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Ubidays 2007

Ubidays 2007

Ubidays is something of a first, and it kind of shows. Not only is it the first major event that Ubisoft is holding since the downscaling of E3, with the Ubisoft CEO declaring it the new “E3 for Europe”, but it’s also my first major event since I started writing for bit-tech.

For my part, the bewildered expression painted on my face as PR masters hustled us journalists from booth to booth probably highlighted how much of a n00b I am. For Ubisoft’s part, the general lack of organisation betrayed that it was its first attempt to deal with media on such a mass – there were over 900 publications represented, after all.

Still, despite the general hustle and bustle and in spite of the few organisational flaws of the event, there was definitely a strong buzz throughout the two days we had at Ubidays that ran like an electric current through every journalist in attendance.

We were lucky enough to get sneak peeks at the continuing development on games like Assassin’s Creed, Haze, Splinter Cell: Conviction and Tom Clancy’s Endwar, as well as a few other titles planned for later in the year.

Of course, as I found out myself when attending the event, there’s no real way to gently introduce these games to you. We can only really dive right in and have a look at Ubisoft has got in store for gamers this year.

Haze

Haze was one of the titles I was most looking forward to seeing at Ubidays 2007, and it is one of the most anticipated titles of the year, with many hoping that it will help to improve the fate of the currently flailing PlayStation 3.

Developed by Free Radical Studios, the same team that delivered the fantastic Time Splitters to gamers all those years ago, Haze is a first person shooter that will hopefully be a leading title for the PS3 and is very much aimed at a mature market.

Haze is set in the year 2048, when the world is run by corporations. It drops the player into the thick of things as a member of a private army for the Mantel Corporation. As the developers explained to us, Mantel runs everything in the game world from synthetic clothing materials to health care (A bit like Umbrella then? - Ed).

Ubidays 2007 Haze Ubidays 2007 Haze
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“In the game there is no UN or NATO.” Said one of the games developers, “Mantel are everywhere though. They make your food and clothes and if you get hurt then they provide your hospital care. In all of what they do though, Nectar is the jewel in their crown.”

So, what is Nectar?

Nectar is a performance enhancer given out to Mantel’s private army and, ultimately, one of the focal points of the story. The player character, as part of Mantel’s security force, has access to doses of this flower-based superdrug and can dose up at will in combat situations. This gives the user a whole host of beneficial effects, ranging from improved vision to an ability to sense the blast radius around explosive weapons.

Of course, everything has its downside and, while Free Radical wasn’t willing to go into too much detail at first, we were able to learn that if players overdose too frequently on the Nectar then they will enter a trigger happy mode, the screen not allowing them to distinguish between friends and foes. Overdosing on Nectar also prevents the player from being able to control their firing, guns automatically blazing every time the reticule crosses a target. Obviously a problem when you can't tell squad-mates from rebels.

Ubidays 2007 Haze Ubidays 2007 Haze
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"It gives the player a real ethical problem – do you kill your friend to save yourself or do you run away for a bit?" said Rob Yescombe, the screenwriter for Haze, whom we managed to grab a few minutes of alone time with.

The first question bit-tech asked was about the game's title, and what exactly Haze meant to him. He revealed that the name has a double meaning, referring not only to the hazing rituals often carried out in the military forces, but also to the boundaries between good and evil.

This is where we found out that the game goes a lot deeper than any other shooter we've seen for a long time.

"What we noticed about other games was that developers would bring in experts who had fought in real wars." Rob told us, his voice cracking from two days of yelling at crowds of journalists. "Which is kind of weird when war becomes entertainment."

"In reality, there is no real good or evil." He said, waxing refreshingly philosophical for an attendee at a games convention. So the whole world is grey, with people only telling us it's black and white?

"Yes! Exactly that. We're not making a John Wayne movie here – we're trying to make Apocalypse Now."

Ubidays 2007 Haze Ubidays 2007 Haze
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Moving away from the storyline though, one thing that was hard to escape about Haze was the graphics. Developed using Free Radical’s own in-house engine and technology, the game truly looked amazing. We were treated to a short demonstration of one of the jungle levels from the game and the dense foliage was among the most realistic we’ve seen, though the game was running on an Xbox 360 and not the (arguably more powerful) PS3 the first time we saw it.

We also found out that Haze will feature an extensive co-op feature, with players able to drop in and out in either online, LAN or split screen modes in the various planned versions. Because the player is always part of a squad, extra players are always able to hop in to help friends overcome particularly fiendish encounters.

No matter which way you look at, Haze is looking to be a controversial but powerful new game from all standpoints. While polygon counters will be able to revel in graphics so crisp they may as well be sponsored by Gary Lineker, jaded gamers will be able to sample some of the most refreshing twists in games that we've ever seen. As something of a story geek, I'm now looking forward to Haze more than any other game this year thanks to its attempts to do something new with the computer game genre.