I went into the Ubisoft press conference with exactly two expectations: gameplay footage of Assassin's Creed III and, despite the company's vigilant assertions that the Rayman Legends video we'd seen leaked was just an internal demo constructed as though it was a trailer, I was looking forward to seeing them "surprise" us by revealing a real product.
Well, I got both of my wishes, and much, much more.
But before either of those games took the stage, Ubisoft treated us to cookies and lemonade, sat us down in the Los Angeles Theater and subjected us to a looping list of about half a dozen trivia questions. They also "scanned" us, a bright green light sliding over the attendees as a high-pitched whine assailed our eardrums. They called out a few of the more prominent members of the gaming press, listing a few notes about their personal and professional lives, and then went back to the trivia.
Soon, the elevator music ceased and the lights dimmed, shapely women danced on stage in time with images of a dancing game on the screens behind them, and Flo Rida took the stage to perform "Good Feeling," leading into the announcement of Just Dance 4. So, yes, there will be another Just Dance game, promising booty-shaking good times for those looking for more of what they got in the other three.
Next on the agenda? Farcry 3, with one of the more "sensual" openings to a trailer we've ever seen. Blatant nudity and first-person sexuality against a tribal backdrop gave way to the main character mustering an army of dedicated followers. He then made assault on Vaas' (you remember him, right? The insane, yet philosophical, villain from the game's initial trailer) base, demonstrating the game's visceral melee kills, which can be chained together, and the extremely malleable nature of its combat, which gives players a plethora of options and the control to use them fluidly. The assault soon went awry, as Vaas was not where he appeared to be, and the player was forced to flee from a burning building, only to confront Vaas in its basement and be stabbed and injected with a toxin/drug that trapped him in vivid and disturbing hallucinations. They culminated in Vaas holding the player's gun to his chest, goading him to pull the trigger until, for just an instant, the body of another person flashed over his. It was here that the trailer ended, but it's certainly an interesting peek at what appears to be a mature and unusual shooter. Good on Ubisoft for trying something different.
Sometimes, though, players want to see a series return to its roots and, while Splinter Cell: Blacklist doesn't appear to be reverting from the stylistic and gameplay changes presented in Splinter Cell: Conviction, it was promised prior to its CG trailer that it would include not only a full-on co-op mode (as Conviction had), but the much-beloved Mercs vs. Spies asymmetrical multiplayer first introduced in Pandora Tomorrow. The CG trailer, itself, spoke of the forced closure of Third Echelon, as well as other such autonomous spy organizations within the government, and, after an assault on what appears to be a middle eastern hostage situation that results in the rescue of an apparent defector, Sam Fisher references "Fourth Echelon." Conspiracy and Splinter Cell do, after all, go hand in hand with one another.
And so it was that we entered the Wii U portion of the conference, which was kicked off by the supposedly fictional Rayman Legends. Origins was already a four player co-op title, but Legends adds a fifth character by way of the Wii U's tablet screen. Via this interface, the player in question lacks the ability to control the screen's movement, since he doesn't actually run along with the others, but is able to interact with the environment on the fly in ways the other can't, cutting ropes and activating icons (or banging gongs, during an extended hard rock segment that drew tremendous applause and cheers from the press). The gameplay is otherwise much what one would expect from a Rayman platformer post-Origins, with Rayman and Globox, as well as up to two other players, running from left to right and scaling vertical obstacles as they navigate gorgeous, two-dimensional vistas.
After a CG trailer for Avengers: Battle for Earth, which was most notable for a two-on-one fight in which Storm and Spider-Man took down Magneto (the game looks as though it might be aiming for a slightly younger set of gamers than the cancelled Avengers title), we were asked to "put the children to bed," and shown one of the greatest freeze-motion trailers of all time. The camera pitched and panned around gruesome scenes of zombie assault, cars in mid-plummet off of bridges with zombies splayed across their windshields, a man eating his pistol as the undead hordes encroach, his unoccupied arm clearly infected. "God Save the Queen" played over the images, which ended with a shot of a palace guard slicing off a zombie's head with the bayonet on his rifle. The game, Zombi U, is what Killer Freaks, the game that was to star a middle-aged Brit combating Rabbid-like aliens, has become. It's a far bloodier, more brutal direction, and no gameplay was shown, but consider our interest piqued. With the name change, it also becomes a spiritual sequel to Ubisoft's first published game, the original Zombi. Thanks, Ubisoft trivia cards!