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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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E3 2001 - UbiSoft console

Preview - after a big round-up of PC titles, we fix our attention on UbiSoft's console endeavours

UbiSoft's bumper E3 line-up included a number of PC titles, but the company has is also developing and publishing several titles on console systems, including PlayStation 2, Dreamcast and GameBoy Advance. Key business acquisitions have helped to increase the number of A+ titles in the works, and with big brand names like Rogue Spear and Batman amongst those on display, we're expecting big things from UbiSoft in 2001/2. If you missed the PC line-up, that feature can be found here. Today, we focus on the consoles.

Batman: Vengeance

Although you may have missed it, DC Comics' Batman recently won an Emmy for "The New Adventures of Batman", a children's cartoon series shown on satellite television in this country. The game of the same, developed in-house at UbiSoft's studios in New York and Montreal, the game adopts the New Adventures' persona with a brand new story line, scripted exclusively for the game. Neversoft have already demonstrated that comic-to-console conversions work with the PlayStation version of Spider-Man, and now UbiSoft hope to emulate their success with "Batman: Vengeance". From the video footage we've seen, the game does actually look quite similar to Spider-Man, but with a strong cinematic edge. More than just a game for the nippers, Batman: Vengeance looks like an exciting adventure for any fan of the comic. The story goes something like this. During a struggle, The Joker finally met his maker, falling from a bridge in the centre of Gotham to his death. With a gaping hole to fill in the City's crime underbelly, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, Harley Quinn and more move in to try and take over. Every device in the Batman arsenal will be required to overcome them, and uncover a nefarious plot against the winged avenger. As one would hope, the Batmobile and other Batvehicles are at your disposal, and all rendered in beautiful three dimensions by the PlayStation 2's Emotion Engine. Technically speaking Batman: Vengeance is a colour-by-numbers action title, with 22 action levels interspersed by cinematics (over 30 minutes of them!) and not an annoying Chris O'Donnell character in sight! In fact the only celebrity involved with the project seems to be Luke Skywalker [don't you mean Mark Hamill? - Ed], who will play the voice of The Joker, before he meets his not-untimely end. Batman: Vengeance is also due out on GameBoy Advance. The PlayStation 2 version though, will hit store shelves later this year.

Evil Twin

Developer In Utero (isn't that quite rude?) and publisher UbiSoft have now taken the lid off console and PC adventure title "Evil Twin". In a fantasy world that swings between good and evil, the game sends you in search of your inner self, apparently. You embody outraged youngster Cyprien and his ultra-powerful double, Super Cyprien. You must confront your own demons to overcome the great Evil of the fractured world Undabed. From the text: "On your birthday, which coincides with the anniversary of your parents' death, driven by anger, you curse the world around you. Suddenly you find yourself in a strange, ruined world, in parallel to the one you know. You will have to rebuild this world and confront beings in the form of your friends, perverted by their most horrible faults." It sounds… psychedelic. Apparently inspired by the likes of Tim Burton, Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens, the game will try and carry on the "this is f****ed up" sub-genre American McGee's Alice gave birth to last year. A huge game, with 76 levels set across eight worlds and a stirring original musical score, the game also looks quite beautiful, set in a magnificently detailed 3D world, with a surreal edge to it. We're spooked by it, and imagine we will remain so when it's released on PC and PlayStation 2 in September.

Rayman M

If there's one character we'll keep coming back to from system to system, it's Rayman. After superb outings last year on GameBoy Color and Dreamcast, we can't wait to see what UbiSoft have in store for him this year. First up is a PlayStation 2 and PC title, "Rayman M". Instead of a linear action/adventure title, developers at UbiSoft are giving fans the chance to take up the mantel of Rayman, Globox or even the Teensies and go at it in gladiatorial combat! Up to 4 players have to choose between 8 characters and enter one of two very different worlds: Race Mode or Battle Mode. The Race mode is a footrace through the Rayman world, with typically obscure tracks. Think Crash Bandicoot on some sort of narcotic. Short cuts, booby traps, and such must be negotiated to come out on top. This is the first foot-racing game of any description we can remember that isn't associated with some sort of absurd summer sporting event, and for that we commend UbiSoft. Battle mode sounds even more exciting. The best likeness we could imagine was dodgeball. Except you're trying to knock coloured orbs out of the dodgers' hands. The orbs, or "lums", need to be obtained without loss to win, and power-ups, yet more booby traps and special projectiles will make things more difficult for the collector. It's an interesting design brief, and hopefully it will catch on in the same way that Super Smash Bros. did on the N64. We certainly applaud UbiSoft for trying to break new ground with a familiar brand.

