Highlights from Ubisoft’s 2009 E3 Booth

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Despite the Ubisoft’s snooze-inducing press conference this year (James Cameron can talk), the company’s core titles actually managed to get our blood pumping as we made our way around its massive show space at E3. Let’s run over a few of our favorite titles.

Ubisoft has once again injected some convoluted back story about time machines and other nonsense into Assassin’s Creed II, but here’s the distilled version of it: You get to run around in renaissance-era Venice as a cloaked assassin with dual hidden blades killing corrupt nobles. The demo we saw had the main character Ezio hopping in a Da-Vinci-built flying machine, soaring all over Venice in true sandbox style, knocking down guards from his plane, then ditching it on top of a palace and dropping a slew of guards to get to a ruler, who he handily and unceremoniously dispatched with both blades. Fans of the original game will also note that the city this time around is as big or bigger than the last game’s, and has been more distinctly divided into districts to eliminate the monotony some players complained of last time around.

If cocktail games and rearranging photos with two hands with Microsoft’s Surface computer didn’t impress you when it first debuted, watching Ruse in action on the big screen with two hands flailing is likely to do the trick. Though it’s eventually slated to come out on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, the Surface demo version definitely drew a crowd. The real-time strategy game set in WWII gives you a bird’s eye of the action as you drag tanks and planes around a board, but sets itself apart by allowing you to zoom seamlessly to leaf-on-a-tree detail level at any point to view action on the ground. According to Ubisoft, it’s one of the first games to feature not millions, but billions of polygons on screen at the same time, accounting for the unbelievable scalability and detail. Making good on its namesake, you’ll also be able to deploy various ruses, like decoys, to trick the enemy.

Ubisoft clearly had Grand Theft Auto in mind when cracking away on COP: The Recruit, but the lack of originality doesn’t make it any less fun. Rather than playing as hardboiled criminals, players assume the role of a rookie cop who goes around shooting up criminals and commandeering cars in a sandbox-style New York City. The DS touch screen makes running and shooting feel almost as intuitive as a mouse and keyboard, and a well-built game engine keeps the gears spinning away at 60 frames per second even when the action goes down. And with six square miles of city to explore and 60 different missions, we suspect it should be good for some major play time.