Ubisoft Digital Days Hands-On Round-Up – Four XBLA Titles Under the Microscope
Written Saturday, November 26, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
London, some time last week. A hotel events room and a bunch of games. It's Ubisoft's Digital Days, where a host of the company's top Xbox Live Arcade titles have been rounded up for journos to get their hands on, from tower-toppling strategy title Babel Rising to the respective arcade shooty and racing thrills of Demiurge's Shoot Many Robots and Techland's Project Haste.
With digital distribution becoming an increasingly profitable and attractive avenue for delivering games, Ubisoft's line-up for XBLA is a remarkably strong one, and with I Am Alive also now coming as a downloadable title, 2012 is a big year ahead for Ubi's arcade titles. We'll have a proper (hands-off) preview of I Am Alive soon, but for now, dig in and check out our impressions of what we managed to get hands-on time with.
A twist on the tower defence genre that has you attempting to destroy a structure, rather than setting up towers to do the defending, if you catch our drift, Babel Rising is an interesting prospect. For all intents and purposes, Babel Rising is a god game based upon the iOS title, in which you wield a range of cataclysmic spells to prevent workers from building a monument to you, the almighty creator. How bloody dare they!
It's a simple concept, but one that proves fiendishly challenging, as you strive to stem the onslaught of industrious little blighters lugging blocks up the tower, causing whole sections to spring up quite rapidly. Each wave of builders is punctuated by an onslaught of boats delivering reinforcements that you sink with bombardments to thin the ranks. You'll have to manage and carefully distribute your powers using the gauges though, and for each challenge, you can choose two to use from a selection of four.
The usual elemental suspects are all present and correct, so you can pick from earth, fire, wind and water (no heart, Captain Planet fans), and each element has its own strengths. For instance, the advantages of fire enable you to rain down meteorites or drag a trail of fire across several workers at once. Alternatively, you can use water to freeze the little people and kill them or hold them in place with a concentrated rain shower, or even zap them with lightning or sweep them away with mini tornados using your wind powers.
Alternatively, you can cause earthquakes or summon boulders using the earth spells, and if you manage to chain together enough destruction, whether that's chipping away at the structure of the tower or decimation entire groups of hapless workers, you'll earn a devastating supercharged power that fills the entire screen with the might of your divine will. Using fire, you can summon huge flaming meteors, while wind brings a destructive storm, earth shakes things up big time and water creates an all-engulfing tsunami that drowns everyone on screen.
Babel Rising is playable using either a standard controller or Kinect, but using the motion sensor is a far more direct way of playing. Gestures have been kept simple, so to switch between your two chosen elements, you merely clap, while each power is controlled with one arm outstretched while the other points to the area you want to cast your destructive spells. You can rotate around the tower by leaning and execute your mega power by casting both arms forward in an arc. The controller is a perfectly viable alternative though and is just as intuitive as Kinect, if less empowering.
Babel Rising is good, clean fun, offering some intriguing strategy gameplay on XBLA, and although it seems somewhat limited with only three towers on offer, co-op and multiplayer options should help flesh things out considerably when it hits the Xbox Live Arcade in 2012.
Techland follows up the disappointment of Call of Juarez: The Cartel and the success of Dead Island with a bit of a weird choice: an arcadey ATV racer with an emphasis on catching big air, boosting and popping a few tricks here and there. It's a bit like Black Rock's Pure and effectively picks up where Techland left off with its own ATV racer, nail'd.
Project Haste is exactly what you'd expect from an ATV racer then, boasting muddy, foliage-laden tracks littered with ramps, and a hefty dose of speed helped by a boost bar that build up based on how many gates you race or jump through. In fact, there are two boost bars: a red one and a blue one. The red one handles your standard boosting, executed by holding down X, while the blue one... Well, we're not quite sure what that one's for actually, but we're sure it's great. Ahem.
Anyway, the name of the game is not just haste and speed, but successfully pulling off tricks also plays its part and contributes to your overall accumulated score at the end of each race. Controls are incredibly straightforward, with the left analogue stick used to angle your trajectory and landing in the air, while combining it with the A button initiates a flip. It's all immensely arcadey, so the handling is responsive and exaggerated, while the speed is suitably nippy. In all, it plays well and is shaping up to be a solid pick up and play XBLA experience.