Rayman Advance

A slightly more traditional Rayman adventure comes courtesy of this GameBoy Advance launch title. Due out on June 22nd, "Rayman Advance" runs at 60 frames per second, and will be a hallmark platform title amongst the early GBA releases. At the outset, players will have no powers, but one singular objective - to topple the evil Mr. Dark, who has destroyed the harmony of the world by stealing the Great Protoon energy source and defeating its protector, Betilla the Fairy. The Electoons, which used to gravitate peacefully around this nucleus, have been captured and imprisoned, creating a colorfully off-kilter land, filled with freaky critters and hostile characters. It sounds like classic Rayman action. We've also been privy to exclusive E3 footage of the eclectic platformer, and we can't wait to play it. Colourful and exciting, it'll be one for the platform fan in all of us. In fact, sod the kids, I deserve this more than them! In total, the game will feature 62 levels set on six worlds, and the ultimate objective is to overcome Mr. Dark, while growing more and more powerful as you progress against bosses like Space Mama and Moskito. We'll certainly be waiting at the head of the line to find out how this one turns out.

Grandia II

One of the best Dreamcast RPGs of the year so far, "Grandia II" took us nearly 40 hours to complete, and although the ending dragged on a little, we found it hard to prise the joypad out of our hands on more than one occasion when nature, the door or the burning dinner called. The new PlayStation 2 version, under development at GameArts, is due out sometime this summer, and is just part of UbiSoft's RPG Platinum library. If you missed our review, the game is about good and evil, and overcoming the evil Valmur, who wants to steal away the Light of Hope. It's been 10,000 years since the original battle of Light and Darkness, and Granus, the Light side of the equation, is nowhere to be seen. Only a young Geohound and a whole lot of love can save the world now. The PlayStation 2 version is a straight translation, but owners of the console will be thrilled to receive it. A PC version is also said to be in the works.

Rogue Spear

Finally, UbiSoft also have next generation versions of "Rogue Spear" to show off on GameBoy Advance and PlayStation 2. Trying to emulate the original PC version as closely as possible, Rogue Spear, particularly on the PS2, has been a highly anticipated franchise. Although it looks a little bit long in the tooth, Rogue Spear is classic sneak 'em up action, and finally gives fans of realistic combat something to get stuck into. There isn't much information on whether the control system has been simplified, but judged purely on the E3 video we saw last week, the game retains everything that made it so popular on the PC, including the extensive mission briefings and exotic anti-terrorist campaigns. There are a few new additions though. Improved artificial intelligence, a smattering of new missions and even new weapons mean that when your carefully choreographed team of special forces agents shift their motion captured butts into enemy territory, it's going to take more than a vague recollection of Rainbow Six etiquette to overcome the odds. The idea is that recent real-life combat converts fresh from Counter-Strike training can find some fun in the classic Rainbow Six series, and even (some would say in particular) fans of the original games can get some enjoyment out of these new titles. The GameBoy Advance version is shaping up to be a top-down two dimensional adventure, and we'll be very interested to see how that pans out in the long run.

Tom & Jerry versus E.T.

Along with Batman: Vengeance, UbiSoft has also extended a previous arrangement with NewKidCo. International Inc. to produce games based on E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Tom & Jerry for all PAL countries. The agreement means young gamers (and parents looking to shut them up) can initially look forward to getting hold of four E.T. titles and presumably a few Tom & Jerry ones too. The E.T. games are "Interplanetary Adventure", "Digital Planner", "Escape from Planet Earth" and "ET and the Cosmic Garden", which just about cover every interest for the youngsters. The first of those, Interplanetary Adventure is a PSOne title due out in November of this year. ET is sent to various planets across the galaxy to deal with environmental emergencies threatening each one's existence. The second, Digital Planner is more of a PDA idea than anything, but quite an interesting concept. Due out on GameBoy Color rather than Advance, again in November, Digital Planner will combine PDA features (unspecified) with animation, music, pictures, puzzles and other simplified fun. The aim is presumably to let kids feel that Mum and Dad aren't the only ones with those new fangled Palm Pilots. The third game is the first one that actually involves getting ET to phone home! Another GBC title, Escape from Planet Earth involves the adventurous quest to build a transmitter to contact home. The necessary parts won't be too hard to find, but the objective will probably be to do so without alerting anybody to your presence. Finally, ET and the Cosmic Garden is a space-age adventure game set in a botanical laboratory. ET's in charge, and has to make sure the garden doesn't fall foul to visitors, mechanical failures and such. We have two thoughts on this. Firstly, it sounds like the GBC version of Fawlty Towers. Secondly, it reminds us (although somewhat obscurely) of an old Super Nintendo classic, Firemen, which involved a fairly boring job (putting out fires) and nonetheless proved very addictive. Maintaining an alien ecosystem sounds like the sort of game that girls (we're guessing that's the aim here) and budding gardeners might fancy.


Grandia II Dreamcast Review

Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear PC Review

Rayman 2 Dreamcast Review