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E3 2012 – Ubisoft steals the show

- June 6th, 2012
Watch Dogs

Watch Dogs is one of several Ubisoft games blowing minds at E3.

The French are good at making many things. Cheese. Wine. Sweet, sweet love.

Know what else the French excel at? Making video games.

One of my favourite parts of E3 is yakking with my journalist peers about who “won” the show. It’s kind of a dumb game to play… this isn’t the Olympics, nobody officially wins E3. But there’s always a lot of discussion about which of the major console makers – Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo – made the most memorable announcements, had the best games and basically impressed everyone the most.

This year, the unofficial crown has gone not to a gaming hardware maker, but a game developer and publisher: Ubisoft. No single entity at the show has electrified me more than Ubisoft, particularly the French-based company’s Canadian studios. Here are the five Ubisoft games that have blown my mind.

 Assassins Creed III

Assassin’s Creed III (Ubisoft Montreal) – The more we see of this game, the more amazing it gets. Set around the time of the American Revolution and featuring a new, half-Mohawk assassin named Connor, the game’s incredible wilderness environments and new running/climbing/fighting mechanics are a huge and welcome departure for the franchise. Watching Connor infiltrate a cliffside fort to eliminate a British commander was easily one of the most memorable setpiece assassinations I’ve seen in the series. Also, naval battles! And a spinoff PlayStation Vita game with a female assassin! (Release date: Oct. 30 for Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Vita)

 Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft Montreal) – With so much hype around this game’s cuh-RAAAAZY main villain, Vaas (last name: Deferens?), I was starting to wonder if the actual game would be any fun to play. During a hands-on demo that memorably begins with a half-naked woman straddling your character, Jason Brody, it quickly became apparent that Far Cry 3 has melded the do-what-you-will vibe of the series with a fascinating and disturbing storyline. After taking down a jungle camp full of mercs (including shooting the doors off tiger cages to let the captive felines have their way with the baddies), Brody is attacked by Vaas, who stabs him with a hallucinogen-laced blade. The visions that follow are some of the weirdest bits of imagery I’ve seen a game. Can’t wait for more. (Releae date: Sept. 4 for Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

 ZombiU

ZombiU (Ubisoft Montpellier) – The only non-Canadian game in this quintet, ZombiU is one of the two best Wii U games I’ve played at E3 (the other being Platinum Games’ Project P-100, but I’ll have a more in-depth look at the Wii U a little later.) A survival-horror game set in London after the zombie apocalypse, ZombiU has a number of cool twists involving the Wii U GamePad’s touchscreen, including using the screen to manage your inventory, scan the environment for data and act as a crossbow sniper scope. It’s scary, gory and will definitely be one of the new system’s big sellers when the Wii U goes on sale… oh that’s right, Nintendo didn’t announce a release date or price for Wii U. Guh. (Release date: TBA, but likely holiday 2012)

 Splinter Cell

Splinter Cell: Blacklist (Ubisoft Toronto) – The first full game out of the realitively new Ubisoft Toronto studio, Splinter Cell: Blacklist gives super-spy Sam Fisher back his gadgets, his support team and the Fifth Freedom, as he travels the world to foil terrorist plots to attack America. The game looks absolutely amazing, and I love the blend of classic Splinter Cell stealth with the new, dynamic moves at Sam’s disposal. I notice a lot of cross-pollination going on between Ubisoft’s core franchises, so it’s not surprising to see a dash of Assassin’s Creed here, as Sam Fisher fluidly vaults over obstacles and guns down enemies on the move. There’s been considerable online rage about actor Michael Ironside no longer providing Fisher’s gruff voice, but trust me, the new guy (Edmonton-born TV actor Eric Johnson) does a great job with both the voice and the physical motion capture. This is easily the most badass Sam Fisher yet, and if you know this series, you know that’s saying something. (Release date: spring 2013 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC)

 Watch Dogs banner

Watch Dogs (Ubisoft Montreal) – Unveiled during Ubisoft’s E3 press conference, this brand new IP – which has already been secretly in the works for two years – is an open-world game that looks like a next-generation Grand Theft Auto with an intelligent, cyberpunk vibe. During a by-appointment-only demo of the game, my jaw repeatedly hit the floor as I watched protagonist Aidan Pierce hack, sneak and gun his way through a living, breathing section of Chicago. If that wasn’t impressive enough, there’s a tablet/smartphone connectivity feature – shown running on an iPad during my demo – that gives players an interactive 3D map of the city with mission locations, current progress, secrets, side jobs and even their friends’ locations in the virtual metropolis in real time. The only downside? The game isn’t expected to come out until 2014 (Ubsioft is keeping very mum on the details), with the scuttlebutt being it could end up a launch title for the next generation of Xbox and PlayStation consoles. (Release date: TBA) UPDATE: Ubisoft has now confirmed Watch Dogs will in fact be a current-gen title for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC – the demo I saw was running on a very high-end PC, which is obviously where the game will look best when it comes out. I need to start saving my pennies for a new monster rig.

We’ll be divng deeper into Ubisoft’s offerings after the E3 dust settles, but this first taste of what’s coming out of the Ubi gang in the coming year or two is, in a word, incroyable. Bravo and tres bien.

NEXT UP: In a few minutes I’ll be rushing back to the Los Angeles Convention Center to chat with Nintendo’s legendary Shigeru Miyamoto and Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer (not simultaneously!), as well as getting up close behind closed doors with Halo 4, Gears of War: Judgment, The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls (“starring” Canada’s own Ellen Page) and the upcoming made-in-Ontario Star Trek game. My scribblings here may be a bit infrequent for the next 24 hours, but feel free to check in with me on Twitter for immediate impressions, or to shoot me some questions.

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4 comments

  1. Greg Gazin | June 8, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    I agree, and nicely done Steve! I think Ubisoft’s new IP with Watchdogs is the sign of something new. I think it will bring in a new audience and open up the playing field. Furthermore, their jump on WII U titles will keep them ahead of the pack! Merveilleux Ubisoft! Felicitation!

  2. New Guy sucks | June 14, 2012 at 4:44 am

    Splinter Cell will suck without Ironside.

  3. New Guy sucks | June 14, 2012 at 4:44 am

    Only idiots love this wannabe Sam Fisher.

  4. John Kong | June 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    why does sam fisher look like adam levine?

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