It makes great use of the Switch’s hardware innovations, but not bundling 1-2-Switch with the console means few people will play it
Milk a cow, make a baby go to sleep, strut, shoot, feel some balls, eat a giant sandwich… 1-2-Switch has got it all. While Zelda: Breath of the Wild is stealing the headlines, Nintendo’s curious mini-game collection is, arguably, a better demonstration of the Nintendo Switch hardware. And it’s great fun. For a bit. If you’re drunk.
There are 28 mini-games to get to grips with, nearly all of which are played by looking at your opponent, not the screen. The games have a feeling of WarioWare: Smooth Moves about them, but the cartoon characters have been replaced with human actors gyrating in brightly-coloured rooms. Nearly all the games require little explanation: in Shave you have to shave your face using the Joy-Con; in Ball Count you have to count the number of balls in the Joy-Con, a sensation ingeniously created using the controller’s HD rumble feature; in Wizard you have to battle your opponent by casting spells; in Dance Off, you dance.
As with WarioWare, the genius of 1-2-Switch is in the glorious incongruity of its mini-games. Staring into the eyes of a friend while miming milking a cow will always make you laugh. Then there’s Baby, where you’re tasked with putting a baby, apparently trapped in the Nintendo Switch’s portable screen, to sleep. Rock it in your arms and set it down on a flat surface just right to win. It’s odd. But it’s also very good. Table tennis, where you stand facing your opponent and thwack a virtual ball back and forth based on sound alone, is exceptionally fun. As is baseball, where pitcher and batter duke it out in a ninth-innings showdown.
Nearly all the games make use of the Nintendo Switch’s innovative hardware in one way or another. Eating Contest, where you have to chomp your way through as many virtual sandwiches as possible before the time runs out, uses the right Joy-Con’s infrared sensor to work out when your mouth opens and closes. The quicker you chomp, the faster you get through the pile of sandwiches. But where Nintendo takes this kind of innovation next will be the real test of the hardware.
Most people will get a couple of hours of fun out of 1-2-Switch, but that’s it. Then, like so many party games, it will sit gathering dust until you’ve next got a house full of people, a bottle full of gin and a fridge full of tonic. This is an excellent party game and one quite unlike any that has come before.
Yet the game’s biggest fault is more to do with how it’s sold. For all Nintendo’s protestations, 1-2-Switch absolutely should have been bundled with the Nintendo Switch. It’s an excellent demonstration of the hardware and the sort of game that could be chucked on when you’ve got friends over and want to show them what the console is all about. Instead, you’ll have to fork out £35 for a limited, albeit fun, tech demo.
AI has a new task: helping to keep the bugs out of video games.
At the recent Ubisoft Developer Conference in Montreal, the French gaming company unveiled a new AI assistant for its developers. Dubbed Commit Assistant, the goal of the AI system is to catch bugs before they’re ever committed into code, saving developers time and reducing the number of flaws that make it into a game before release.
“I think like many good ideas, it’s like ‘how come we didn’t think about that before?’,” says Yves Jacquier, who heads up La Forge, Ubisoft’s R&D division in Montreal. His department partners with local universities including McGill and Concordia to collaborate on research intended to advance the field of artificial intelligence as a whole, not just within the industry.
La Forge fed Commit Assistant with roughly ten years’ worth of code from across Ubisoft’s software library, allowing it to learn where mistakes have historically been made, reference any corrections that were applied, and predict when a coder may be about to write a similar bug. “It’s all about comparing the lines of code we’ve created in the past, the bugs that were created in them, and the bugs that were corrected, and finding a way to make links [between them] to provide us with a super-AI for programmers,” explains Jacquier.
Ubisoft hopes that Commit Assistant will cut down on one of the most expensive and labour-intensive aspects of game design. The company says that eliminating bugs during the development phase requires massive teams and can absorb as much as 70 per cent of costs. But offloading the bug-killing process to AI, even partially, isn’t without its own challenges. “You need a tremendous amount of data, but also a tremendous amount of power to crunch the data and all the mathematical methods,” he says. “That [allows] the AI to make that prediction with enough accuracy so that the developer trusts the recommendation.”
It’s still early days – Ubisoft is “only starting to pollinate” Commit Assistant to its development teams and, so far, there’s no usage data on how much it’s impacting game creation. There’s also the human factor to account for: Will developers want an AI poking through their code and effectively saying “you’re doing it wrong”?
