In-Depth: Ubisoft Sticks To Its Guns, Celebrates Its History

During its E3 2011 presentation, French gaming giant Ubisoft was remarkably more confident and lean than in previous years, showcasing a strong lineup consisting of quality product representing its most successful brands.
Ubisoft's press conference at E3 2011 was a major departure from those of the past couple years. Gone was the celebrity host, the strange experimental toys and desperation of years past, replaced by actual Ubisoft talent showcasing a solid line-up of games utilizing the company's most popular franchises. This year marks Ubisoft's 25th anniversary, with nostalgia being an overarching theme of the presentation. Before each game's presentation, occasional Ubisoft spokesman Aaron "Mr. Caffeine" Priceman introduced a video showing what each franchise might have been like in 1986, when Ubisoft was founded. While none of the videos actually looked like old games (they were rendered in high resolution and in 3D, we're assuming because 2D assets are just too expensive), the attempt to add a bit of game-specific humor to the presentation was appreciated. What did look appropriately "retro," however, was the first game of the presentation: Rayman Origins, a two player co-op platforming game that returns Rayman to his 1995 roots. The hand-drawn animation and goofy, upbeat music was a wrenching contrast to the mostly realistic gun-toting games we've seen so far this show. By contrast, Far Cry 3 -- shown for the very first time during the presentation -- looked as advanced as anything else on the market. The original Far Cry was breathtaking when it was first shown, and the new entry's footage has been generating a lot of buzz on the Twittersphere. Also going back its roots in a sense was Driver: San Francisco, which brings the franchise back to its original city. The game has been in development for roughly five or six years now, but is finally set to arrive August 30. Ubisoft also showed a trailer for its adaptation of the upcoming film The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Given that it's based on a massively popular series of French comic books, Ubisoft seems a natural fit to handle its latest video game adaptation. Traditionally Tintin games were done by fellow French games company Infogrames, but with a big-budget film coming from Steven Spielberg, Ubisoft seems better suited to handle the franchise this go-around. A surprise announcement at the show was that Gearbox (Duke Nukem Forever) is reviving Ubisoft's Brothers in Arms franchise with Brothers In Arms: Furious Four, a first-person shooter set during World War II. As the title might imply, the game allows players to take on the roles of four distinct soldiers, with different abilities. Switching to a more casual focus, Ubisoft also announced that Just Dance 3, the sequel to the Wii franchise that has sold 30 million units so far, would also be coming to the Kinect and Move. Other titles shown during the press conference include the new PC free-to-play Ghost Recon Online (a departure from the traditional boxed console products), a trailer for Assassin's Creed Revelations, the announcement of Trackmania 2, a new Rabbids game on Kinect, and the upcoming Rocksmith, a guitar teacher that uses real guitars. Compared to last E3, we saw a leaner, more efficient Ubisoft in 2011, focused on franchises that work and showing off trailers that make gamers -- and by extension, investors -- drool. There's a certain sense of loss in having a press conference that doesn't involve a confused celebrity host in actor Joel McHale or strange products that include laser tag guns and heart rate monitors, but the confidence Ubisoft expressed more than made up for its lack of experimentation.

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