Bonjour. Ici est Ubisoft pour la E3 presentation. Joinest moi ici.
Bonjour. Ici est Ubisoft pour la E3 presentation. Joinest moi ici.
Just in case you were wondering, Ubisoft will be following up the broken *Assassin’s Creed Unity* – a game so utterly unfinished that they decided to give whole games away to pacify those that had bought the Season Pass – and the newly-released broken arcade racer *The Crew* – [which has a day-one patch to enable players to, you know, join a Crew, but is still plagued by intermittent, progress-wiping connection failures](http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-12-03-the-crew-is-broken-but-packed-with-potential) – with a new broken *Assassin’s Creed*, this time subtitled *Victory*, set in Victorian London.
It’s quite the scoop by Kotaku, and one that Ubisoft is none too happy about. The new location could actually be exciting if we didn’t already know that it will likely carry the same crunching problems and tired gameplay requirements.
If you’re still interested in this drained franchise, head over to the [full article on Kotaku](http://kotaku.com/next-years-big-assassins-creed-is-set-in-victorian-lond-1665343788) to discover all of *Victory*’s new secrets. Like a grappling hook. And train-top combat. Yay.
For anything that isn’t *Just Dance*, basically.
The last surprise of the E3 Ubisoft conference was when big boss Yves Guillemot announced, Columbo style, that he had just one more game. The final trailer was for the new version of *Rainbow Six*, now subtitled *Siege* instead of *Patriots*. Let’s watch!
HEY YOU. Do you like Assassinating some Creed? Do you like Watching some Dogs? Do you enjoy the odd bit of Far Crying? You do? You’re in the right place. It’s time for Ubisoft’s E3 conference!
The biggest event in gaming kicks off tomorrow when E3 2014 begins its week of hyperbole, broken promises and overbearing dubstep. Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft and Sony will be holding their conferences on the first day, and I’ll be liveblogging every single one of them! Take note of these times and get the kettle on.
Every year, the gaming industry gathers in Los Angeles for the Electronic Entertainmeant Expo for the first taster of the latest handware, software and game exclusives that will be vying for your attention over the next twelve months. It’s always a massive, industry-only event, even when the press events themselves turn out to be disappointments. There will be none of that this year, though – with the twin giants of Microsoft and Sony ready to pull back the curtain on their respective next-gen consoles, it’s going to be stacked with big names and attractive soundbyes.
The alternative subheader for this article was “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Radio Tower”. In a way, it would have been more fitting (along with providing me with personal amusement). I lost sight of what Far Cry 3 wanted from a very early stage, and the resulting few hours were a revelation.
That’s not to say it doesn’t try to capture your attention. Starting with a POV cutscene with you and your brother being sneered at by bad man Vaas behind the bars of a bamboo cage, your subsequent escape is a suitable launchpad for some open-world vengeance. It’s also worth noting that the voice acting and mo-cap is truly exceptional, raising the pirate leader above clichéd baddie tropes into something genuinely unsettling. Being spat headlong into the jungles of Rook Island with your brother’s gruesome death still ringing in your ears would be an obvious point where you grab all the guns you can carry and fight back along leafy linear forest corridors.
The designers of Far Cry 3 had different ideas though, and this deviation in structure is the first clue as to how the next few hours might play out. Your character is quickly taken under the wing of a local community leader who suitably outlines the Quest for the Hero and places the first gun – a pistol, of course – firmly in your hand. Once an initial test is passed (which might as well be referred to “THE TUTORIAL” by everyone involved), your new leader points you towards the house of a doctor where you can meet one of your friends. There’s also some mention of hunting and collecting and crafting but it all gets filed away behind the predicted promise of bullets and bloodlust.
It’s at this point I tried to stock up on weapons – buy what I could, note prices for upgrades, gear up for the road ahead – but soon found that I just couldn’t carry anything. Almost literally. The space in your pockets makes way for one gun, a couple of syringes (read: health packs) and flowers, but that’s it. All the things I would take for granted in an FPS such as weapon slots and ammo pouches were held back, each instead showing requirements based on one vital ingredient: animal skins. Pigs, goats, tapirs, dogs, sharks…it was a menu that demanded I go off and get lost, explore, kill, skin, and craft. I could absolutely head to the next mission marker, but it soon became apparent that I would need to expand in order to succeed.
Jason, your character in the game, is established very early on as Just Some American College Douchbag. Does this make him more relatable than a grizzled super soldier? I’m not so sure, but I was certainly maintaining this naive inexperience in my first few attempts at hunting. Shooting at pigs wildly as they scurry away doesn’t exactly carry Bear Gryllis levels of success, especially when you find yourself running directly into an enemy encampment, stabbing some guy through the neck in a panic before leaping off a cliff to escape his comrades. The Monty Python style of predatory strategy. Finally running out of bullets, I resorted to throwing a remote charge in the path of a deer before removing his skin with fire and flame. Overkill? Maybe. Effective? Definitely.
