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Last year, Ubisoft’s hardcore war simulator was Tom Clancy’s EndWar, an intriguing strategy game with a nifty gimmick (voice control of onscreen units). This year they’ve gone back to the fertile gaming fields of World War II with R.U.S.E., a graphically striking RTS that employs deception as it’s main focus. Zoomed all the way out, the map is actually a table-sized representation of one of several actual WWII battles. As you zoom in closer, clouds give way to a detailed rendering of 100 square kilometers of territory, populated by ships, tanks and infantry. R.U.S.E. plays like most RTS games (you build bases and units, use cash generated by those bases to build more bases and units and replace those lost in battle), but you’re not constrained by the events of the actual conflicts. For example, my demo was based on the Battle of Monte Cassino, in which allied forces in Italy battled entrenched Nazi armies in the shadow of a mountaintop monastery. In the real battle, the Allies approached the monastery through a town nestled between two mountains. This served as a choke point in which many Allied lives were lost. But in the game, zooming back revealed an alternate route that bypassed the town, giving you the chance to take the monastery without the excessive loss of life and materiel. But here’s where the deception part comes in: you’re given a choice of five cards to play, with each card giving you the ability to mislead or decoy the enemy. But the Nazis also have this ability, adding a strategic depth that most RTSs don’t have. R.U.S.E. features a surprisingly simple control scheme, 200 units and 4-v-4 multiplayer with six factions to play. My demo was running on a monstrous Alienware desktop PC with all of the graphical bells and whistles enabled, and it had a few stutters, but I was assured that the game will scale down to older, less beefy PCs fairly well, provided you’re willing to turn down some settings. R.U.S.E. will also be available for the Xbox 360 and the PS3 in Q1 of 2010.
Those of you who went wild for last year’s Shaun White Snowboarding will be pleased to hear that there’s a new game featuring the winter sports icon on the horizon. Shaun White Snowboarding: World Stage is more competition-centric than its predecessor, featuring 75 downhill courses and half-pipes in eight countries. Up to four people can play at one time, but only one Wii Balance Board can be connected to the console at one time, forcing three of the players to use Wiimotes to control their characters. White is a playable character in World Stage, but all of the other snowboarders are generic athletes. This Wii-only sports game will hit store shelves in early November 2009.
Ubisoft celebrates the 25th anniversary of the first appearance of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a new fighter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Smash Up. This deep, technical fighter allows you to play all of the characters in the TMNT universe (you start with just the four pizza-chomping terrapins, unlocking the rest of the supporting cast as you progress) in a story that is totally independent of any of the previous movies or comic books. Four players can battle each other in single combat, or two or three of the four can team up in co-op mode. Although it suffers from the Wii’s graphics limitations, this button masher should provide plenty of action for Turtles fans. It releases on the Wii and the PS2 at the end of September 2009.
Last but certainly not least, Ubisoft follows up its successful video-game version of the CBS game show “The Price Is Right” with three more game-show adaptations: Family Feud, Press Your Luck and an expanded new The Price Is Right 2010. Feud features a detailed rendering of the actual game show set, and actual surveys used by the TV show. You play in either single player or party mode against 12 sets of opponents, with a new family unlocked each time you win the game. Also included is a handy gameplay feature: a time-saving type-ahead system that anticipates your answers based on the first two letters you click on the onscreen keyboard. There’s also a very detailed character customization feature, which allows you to select a large array of attributes for your icon, all the way down to eyeglasses and accessories. In The Price Is Right 2010, the changes made to the set when Drew Carey took over for long-time host Bob Barker in the TV version are reflected in the video game, and the number of pricing minigames has been doubled from 16 to 32 of the 70 or so that are used on the TV show. Press Your Luck was not on display at the event, but no doubt fans of the Whammy will be pleased with the video-game home version of the classic TV game show. All three of the games will be available in Q3 2009 on the PC, the Wii and the DS.
Ubisoft has a strong lineup to compete for your holiday/early spring gaming dollars. From their major E3 centerpieces (Splinter Cell: Conviction, Assassin’s Creed II and Avatar) to exciting but lesser-known releases (CSI: Deadly Intent and R.U.S.E.), the publisher is offering a wide variety of games that cater to a significant cross-section of gaming styles. If the other publishers respond with offerings of similar quality and diversity, the holiday season and the early months of 2010 figure to be tough for gamers with recession-depleted discretionary income. So start filling those piggy banks now, kids, and try to stay on Santa’s nice list.
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