“The most important part, in terms of change management, is just to make sure that you take people on board to show them that you’re totally transparent with what you’re doing with AI – what it can do, the way you get the data,” says Jacquier. “The fact that when you show a programmer statistics that say ‘hey, apparently you’re making a bug!’, you want him or her [to realise] that it’s a tool to help and go faster. The way we envisage AI for such systems is really an enabler. If you don’t want to use that, fine, don’t use it. It’s just another tool.”
Ubisoft is working on other AI applications beyond Commit Assistant, though Jacquier emphasises that it is only currently useful in dealing with very specific individual tasks – like getting virtual agents to avoid walking into each other. “AI so far is very good at making decisions on very narrow topics, like Alpha Go,” he says. (AlphaGo is the AI system from DeepMind that beat top Go player Ke Jie at the notoriously complex board game in May 2017.)
“We’ll see in the future more and more examples where this works, but in reality, [something like] a self-driving car, you won’t see in our streets probably until 20 years from now,” he says. “Simply because all those self-driving cars would have to avoid other automated vehicles, pedestrians, old-school cars driven by real humans, and rogue factors like wildlife wandering onto roads.”
But improving AI in gaming could help solve some of these real-world problems. Olivier Delalleau, an AI programmer at Ubisoft, spoke at UDC about autonomous driving in Watch Dogs 2. Using an example of a non-player-controlled car driving around the game’s virtual San Francisco, Delalleau showed how, initially, it would more often careen out of control when taking corners. The car was programmed with the goal of reaching a destination or looping the streets, providing visual flavour to the game world.
“[We found] cars never braked, because they didn’t find it was a good solution,” Delalleau says. As a result, it didn’t learn to brake. “It’s pretty difficult [for an AI] to learn to brake, because it [doesn’t see it as] a good solution most of the time. You need to help it find that it is a good solution.”
Delalleau used reinforcement learning, a form of machine learning, to help the AI learn this skill. Ubisoft provided thousands of examples of braking when driving, and the system learned that it could achieve its goals more efficiently by following the rules of the digital road. The outcome was that the AI cars began taking corners more slowly. This made Watch Dogs 2’s representation of San Francisco more realistic and reduced random crashes.
Jacquier believes that similar work could help inform AI systems with real-world applications, such as driverless cars. “In terms of ethics, I think that actually the games industry can help,” Jacquier says. “When you’re wondering how an autonomous car will behave in a situation that involves pedestrians or other cars, it’s like the Trolley Problem. That’s something you wouldn’t be able to test in real life, either for moral reasons or cost in some situations. But maybe you can have some fair answers by simulating that in a video game environment, and see how your AI would behave.”
Other areas in which Ubisoft is using AI include non-player characters (NPCs). In the upcoming Far Cry 5, Ubisoft has implemented a virtualised version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – the psychological theory of motivating factors for human behaviour – for NPC characters. This gives in-game agents motivations for their actions, and is modeled largely on the self-preservation strata of Maslow’s pyramid.
When a player encounters a non-player character in Far Cry 5, two systems are at work: trust and morale. If you raise your weapon at someone you’ve never met before, they will react with distrust or fear, warning you to lower your gun. If the NPC recognises a lingering threat from you, it will launch an attack of its own, fearing for its own ‘life’. When facing a group of enemies, as you pick off members of a gang, individual foes may realise they’re outclassed and lose their thirst for combat, and attempt to flee as they sees their ‘friends’ taken out. Elsewhere, animal companions will respond to player activity, cowing close to the ground unprompted when you crouch into stealth, for instance. It’s the sort of work that adds depth and realism to the world.
In future, tools such as Commit Assistant could spread beyond the confines of Ubisoft. La Forge developed the AI in conjunction with the University of Concordia and published academic papers on how it works. “If someone else wants to implement this kind of method, it’s totally possible to do that by getting those articles, which are public,” says Jacquier.
The system wouldn’t be of use to all developers though. It very much thrives in a ‘big data’ environment with near countless examples of what not to do to feed it as a guide. That restriction, for now, renders it uniquely beneficial to big-budget studios.