This need for skin of various types led me to a wider use of the map, searching for their silhouetted shapes in various habitats. Much of this is obscured by blackout, a result of the radio jammers similar to the one you briefly visit in the tutorials. These towers are styled very much like the high structures in another Ubisoft title, Assassin’s Creed. Once you ascend and pull out the important wires from a red box, the camera completes a wide pan and the area is added to your map. The map, once cleared, becomes either the green of free movement or red to show that an enemy camp controls the area. Often these camps are placed between you and the next radar tower, meaning their removal becomes a logical next move, and they invariably consist of small compounds with a selection of enemy types that you conveniently identify and track constantly, even through rocks and foliage. The icons that appear magically stuck above their heads tell you of their predisposed attack routine – snipers, grunts, chargers, armoured heavies; dangers that are immediately recognisable by anyone who’s ever played another FPS. These patterns become a puzzle, your attack strategy forming on the basis of how they will each react.
And so this pattern emerges, of movement, analysis, exposure, and attack. A radio tower exposes the position of an enemy camp which, when cleared, leaves a quick-travel location close to the next tower, and so on. The odd hang-glider – kindly deposited on every mountain edge by a militia group obviously into their airborne pleasure trips – merely amplifies this idea of moving against the scripted tide that normally sweeps you towards the campaign markers. As you discover more towers, it’s quickly obvious that their collective order has a combined difficulty curve. Ubisoft rightly holds back from making it too tricky (few things are more frustrating than poorly designed first-person platforming sequences) but the sequence of moves required takes on a maze-like quality that actually reminds me of Portal. The enemy camps also become harder, with alarm boxes, animal cages and spread-out enemy types calling for a carefully planned sequence of attack. Of course, there is your growing arsenal as assistance for when this all goes wrong and you have reinforcements snapping at your hells whilst being chased by a tiger, but it doesn’t give you the same sense of freedom and accomplishment.
It was after a night of just going through this pattern that I realised how well Far Cry 3 fits being played purely as a spacial puzzle. The layout of the towers and camps directly reflects their complexity and it’s very easy to fall into the trap of “just one more”. It also helps that death is totally meaningless, with a liberal checkpoint system dumping you back either at your most recent fast travel location or just outside an enemy camp in the seconds before your first shot. However, where FPS puzzles hold your attention by changing the rules after carefully setting them up, Far Cry 3 eventually falls into the trap of repetition. The island is detailed and expansive, but it starts to feel that you are completing the same actions in every scenario, albeit in a different order. It doesn’t help that Jason is apparently a “normal guy” yet can yield a sniper rifle with pinpoint precision. Even with the numerous Alice In Wonderland references pointing to the whole game being a childish fantasy, there is never any chance to connect with a protagonist who is such a superficial cypher.
The obvious move is to head back to the campaign, but this only serves to exacerbate the emerging issues. Each mission is tightly scripted and suitably bombastic, but they ultimately feel frustrating and restrictive after many hours of roaming. Unfortunately, it’s at this point where the free movement around the island reveals itself to just be smoke that conceals the cast-iron linear structure of the game’s heart. With no reason to push on solving the puzzles and no compulsion to guide your sudden action hero through his paces, Far Cry 3 becomes more about what might have been.
For the latter hours of the game I was unable to stop myself comparing it to Just Cause 2, wishing that it could somehow absorb that game’s amazing sense of freedom and exploration. Along with Crackdown, JC2 used its game world to lure players into fun endeavours that had nothing to do with the story but existed purely to have fun. It allowed us to journey outside of the usual structure of following a set path and gave us the sense of adventure so absent from many games today. I would not be able to tell you how many hours I spent in JC2 attempting to carry an enemy to a remote mountain peak with a helicopter, or line up the perfect jump in Crackdown.
Far Cry 3 shows you down a path of humid jungles and creaking towers before bringing you back and saying, hey, there’s a way you need to play this game. It’s a shame as there’s so much potential for it to become the free fantasy it constantly teases. I wanted to get lost and have an adventure in the tangled secrets of Rook Island, but in the end, the game kept finding me and bringing me back.
John Tanner – the driver of Driver – has had a tough journey, but it wasn’t really his fault. You can lay the blame at the feet of Rockstar, or at least at the metaphorical feet of their ambition, as their success in opening up video game worlds became the forced design aspirations for many a dev team. Reflections – one such team – fell into this trap and managed to turn an epic franchise into a despised mess.
The first game, released on the PS1 in 1999, was all flashing sirens, screeching tyres and alleyways stuffed with cardboard boxes. Featuring an ex-racecar driver as a cop so deep undercover that even his NYPD colleagues wanted to trash him, it was a wild taste of how cases would be solved if Starsky & Hutch was the official training reference.
