An entire skyscraper fell down! Oh, damn, I was supposed to save that until the end; I guess it all got a bit much for me. Let’s get on with it then, the best and worst EA and Ubisoft had to offer in their conferences.
Might as well start with Battlefield 4 I guess. I’m starting to get a little cynical about the continued release of the same title, just with a bigger number on the box. So it’s safe to say that my expectations for DICE’s latest offering weren’t high, and they weren’t made any better by the incredibly cliched gameplay footage that Microsoft spliced into their reveal. It was grey and had been done before, there wasn’t much more to say about it than that, which is probably why they didn’t even bother with a voice over. But when EA took the stage, the whole dynamic changed. They came straight out and stunned the audience with the promise of 64 player online battles, and then delivered right there; the giant screens split, revealing the 64 live gamers who were about to demonstrate what DICE had put together. Now, the focus is well and truly centred on teamwork, and dynamic maps (I’m not even sure there was any mention of weapons or motion capture). The latter was incredible. We had Battlefield’s trademark collapsing walls and ceilings, but the whole experience was compounded by the collapse of a skyscraper. Yes. As set-pieces go, it was spectacular to watch, but then I realised that this wasn’t even a set-piece; it was a real time, unique experience. It wasn’t scripted, it was player developed. Now, gamer control on that level is something worth getting excited about. As for the teamwork? My thoughts on that may well crop up in a different section of this article.
Ubisoft didn’t give us as much in-game footage as I may have liked, but somehow they outshone EA simply with their awe-inspiring game trailers. In fairness to Ubisoft, they’d done all the hard work already; Assassin’s Creed IV and Watchdogs are probably the most anticipated games they’ve ever made. As far as Black Flag goes, I’m sure I won’t be the only franchise fan that is feeling a little relieved after seeing that trailer. I recently wrote an article asking why the last instalment was such a flop, and while there are many issues that left me disappointed, I think the real issue was Connor. Totally bland and reactionary, his departure from the flawed characters of Altair and Ezio was the root cause of the games failure. Judging by the intensely cold demeanour Edward gave off in Ubisoft’s teaser, violently killing captains and starting bar fights, I think that issue has been rectified. The sea battles (a rare highlight of number 3) apparently make their return, which is nice, and the words of Ubisoft’s representatives on stage, “The game is an invitation” are hopefully a confirmation of the game’s return to its roots; open-ended levels, and free choice.
Watchdogs looks INCREDIBLE. I defy anyone to have watched that trailer without salivating. I honestly think we could be in for an utterly flawless sandbox here, a feat I don’t think has been achieved before. It’s a beautifully unique concept that Ubisoft are trying to capture, and for that ambition to be met with seemingly universal praise and not trepidation is truly remarkable. It’s particularly poignant as well; social media is starting to run lives, electronics are becoming more and more ‘organic’, there may be a genuinely sophisticated message buried within this game. Or perhaps this is just a way of convincing me that the ‘Share’ button is actually a good thing. Well, I think it worked.
Speaking of online functions, Ubisoft’s final reveal of The Division, an online 3rd person shooter or RPG (the format seems to be quite the hybrid) looks like a nice entry in the dwindling survival horror genre. Looking like a strong reflection of Ghost Recon in terms of gameplay, it looks like this could be the game to get the most out of the next-gen online features; design your own character, build him or her in your own way, adapt to overcome obstacles with your friends. All of this is set in an open-world environment, so presumably players can do their own thing but team up for missions when necessary or desired. Finally, a reason to be able to see another player’s screen! Not simply to watch mind you, but to assess the situation and build an approach together; that’s an idea I like.
Final thought on their good points; EA announced a new Star Wars Battlefront. I don’t care what stage it’s at, the nostalgia of the thought alone is enough right now.
Both EA and Ubisoft announced new racing games for the next-gen consoles, Need For Speed: Rivals and The Crew respectively. This is a little difficult for me to get excited about at the best of times (driving games don’t normally do it for me), but even so, I thought both announcements fell a little flat. Forget all the customization options, and open-world maps, and consider the online features that both games seemed to hang their hats on. They are strikingly similar; both allow other online players to join games and interact with each other, whether it be cooperatively or competitively. The loss of lobbies and loading screens is great, sure, but driving games have always been born for multiplayer, and yet this is the centre-piece of two next gen games? I feel like they’re trying to make us find it more interesting than it really is, but I’m afraid I haven’t fallen for it.
EA Sports is boring. I’m so sick of it now, basically just releasing the same 5 or 6 games once a year, making sure to dress up an old selling point as new, and update the databases; job done. I almost thought they were trying to personally mock me when they said on-stage (and this is word for word) “Innovation is what drives our FIFA team”. Are you joking!? They got rid of the Be A Pro and Arena modes on FIFA 13 and thought we wouldn’t notice because they put in a new touch system. I struggle to see it as innovation when you are literally taking features out. I fear the case is the same with next-gen titles too; fancy sounding buzz words like ‘BounceTek’ and ‘Living Environments’ are starting to feel meaningless now. I think it’s probably time for EA to realise that their sports franchise doesn’t appeal to the hardcore gamer any longer; it certainly doesn’t to me, and I think we only fire up FIFA when the music is loud and the drink is flowing, which is hardly an immersive experience. Keep selling it, but don’t continue to make a song and dance.
To go back to my concerns about Battlefield 4‘s ‘teamwork’ based online gameplay, I think the issue can be divided in two. The first problem I think is with the implementation of a ‘commander’ that can survey the map and provide support and communications. Now, at the conference, this was controlled by a man with a tablet, but I fear he was too removed from the action to provide me with entertainment I seek from what is now a goliath in the FPS market. Is anyone really going to want to play like this? I may have missed the point entirely, so use the comment section to voice your concerns, but I’ll probably stick to my guns. Before I point out my next problem, I want to show my appreciation for the fluidity and innovative nature of the team-based combat, which looks both sophisticated and ambitious. Got that? Good. It’s a stupid idea. Have you ever actually played online with someone that was willing to listen to you? I can’t get people in the same room as me to cover me in-game, so I doubt I will have success with international strangers. And I certainly don’t have 63 willing and submissive friends that are willing to play and listen to my every command. Looks amazing, but I fear it lacks something in functionality.
Ah well, certainly more highs than lows, which I guess is a nice surprise. If I had to pick a winner, I’d probably just edge towards Ubisoft, but perhaps it’s unfair to let anything try and compete with Watchdogs. All we can do now is hope for the same quality in finished product as in reveal. Oh, did I mention? I skyscraper fell down!