a ghostly Sam Fisher.

But just because Sam Fisher is hallucinating that his mission objectives are written on the wall and he’s smashing people’s faces into brick walls, doesn’t mean he’s lost his touch. He can now mentally “mark” foes, and then take them all out in a cinematic camera-angled flurry of bullets that would make John Woo blush.

As game reviewers, we must push the boundaries and test the limits - that's why I stole a bus during the tutorial.
As game reviewers, we must push the boundaries and test the limits – that's why I stole a bus during the tutorial.

As the world’s most profane PR representative told me, “Splinter Cell can be so fucking aggravating, so we’re trying to strip that shit out”. And it shows – Conviction is a little less stressful than Fisher’s previous escapades; you won’t spend hours watching guard walking patterns or get repetitive strain injury from hanging on a pipe – it’s faster and more to the point, and a natural evolution from Double Agent’s slightly more casual focus. It’s still a hard as nails stealth game at heart (with multiple difficulties for the ninjas among you), but Conviction’s pace and brutality is amped up, to match the storyline.

While waiting for the Assassin’s Creed lines to die down, we saw a man walk past with a suspiciously gigantic piece of Victoria Sponge Cake. But with no source of the mysterious cake in sight, we plonked our keisters down at the DS table to sample C.O.P: The Recruit. Oh, running about a 3D, free-roaming world in a shooting/driving combo? Man; that is so passé. Grand Theft Auto called they want their game back. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Oh? You play a policeman this time round? That changes everything!

COP is the closest thing you’re going to get to Grand Theft Auto on the DS. And I know there’s already a Grand Theft Auto on the DS, but this is closer. None of that namby pamby top-down 2D retro styley nonsense, The Recruit is packing a fully 3D world and it has the necessary state and national licenses to use it.

You see, in a clever twist on the old formula you can hide the Grand Theft Auto influences with some handy dialogue tweaks. “Sir, please give me the use of your vehicle, I am a police officer and this is an emergency.” – C.O.P: The Recruit. “Bitch, gimme your damn car, I gotta go slaughter a bunch of innocent pedestrians!” – Grand Theft Auto. I’d tell you that you get fired and it’s Game Over every time you discharge your firearm without proper motive and cause, but that would be a lie and lying is wrong.

In terms of the storyline you play Dan Miles, bad boy anarchist with a penchant for illegal street races. But now he’s on the Criminal Overturn Program (COP), a plan that turns unlawful members of society into detectives – probably the worst idea since the Spice Girls movie.

I didn’t get too far in the game; mostly because I stole a bus and those are very slow, but I can say with conviction (man that would have been an excellent pun in the Splinter Cell preview) that it does an honourable job of replicating the free roaming experience on your tiny DS screens. This is certainly one to investigate this winter (God, I’m horrible).

James Cameron's Avatar - The Game

Feeling a distinct tinge of HD-withdrawal-symptoms, we made our way to the closest Xbox 360 controller and sat down (fine, we stood up. Jeez, what happened to artistic license?) with Avatar. Not actually a video game based on James Cameron’s Xbox 360 Avatar, but instead one based on his upcoming movie, Avatar. It’s about alien species and strange planets; it’s about accepting different races and not succumbing to our prejudices. It’s even got a modern day Romeo and Juliet bit, and it has Sigourney Weaver with red hair dye.

That’s the film, I mean. The game is about shooting everything that moves. And even stuff that doesn’t, like plants and rocks. Sometimes with guns, sometimes with missiles fired from spaceships and sometimes you just run stuff over in jeeps. In the brief demo we played, there were tonnes of things to shoot, all set to the beautiful backdrop of a luscious alien jungle. According to Ubisoft, gamers will “discover creatures and other wildlife, the likes of which have never been seen in the world of video games before.” Well that’s because a Rhino with a Mohawk is weird, Jim.

I waggled the Wii Remote like a nut, and my character did backflips. There may or may not be a correlation.
I waggled the Wii Remote like a nut, and my character did backflips. There may or may not be a correlation.

You’ll have the chance to play as both the RDA troopers and the Na’vi (those blue skinned alien dudes from the trailers), and even choose which side to root for in a double-ending crossroad hullaballoo! The game will also support 3D glasses, if you have a telly from the future, but it wasn’t being shown at the event. Unless someone mistook the 3D glasses for their own specs and wore them home. That’s a possibility.

Finally, we plucked up some courage and made fools of ourselves on Shaun White’s Snowboarding: World Stage. Now I’m no wimp when it comes to gaming – I’ve got a platinum trophy in Uncharted, I’ll take anyone on in Call of Duty 4 and I found every pigeon in Liberty City. But I cannot make this snowboard go in a straight line for the life of me.

It uses that fancy Balance Board doohickey that Nintendo is always raving on about, to make you feel like you’re on a real snowboard. Well I’ve never been on a real snowboard, but I’m sure it feels better than wiggling around on a white piece of plastic like a belly dancer on a set of bathroom scales.

If you’re a Balance Board snowboarding aficionado, and not a bum wiggling tit like me, then you’re in luck – World Stage offers up bigger and more varied challenges than the last game, as well as the usual sequel offerings – new stages, new content, some deeper multiplayer modes and an achievement system. Spiffy.

Next Time on Ready Up hits Ubisoft…

Thong-stealing antics with some rambunctious Rabbids!

The joys of swimming in Venice!

Free sweets!







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