Ubisoft's press conference on Monday (June 10) delivered something that few other companies could during this year's E3 conference: a selection of very different games. Whereas competitors Microsoft and EA relied on the (admittedly lucrative) market for gritty shooters, Ubisoft's games starred foul-mouthed third-graders, twisted rabbits and swashbuckling pirates.
The conference kicked off with an appearance from Jerry Cantrell, guitarist from Alice in Chains. He introduced the latest version of "Rocksmith," a music/rhythm game that teaches players how to jam with a real guitar peripheral.
Although the music genre has waned in recent years ("Guitar Hero" oversaturation led it to an early grave), "Rocksmith" has carved out a fairly unique niche for itself since it also functions as a teaching tool for a real instrument. The latest version for the PS4 and Xbox One allows users to speed up, slow down, change difficulty and add backup instruments at will at any time during a song.
"Splinter Cell: Blacklist" offered something for the conspiracy theorist stealth gamer in all of us. Like previous entries in the series, "Blacklist" casts the player as super-spy Sam Fisher. This time around, Sam's battle against terrorists features a huge airbone fortress, as well as the requisite sneaking, shooting and strangling that series fans have come to expect.
Wii U fans were devastated earlier this year when Ubisoft delayed system exclusive "Rayman Legends" half a year and promised to release it for the Xbox 360 and PS3 as well. The side-scrolling action game stars returning hero Rayman, who awakens from a nap and must consort with scantily dressed Viking maidens and do battle with malicious frog creatures.
Perhaps it was worth the wait. Since the game's delay allowed Ubisoft extra time to work on it, the company has added a variety of challenge modes, including timed level runs and a mini-game where Rayman must knock balls through hoops. The game's smooth animation, diverse palette and challenging retro gameplay should turn a number of heads. [See also: 10 Best Superhero Games Yet ]
After publisher THQ's dissolution, many gamers worried about the fate of "South Park: The Stick of Truth," the role-playing game based on the subversive animated comedy. Ubisoft has picked up the slack, and the game looks as lively as ever. Players can take control of the show's main cast as they curse, bludgeon and sass their way through a colorful quest to save the town.
" Watch Dogs " is one of Ubisoft's most ambitious projects, acting as both an action/stealth game and a thoughtful critique of a "surveillance society." The game takes place in near-future Chicago and stars Aiden Pearce, a protagonist who can control the whole city with only a smartphone. Whether Aiden fights his foes using security cameras and pay phones or fists and guns is entirely up to you.
One of Ubisoft's most innovative ideas is for children: a market that many modern publishers neglect. The "Rabbids Invasion" TV show will debut soon on Nickelodeon (no exact date given), and kids who watch through their Xbox 360s will be able to use the Kinect to participate in mini-games to score points during each episode.
"Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag" is one of Ubisoft's most anticipated titles, and with good reason. Although the main story of the series wrapped up in last year's " Assassin's Creed III," Ubisoft will trawl for new tales in the crystal Caribbean waters of the early 18th century. "Black Flag" explores the end of the golden age of piracy on the high seas, and will add intense naval battles to the stealthy assassinations and fluid swordfighting that have carried the series so far.
Ubisoft has also elected to try its hand at the massively multiplayer online game market (think " World of Warcraft ") with "The Division." This game envisions a near future where a money-borne pathogen has nearly wiped out a greedy consumer society (the social commentary will be thick in this one). Players can develop their skills and band together as they engage in shootouts with bandits and piece together clues behind the destruction of society.
Some of these games will most likely be good, and some will most likely be bad. But they're all a little off the beaten path, and that's refreshing to see from a major publisher. Expect to see Ubisoft's lineup hit shelves starting in late 2013 and extending on into next year.