Ubisoft hosted their first "Digital Day" event last night, touting their new DLC only content, and furthering the idea that triple A games may no longer only be found on discs. The event featured a number of titles, including the just announced Beyond Good and Evil HD, in addition to some very unique original offerings. Let's have a look shall we?
Originally announced at E3 as Project Dust, From Dust is a visually stunning game that combines elements from classic games like Populous, Black & White and even Lemmings. Essentially a "God Simulator", From Dust has you playing as the diety of a tribal people who need your help to survive the brutal realities of their world. Using a large sphere shape to navigate around the map, you "pick up" textures, like sand, water, trees or even lava, and drop them around the world, changing the landscape as you go. Meanwhile a small village of Zeno Clash-esque tribesmen go about their business on the map.
The demo we saw forewarned that a tsunami was on the way, a small bar at the bottom of the screen providing a rough ETA. It was then up to the player to help guide one of the villagers get to a magical rock, imbued with powers that could help save the village. Of course the rock is located on the other end of the world, so you'll need to do some creative topiary restructuring if you want to get her there in one piece. After selecting the dirt texture, the sphere quickly sealed off the rushing river blocking the path, forming a makeshift bridge for the villager to travel across. A colored line indicates where the villager has to go and what parts of it remain impassable or dangerous. Upon touching the stone and gaining the power of water, the villager returned, transmitting the power into a large stone obelisk in their village. As the Tsunami approached, the charged obelisik protected the village, diverting the wave around the village.
From Dust is a striking game, filled with gorgeous nature textures, and strange, alien villagers, whose odd masks recall the bizarre tribal style of Zeno Clash. While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, From Dust is a beautiful, unique change of pace, and we're very eager to see more.
The simple Shmup has been a staple of gaming since Space Invaders; a simple, fun concept founded on twitch gameplay and lots of exploding baddies. But where to go from there? Classics like Ikaruga have implemented dark/light color systems while games like the cult classic Touhou Project have helped popularize the "Bullet Hell" genre, putting the focus on super accurate ship movement instead of shooting. Zeit² has gone in another direction, literally; the game is a side scrolling shooter a la R-Type, but it uses a unique time flashback system that not only helps you avoid damage, but is essential to defeating certain enemies.
Upon activating the flashback, a shadow ship appears in your original position, still firing. As you move and fire during the flashback, your original bullets remain onscreen, essentially allowing you to double your firepower during the brief flashback mode. Your flashback powers only last for a maximum of 4.2 seconds though, so it's essential you use it wisely.
Above: DJ Tiesto soundtrack optional
Much like Ikaruga, mastering the game's unique mechanic is just as important as being good at Shmups. Zeit² demands a level of precision from its players; bullets fired reduce your health if they miss your enemies, and any enemies you allow to slip by also drain your health. Combine this with the game intentionally bombarding you with more enemies than you could possibly handle normally, and you'll find yourself using the flashback feature for a lot more than just fun, you need it to survive. Zeit² also features additional modes, including Survival and the brutal Wave mode where you lose if even a single enemy manages to slip past you.
Visually the game takes the minimalist route, with smoothly shaped enemies resembling the creatures from Fl0w and a bright color palate that brings Everyday Shooter to mind. Zeit² is scheduled for release on Xbox360 and PC this Holiday season.
Another game that made a brief appearance at E3, Outland pairs good old fashioned action platforming with, strangely enough, the dark/light mechanic made famous by Ikaruga. It's strange having to mention Ikaruga twice in a single article, but the mechanic is very similar. A press of the RB button switches the hero from red to blue; while red the hero can absorb red projectiles and damage blue enemies, and vice versa.
The game was surprisingly challenging from what we played, requiring you to change colors multiple times during a jump to safely get through waves of blue and red projectiles. Outland also implements some colored platforms that only become solid when you're the same color as them. Jumping through red projectiles only to have to switch back to blue at the last second to land on the blue platform is a lot of fun. The game's combat is melee based, though the real focus is on the platforming and developing zen like reflexes so you can switch colors as fast as possible.
Above: Shadow of the Ikaruga
The demo we played culminated in a big boss battle against a Shadow of the Collosus looking creature that alternated between taking melee swings at us and dropping huge waves of red and blue projectiles on our heads. Dodging the projectile attacks require precise placement of the hero, ducking and weaving between the attacks while switching your color. Outland is heavily stylized, contrasting a nearly all black main character and stages against colorful backgrounds and bright effects. Ubisoft hasn't locked down a release date yet, but expect Outland to arrive sometime in 2011.
Ubisoft's offerings here defintely make a strong case for DLC games; at this smaller scale, large companies aren't shackled to enormous development times and teams, and more importantly they're less afraid to take some risks. All three of these games are very unique, stylized experiences that wouldn't make a lot of sense as a $60 retail disc, but make perfect sense at a lower price point on XBLA and PSN.
Sep 30, 2010