After Microsoft's stunningly dull conference, which Edge called "One of the most contemptuous in E3 history", all eyes were on Sony to see if they could make more of an impression. First up though was the software-focused double whammy of EA and Ubisoft, and the hope that either of them would deliver something surprising.
EA kicked off their conference in promising style, with a video of the upcoming Dead Space 3 showing off a new co-op mode. However it seemed to have taken a disappointing step away from the horror of the previous games, in favour of a more action-packed "marines in space" style of gameplay. There was also the news that EA had gained the licence to publish UFC games from troubled publisher THQ, who today laid off all the staff from their San Diego office.This was followed by announcements of the usual updates for their various sports franchises, as the audience began to lull.
However interest was piqued with the mention of two new SimCity games to be released within the next year; one a dedicated sequel in the style of previous games, the other a more casual version that will be played through Facebook. It is an open statement of intent to rival developers Zynga, whose dominance of the social games scene has clearly caught EA's attention. Some stonking demo footage of the new Need For Speed followed, with developer Criterion clearly steering the series in the direction of Burnout, and that was your lot. Another slightly disappointing conference out of the way, and it was up to Ubisoft to pull off something interesting.
After an opening dance sequence far too reminiscent of Usher's wailing at the Microsoft event, some truly hateful opening banter between the two chirpy presenters, Ubisoft piled straight into an impressive demo of Far Cry 3. Despite the bizarre focus on bad CGI boobs and tiger killing it was a visually lush presentation, and *smirk* a far-cry from the various brown and grey shooters we'd been treated to thus far. A brief demo for a strangely late to the party Averngers game followed, before we were treated to a look at Rayman Legends running on the Wii U.
Visually it was as lush as could be hoped for, with slightly meatier 3D models replacing the flat toon stylings of Origins without losing any of the charm. It gave a good account of the Wii U's capabilities, and showed off the use of the new gamepad in a 5-player co-op mode. A new character is controlled through the touchscreen on the pad, helping the other four through various puzzles and set pieces. It was nice to see something running on the hardware, and it increased anticipation for Nintendo's own conference.
They followed up with another Wii U demo, this time for the laughably named ZombiU, which clearly owed its existence to the acclaimed Dead Island trailer from last year. After more joyous bickering between our presenters, Ubisoft rolled out the long-awaited gameplay footage from Assasins Creed III. Everything was impressively fluid as we watched the protagonist batter into some innocent deer, a few wolves, and several English soldiers with suitable gusto.
A strange battle of the sexes followed, with the world's hottest pro-gamers competing in a confusing game of something called Shoot Mania, which Ubi seemed to be pushing as a sort of e-sports title. And just as you were hoping that someone would beat the presenters to death with a sock full of pennies, Ubisoft went and stole the bloody show with the demo of their new IP, Watch Dogs.
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, and clearly influenced by their superb Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Watch Dogs puts you in the shoes of a Laughing Man style hacker who can influence various bits of electronic equipment around him. The video shows him infiltrating an exclusive club to assassinate a target, done by jamming phone signals, hacking data about associates, and messing with traffic lights to cause a car crash. Taking elements from Deus Ex, Hitman, and other sources like Ghost in the Shell, it's safe to say that the demo blew almost everyone away. See for yourself.
While question marks will remain over where the line between freedom and set piece is drawn, and just what hardware it's running on, there's no doubt that Watch Dogs was easily the most impressive thing seen at the conference so far. There's obviously a lot to be said for interesting new IP in an era of endless sequels and re-releases, and it was the perfect way for Ubisoft to end their conference. Whether Sony could produce anything to rival that was up for debate, but hopes were running high again.