Mountains, Boats, and Cathedrals, Oh My! Ubisoft’s Fall 2014 Lineup
It was day three of Gamescom 2014 and I had just finished seeing and playing Far Cry 4, Assassins Creed: Rogue and Assassins Creed: Unity. I then began thinking about how similar Ubisoft’s larger franchises have become. In some ways that is a good thing, as systems pulled from more specialized titles are put to use in games that sorely needed a systemic solution. But it also begs the question as to why, besides the obvious financial reasons, Ubisoft hasn’t created one be all end all Ubi-game that brings Assassins Creed, Splinter Cell and Far Cry under one banner? Or are these games still different enough from each other that they shouldn’t be judged by the similarity of their component parts and instead on the thrust of their narrative and the characters each series has developed?
Read on for my impressions of a few of Ubisoft’s heavy hitters that are coming out this fall and let me know your thoughts on the matter.
Far Cry 4 | Hands On
The first Far Cry made me fall in love with its beautiful tropical setting, open level design and cunning AI. And then mutant monkeys showed up and almost ruined the entire experience. Far Cry 2 replaced the beach with the sweeping African savanna and mutant monkeys with debilitating malaria and decomposing weapons all while expanding upon the open world systems. The third game in the series brought you back to the tropical climate, this time there are no monkeys, no horrible diseases or any rusty guns that break apart after you fire off a few rounds. Instead, Ubisoft added a great progression system that was powered by crafting and territorial control that provided a constantly rewarding gameplay experience. So what does the follow up add to this formula?
Okay, perhaps that is an oversimplification. But that was my most immediate take away from my short hands on time with the game that was centered on two things, taking out a high ranking member of the private military that has a stranglehold on Kyrat, the fictional Himalayan country where Far Cry 4 is set, and reliving the mystical adventures of an ancient warrior (that I suspect is related to our protagonist).
The snowy mountaintops were certainly a sight to behold, and taking out one guard after the next with my mini crossbow, silenced assault rifle, knife, or cranky yak was certainly enjoyable, but I didn’t really get a feel for what makes the game special. There are elements of the traversal system that I wasn’t able to experience, like how the vehicles , or how to rappel in order to create more unique pathways through the levels, so I hope those will help to broaden the gameplay somewhat.
Shangri La, while possessing a distinctive aesthetic and a white Bengal tiger that while bad ass looking didn’t really add a lot to the overall gameplay experience besides as a consistent distraction to my enemies. Again, with some more fleshing out of the narrative where we learn more about who this warrior and his feline friend are I can change my stance, as Far Cry 3 had a surprisingly engrossing story for an open world game.
Bottom line: if you liked Far Cry 3, as I did, you will like Far Cry 4.
Just remember, wingsuiting in the Himalayas is to be done at your own peril.
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue | Eyes On
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is my favorite entry in the series. Why? The boat combat and freedom to explore the Caribbean at your leisure was certainly incredible. But more than that, I found Edward Kenway to be a lovable scalawag who didn’t take himself, or his Assassin title too seriously. Shay Patrick Cormac, the protagonist of this last gen only entry (I saw it demoed on an Xbox 360), is a disillusioned Assassin that joins up with the Templars and proceeds to hunt down all of the Assassin’s he can lay his hands on that may be in the Northeastern reaches of North America during the Seven Years War.
Shay doesn’t seem to be messing about. He didn’t have any witty one liners or posess the swagger that made Mr. Kenway so fun to be. But what he did have was access to some new toys by virtue of his patrons’ largesse including a silent rifle (replacing the blow gun) that could fire a wide variety of projectiles, including gas and firecracker grenades. The arsenal of his ship, the Morrigan, was also expanded to include a prototype machine gun, flaming cannonballs and an ignitable oil slick to boot.
We saw a bit of naval combat, which looks as fun as it did in AC:IV and a fortress takeover, sorry, gang hideout takeover (the gangs are all lead by Assassins), where we had to take out an Assassin instead of a simpering lieutenant. Fighting against an Assassin looked as challenging as it should be as they can use every tool that you could previously, including suffocating gas, rope darts and his hidden blades against you, but it is also just delayed the inevitable chase and awkward stab sequence that every game has attempted to make dramatic since the first iteration but has failed to do so because the stabber and stabbee never line up quite right.
Another twist in the formula came in the fact that as a Templar you have to keep your eye out for Assassins that may be lurking in a nearby bush or tree branch.
I didn’t get a chance to see any of the more northerly regions of the game, where the snow and ice might introduce more unique wrinkles to the gameplay as for now, it simply seems like AC:Rogue is simply changing a few names and titles around and adding a few new tools to legitimize it being a new entry, and I don’t think that’s enough to convince players that the game isn’t just an attempt to cater to a gigantic install base that has been conditioned to accept that they need to purchase at least one Assassin’s Creed game per year.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity | Hands On
But if I were to purchase one it would probably be this one. I was equally resistant towards this French Revolution era tale as I was to AC:Rogue when it was first unveiled. I understand that this time period, next to Edo era Japan was a fan favorite, but it didn’t set itself apart enough from Renaissance era Italy in my opinion. While I still am not sold on the setting, despite how beautiful and this gen (I think it’s time to retire next gen for this generation of consoles) it looks, I do think that they are bringing some great new ideas to the game that will make playing it noticeably more user friendly and dynamic than any that have come before.
My hands on demo was of the cooperative variety. As you know, AC:Unity allows for four friends to wreak stabby havoc in the streets of Paris, where the host player is always Arnaud in the same way that every player that joined someone else’s game in Watch_Dogs was always Aiden. I was playing with a member of the AC:Unity development team while a few other journalists watched over my shoulder. No pressure.
Before our reign of terror could begin (that’s me attempting to be humorous about the French Revolution by the way), our presenter goes through all the extensive customization options players have at their disposal. My numbers are not completely accurate, but from what I remember there were 200 outfits and about 80 weapons that you can buy with experience points that are unified across both single and multiplayer experiences (no word on microtransactions).
After checking out all of the pretty clothes and shiny swords that we’ll be pursuing the game was afoot. I found myself perched on one of Notre Dame’s infamous flying buttresses overlooking Paris at dusk, with my guide and fellow Assassin on a buttress parallel to mine. I was raring to go. This was a heist mission I was told, and we were tasked with hijacking some gold that is being guarded in a room beneath the streets of the city. After leaping into a bale of hay and dispatching a few guards, made infinitely less frustrating by the addition of a crouch button (finally) we proceeded into the dirty underbelly of the City of Light.
What made me excited to play the game besides the aforementioned crouch button, the fact that you don’t instantly fail any mission if you are spotted, and that you are rewarded for maintaining perfect stealth (I was), is because missions like these have an element of randomness to them.
The entire mission area, as far as its layout is concerned might be static, but the location of the objectives, enemies and locked doors will be randomized every time you play. This adds a great deal to the replayability (and encourages grinding) of those missions either alone, or with friends, even i you even if you have already finished the game.
That is what convinced me that I should be excited for this game. Vive la Randomisation!