But if Ubisoft’s artificial baby matures as is expected, the pay-off for players could be significant – it could mean fewer release dates are pushed back for bug fixes and fewer bugs end up in the finished product. Meanwhile, it could free developers to focus their attentions on improving other aspects of the game. Perhaps best of all, if everything goes according to plan, you’ll never even notice.
I’d grown to be a young woman, the last in my tribe, tasked with running to the ponds for water to keep our crops alive. I’d just returned from one of these long errands when my ageing mother took me aside to tell me that only by raising my children could we ensure the tribe’s future.
Just then, I spawned my first child. Unfortunately, I was carrying no food, and the hunger that had gnawed at me as we spoke was to be my undoing: as I picked up my child to nurse them for the first time, the extra energy expenditure tipped me over the edge of starvation. Within seconds, I was dead. I only hope that my mother was somehow able to save my daughter.
Developer Jason Rohrer, known for experimental and art games including Passage, The Castle Doctrine and Chain World, calls One Hour One Life his “love letter to human civilization”. Aptly described as “a multiplayer game of parenting and civilization building”, it may be his least abstract and most approachable game to date.
In the game, you start life as the helpless infant of another player, entirely dependent on them to nurse and care for you. Over the next few minutes, you’ll grow into a weak but independent child, able to help your community. With luck and cooperation, you’ll survive to have children of your own, becoming one link in a generational chain.
The game world on the server is persistent, but your character and their life are unique. Every time you die and respawn, you do so as an entirely new, randomly-generated person. You can communicate with other players via a text box, which allows you to type just one or two characters when you’re a baby, before expanding to allow full, if brusque, sentences as you grow to adulthood.
One Hour One Life‘s difficulty curve can be punishing on an emotional level as well as a technical one. But it’s also rewarding – I felt genuine pride when I learned where to find fertile soil to plant our fields or how to crush a gooseberry with a flint chip to produce a seed that would, in time, give us a bush to provide dozens of berries.
The importance of cooperation and mutual aid in the game rapidly becomes apparent. Although there are built-in tips on what you can do with any given object, it is other players who provide the hands-on lessons in survival. It’s only because of my fellow players that I learned that sitting by a fire would dramatically reduce my energy expenditure; that dying brown fruit bushes could be restored with water, and that leaving one row of carrots to flower produces seed for the next planting.
Solo foraging can keep you alive for a while, but to establish a safe home and food supply for yourself and your descendants, you’ll need to farm, build and hunt, and that requires more than one pair of hands.
Women are uniquely important in One Hour One Life, as only women – without the involvement of any men – can have children. This design choice is a reflection of the Rohrer’s own views. “Every woman in the world is at the end of a chain of women who had at least one daughter, going back for 400 million years like endlessly nesting matryoshka dolls,” he says. “Women are the branches of the human family tree, where men are just the leaves.”
In One Hour One Life, the disproportionate importance of women, and thus female children, in sustaining your tribe through multiple generations leads to its own emergent gameplay. When times are hard, it’s not uncommon for male babies in particular to be rejected and left to starve by a mother who has only enough food resources to sustain one, while more sentimental players may struggle and die in a vain attempt to keep multiple offspring alive against all odds.
If you live past infancy, the game can be easier to play if you spawn as a male child. Once weaned, you can survive on your own and try to learn and help your community as best you can, but your mistakes are less likely to result in someone else’s death than if you were a woman. But, as Rohrer points out: “As a male character in this game, you feel your lack of importance acutely. If you wander off into the woods, you can live out the rest of your life, but you will do it absolutely alone, with no means of bringing other players into the game to join you.”
If the game’s design and mechanics lend themselves to matriarchies, they are also arguably rather bioessentialist (although not heteronormative – the most common family structure I’ve seen while playing the game has been centred around two or more women). Although the ability to spawn new players is unique to female-coded characters, Rohrer says that gender-coded behaviours, clothing and performance aren’t linked to sexual attributes. “There are two biological sexes in the game, but there are as many genders as people want to play,” he says. “After all, in this game, you are often tasked with playing a character who does not match the gender you identify with in real life.”
Not all women will be fertile, either: “It all depends on the flow of players into the game, and the way the child placement algorithms shake out.” However, he emphasises, “this is not a game about player customization. It’s about playing a character in a unique situation in each and every life.”