The key element was the handling. Each car that Tanner threw around the game’s cities had a throaty backend with just a bare understanding of grip. What felt uncontrollable at first soon slid into place, and the feeling of taking corners sideways with raging police cars speeding up behind you was a sheer visceral thrill. To make things even more filmic, your every move could be viewed and manipulated visually within a replay mode that placed you as a film director of a 70s car chase movie. Imagine Bullitt: The Game, and you wouldn’t be far wrong.
So: a great game with a sturdy engine and critical appreciation to match the sales. What could possibly go wrong?
Reflections decided to open the car door and gave Tanner legs. Letting him escape his vehicle for the sequel was a bold move that didn’t entirely succeed. It preceded the singularity point of GTA 3 by a whole year but, while the ambition was commendable, the poor old PS1 just couldn’t take it. My main memory of Driver 2 is not about the tight freedom of driving, but of getting out of the car and trying to wrestle Tanner across the street as the frame rate dipped to flickbook levels. And his staggering amble couldn’t be ignored, with missions being written to incorporate the protagonist’s new trick. It sucked out the fun of what could – should – have been a generation classic.
Then the world gasped as the PS2 smashed what was thought possible, Rockstar showed us the shining grime of Liberty City, and Driver lost its relevancy. The pre-release hype machine whirred into place as Driv3r was announced and only increased in volume as it neared release. A few previews were positive, casting more hope onto Tanner’s comeback. Building to a massive buzz, Driv3r was finally released in 2004, and it was truly awful. Unbelievably buggy, ridiculously clunky and seriously outdated, it was crystal clear that it had been sent out before it was anywhere near finished. Of course, in these days of day-one patches, that’s becoming more normal (see the recent Medal Of Honor Warfighter – or even better, don’t) but the PS2 didn’t share this luxury.
The game quickly became a joke as word spread through gaming circles. It even got to the point where the few magazines that had published glowing reviews fell into scandal with accusations of under table payments, and it was hard to argue against them. Driv3r, for whatever reason, had just turned out to be a terrible game, made more disappointing by the marketing promises thrown around in pre-release.
The series hid after that, occasionally showing its face as a PSP title (Driver 1978) and a weak console offshoot (Parallel Lines), neither of which even trying to pretend that the crown of the PS1 original could be reclaimed. Many people – myself included – occasionally dreamed about how a modern version might look and feel, but it was always accepted that daydreams would remain just that.
So, when Ubisoft (who had bought Reflections) announced that Driver was having a full-blown Tanner-led sequel on modern consoles, the reaction was a pretty even split between glee and trepidation. After all, the effect of Driv3r never really disappeared and it was easy to imagine that the GTA legacy would surely dictate another on-foot disaster. However, it wasn’t to be. Maybe anticipating this suspicion, Ubisoft made it very clear from an early stage that the player never actually moves from behind the wheel. One car? Wouldn’t that get boring? Nope. One driver but multiple cars, made possible by a wonderful stroke of true high-concept imagination.
In the opening few minutes, Tanner is rammed into a coma by returning series baddie Jericho. The rest of the game takes place in his head, with every successful move towards the pursuit of his main target crossing over to aid his recovery in the real world (much like in the BBC drama Life On Mars). And it’s within this subconscious sandbox that Tanner finds he can jump from one body to another, effectively taking control of them – and their car – like a travel-happy ghost. It’s all expertly measured to fit into the structure of a video game, of course, but the fact that we know he’s in a coma from the beginning allows us to take whatever happens at face value. From the snappy script to the permanent magic hour golden twilight, it actually feels like a dream.
As you proceed through the game’s main missions, your power to jump grows stronger until you’re able to pull out to a map of the entire Bay area in order to travel quickly to your next target. For me, this kind fast traversal in an open-world sandbox is becoming more and more vital (perfectly epitomized in the amazing Just Cause 2) to the point where I know I’ll be subconsciously reaching for the hookshot button when GTA V finally releases. Being able to jump from behind the wheel of a cop car into an oncoming truck in order to swerve head-on into the getaway you’re still pursuing is pure magic. Actually, even though the game’s missions are generally good fun, I’ve been spending most of my game time just speeding round, finding new rides, enjoying the sunset. And it helps that every third vehicle is a car transporter with its rack in the declined position.
Once again, the handling is the star of the game. As meaty and thrilling as its PS1 forebear, every time I try to describe how it feels to drift around a corner at 80mph, I can’t help but rub my thumb and finger together. It’s incredibly tactile and, to steal from a better writer than I, to be any closer to the road would be to rub your face along the tarmac. The fantastic cars, clever missions, compelling story and many fan-service challenges (including a drive round the original’s garage testing ground, unlocked by driving a certain speed in a DeLorean) add up to an essential package that should have garnered far more appreciation than it did.
In the world of video games, just like in language, context is everything. I may have taken a long and rambling road to convey just how much I love Driver San Francisco, but its success is made all the more important because of the history it shares. To reverse the downfall and in turn make a game that’s actually better than the original is no mean feat, and one that should be applauded. I can’t wait to find out how it ends for Tanner, but in the mean time I’m happy to drift in the glow of the ever-setting sun.