At the end of the day though, Project Haste is an off-road ATV game, and although it looks good and seems to have all of the right components in place, you could argue that it's the runt in the racing genre. That said, with THQ now putting an end to its MX vs. ATV franchise, Project Haste might be the only ATV game in town. There's also the promise of the usual competitive multiplayer modes, as well as a range of customisation options for your some extensive tinkering with your quad bikes, which could all help in standing Project Haste in good stead when it releases on the Xbox Live Arcade in 2012.
Shoot Many Robots
A throwback to our misspent youth playing Contra, Probotector and Metal Slug, Shoot Many Robots is an eye-catching side-scrolling shooter with an odd, painterly art style and its own line in tongue-in-cheek humour. Delving into a co-op game with a very good journo friend of ours, we get straight into one of the stages from the hub inside an RV. From here, you can select any of the stages you've unlocked, of which there are two that we get the chance to sample.
Venturing out into a junkyard, we're set upon from all sides by chopper bots, Shoot Many Robots' cannon fodder, and already the game delivers on its remit. In the first few seconds we've already shot many robots, and there are plenty more where those came from. Our avatars – a green and blue P. Walter Tugnut - are also already levelled up a bit when we get our hands on them, so we have a few additional abilities and customisation items to take into battle.
Your character has a jet boost, a smart melee deflection ability and two weapons as standard, but levelling grants you access to all manner of bizarre items of clothing, some of which grant extra advantages, such as pink butterfly wings that enable you to temporarily flutter on the breeze. Then there's stuff that's just cosmetic, such as wigs, boxer shorts, hats and other silly and outrageous apparel that you can unlock and use to customise your character.
During our hands-on, we tear through the junkyard traversal stage, blasting through hundreds of choppers and tankbots, using the left analogue stick to fluidly run and aim hitting the right trigger to slide, X to blast away and holding the left trigger to remain stationary in the same spot, which proves indispensable when taking on our first boss. There's the 'small fry' robot, which is larger than the conventional chopper and tankbot, but at the end of the level we have to face the oil and fire spewing 'Fatboy' that grabs you and throws you around or simply burns you alive.
With the Fatboy vanquished, we continue on to a survival level, which has you trapped in one place, dispatching as many robots as you can without dying. It's pretty much Horde in 2D, which is as good as it sounds. You're able to take a few hits, at which point a skull and crossbones icon appears above your head, and you can heal yourself with RB if you have the requisite meds, or if you're downed, your co-op buddy can revive you. Still, it's not long before we're overrun with robots and end up carking it, despite mastering the ability to knock back projectiles with the melee attack. The level still counts as complete, but our star rating doesn't really cut it. Had we the time, we could have easily gone back in for more.
Shoot Many Robots is looking good ahead of its release in 2012, offering a slice of Metal Slug and Contra-style action, with a unique look that's entirely its own thing. And if our hands-on is any kind of indication, it should be a blast, especially in co-op.
Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc HD
We all know what this one's about. It's another high-definition remake, perfectly timed to back up the launch of Rayman Origins a few weeks ago. Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc is making a comeback, giving the Xbox and PlayStation 2 classic a lovely HD makeover, as is the popular trend these days, but this one seems to go a little further, with some added optimisation.
The 2003 platformer is looking to appeal to both old-skool fans and newcomers alike, who have perhaps been spellbound by the gorgeous and frankly brilliant Rayman Origins, with the game now running at a super-slick 60 frames-per-second and looking better than ever. Back in the day - or eight years ago - Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc already looked pretty good, but in HD it really does look great. That sounds like an obvious and even dumbass thing to say, but it's worth noting that the HD pimpage has gone a long way.
Anyone who's played a Rayman title will know what to expect, with Lums playing a vital role and Rayman's blue froggy buddy Globox in attendance. Rayman also has a variety of additional tools to unlock, like his metal fists for increased punching power and his lockjaw clamps that enable him to swing across gaps, grab enemies and electrocute them. As far as HD remakes go for Rayman titles, it's easy to see why Ubisoft has chosen this one, as it's not only the last one that creator Michel Ancel helped design, but it's also a great 3D version that'll no doubt help promote interest in Rayman Origins.
There's plenty of extra content in Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc HD too, such as nine standalone mini-games, online leaderboards and of course, achievements. All this and more should make Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc a more than worthy addition to the growing list of HD remasters, and something to look out for when it comes to the Xbox Live Arcade in 2012.
We'll have a full preview of Ubisoft's I Am Alive for XBLA soon.