One Hour One Life is free and open source, but the game is primarily played on Rohrer’s own game server, for which you’ll have to pay $20 to get lifetime server access and support. When you sign up, you’re sent a unique login key, along with a download link to clients for Windows, macOS and Linux, plus the full source code and Linux server source code that you’ll need if you want to run your own private game server.
The game and its community are at times reminiscent of the early days of Minecraft, sharing tips, support and discussion on the official forums, a crafting recipe wiki and a review board, where players have taken to telling their characters’ stories.
The game can be tough, particularly while you’re learning your way around, and especially if earlier players have pillaged the resources of the area you spawn in. Childhood is difficult to survive and, if you’re an Eve – a reproductively mature woman spawned ex nihilo to balance user numbers – you’re at the mercy of both the environment and the needs of your potential brood of offspring.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its challenges, One Hour One Life‘s gameplay keeps dragging you back, while characters’ limited lifespans lend themselves to casual play.
All survival games are ultimately about forging your own story, but the interdependent community aspect of One Hour One Life means that the stories you create are intimate, complex and multidimensional in ways that few other games approach. Here, the pain of losing a family member and the joy of raising a child to adulthood are recreated in a moving microcosm of the human condition.
It’s already shaping up to be a strong year for gaming, with many highly-anticipated games already out or set for release later this year. Here’s WIRED’s month-by-month guide to the best games of the year and the most exciting upcoming game releases still to come.
The best games released in January
Monster Hunter: World
The Monster Hunter series has finally got the mainstream acclaim in the west that it deserves with Monster Hunter: World. Capcom’s RPG series has made giant steps in progress by opening up its world and polishing its mechanics, while keeping the central loop of hunting monsters to get better gear to then hunter bigger monsters more engaging than ever before. It’s easy to lose dozens of hours stalking the New World for dangerous prey, whether you are an existing fan or a newcomer to the franchise. Out on PS4 and Xbox One, with PC due later this year.
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Helmed by Arc System Works, creators of the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series, Dragon Ball FighterZ adds the anime’s well-loved characters into an approachable fighting system, and bursts with details and references from the show that fans will love.
It also contains a three-part campaign made in association with DB:Z creator Akira Toriyama for story fans and in-depth tutorials and training modes for beginners. Meanwhile, fighting game veterans can dive straight into arcade or multiplayer modes. Available on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
A one-man production eight years in the making, Konjak’s Iconoclasts is a 2D adventure with beautiful pixel art and a mix of combat, bosses and puzzles. Inspired by games like Metroid and Castlevania with their branching paths and variety of weapons and tools, the game pays homage to its predecessors while also building on their legacy. With a fleshed-out story of rebellion and a warm sense of humour, it shows how this well-defined genre still has potential for growth today. On PS4 and PC.
The best games in February
Shadow of the Colossus
Team Ico’s giant-slaying classic from the Playstation 2 has been given a refresh for the PS4, courtesy of Bluepoint Games. In order to resurrect a cursed maiden, the player must roam the Forbidden Lands and defeat all 16 bosses who inhabit it, each encounter part-environmental-puzzle and part-combat-challenge. It’s just as mysterious and fun to play as the original, but now looking better than ever. Available on PS4.
Into the Breach
From Subset Games, the creators of space-roaming rogue-like FTL: Faster than Light, comes another randomly-generated strategy adventure. Now piloting mechs instead of starships, you will face off against giant monsters in fast, turn-based skirmishes for the fate of the planet. When your likely defeat comes knocking, simply travel back in time to try the turn again, or send one of your pilots back to the start of the campaign to help you win the next time. Available on PC.
Night in the Woods
The Nintendo Switch has been doing some catching up in February, including ports of platformer Owlboy, spectacle fighters Bayonetta 1 and 2, and Infinite Fall’s Night in the Woods. As college dropout Mae, you explore your now unfamiliar home town and reunite with your old friends to find a missing person. While a platformer mechanically, the heart of the game is really its cast of well-rounded characters and the struggles they face in their lives. New on Nintendo Switch; also available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
Upcoming Games in 2018
Now we’ve dealt with the best games of 2018 so far, here are the games you can look forward to in the coming months.
Sea of Thieves
Rare’s multiplayer loot-hunter is shaping up to be great fun (if you have the right crew, at least), as you set sail to become a pirate legend in the heart of the Caribbean. Set to allow complete freedom as you hunt treasure, attack rival crews, or simply explore, it’s going to be a cruise to remember. Due out 20 March for Xbox One and Windows 10 PC.
Far Cry 5
After Far Cry 4 felt like a redux of the third instalment, it’s promising to see an energy and boldness around Ubisoft’s fifth instalment in the open-world action series. Not dodging controversy, Far Cry 5 takes players to the USA for the first time, and focuses on your efforts to liberate the town of Hope County in Montana from a cult of religious extremists. Alongside Far Cry staples including free exploration, dozens of vehicles, and countless weapons, you’ll now be able to recruit Hope County’s residents to aid your rebellion. Due out 27 March for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Announced back in 2014 with some ambitious claims of how it would utilise Xbox One’s features – cloud computing for more advanced physics, an entirely destructible world, a free unicorn (that last one’s a lie) – 2018 looks like it might finally be the year that Crackdown returns. The series has always been one of the Xbox family’s best exclusives, with hi-tech agents using incredible arsenals to blast their surroundings to pieces with abandon, and this looks to continue the tradition – just on a grander scale. Due out Spring 2018 for Xbox One and Windows 10 PC.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Rockstar Games finally deliver one of the most requested sequels of all time in this breathtaking open world western. Seemingly set to offer a twist on The Magnificent Seven, players will take on the identity of outlaw Arthur Morgan and partner with the Van der Linde gang to make their mark on the American frontier. Expect a lengthy story campaign set before 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, but the real revelation could be the (still-undetailed) online features – Rockstar has had several years of Grand Theft Auto Online to prepare for whatever cowboy delights they unleash here. Due out Spring 2018 for PS4 and Xbox One.
Kingdom Hearts III
After twelve years, almost a dozen spin-off games, and an entire console generation, the third ‘full’ Kingdom Hearts game is set to arrive this year. The story picks up with Sora, Donald, and Goofy searching for seven “guardians of light” in order to face down the series’ arch-villain, Master Xehanort – which may sound like nonsense to the uninitiated, but trust us, it’s a big deal. With more Disney worlds to explore than ever, including new additions based on Toy Story, Big Hero 6, and Tangled, and a story that ties together literally decades of plot threads, this is going to be one of the biggest JRPGs of the year. Due out 2018, for PS4.
Nintendo has been relatively quiet about its 2018 plans so far, but one of its more charming releases will be the latest platform adventure for Mario’s egg-gobbling dino chum. Taking on a papercraft style – similar to how Yoshi’s Woolly World was based on crochet puppets – players will guide Yoshi through a host of layered worlds. The twist seems to be that you’ll be able to affect fore- or background elements at will. Certain to be adorable, but also far tougher than it looks. Due out 2018, for Nintendo Switch.
God of War
Sony’s ode to deicide is also set to return this year, but while this is a sequel to Greek warrior Kratos’ god-slaying sprees of yore, it also serves as a soft reboot for the series. Now set in the frozen climes of northern Europe, this will see Kratos as a father, guiding his son Atreus to adulthood while facing the monsters and gods of Norse myth. Expect more of an RPG edge than in past instalments too, as well as Kratos swapping his iconic chained blades for the new, elementally powered Leviathan Axe.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
Still one of Japan’s biggest RPG series, the latest chapter in the storied Dragon Quest franchise launched last summer in its homeland. The western release, later this year, is quite a big deal though, as Dragon Quest X never left Japan. Echoes of an Elusive Age features a player-created hero setting out on a journey after discovering he’s the reincarnation of a legendary warrior. Available on PS4 and 3DS in Japan, with gameplay differences between the formats, hopefully both versions will make it westward. Due out 2018, for PS4 and Nintendo 3DS, with a Nintendo Switch version to follow.
From MediaMolecule – developers of LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway – comes this truly magical looking sandbox title. Controlling an imp, you’ll create and explore entire worlds, all drawn from the raw imagination of, well, dreams. A guided campaign is joined by one of the most comprehensive creation toolkits we’ve seen, and players will be able to share their efforts online. This could be very special. Due out 2018, for PS4.
The witch is back, in the latest hyper-stylish action shooter from PlatinumGames. The series has proven equal parts weird, imaginative, and unashamedly sexy, but always delivered some of the most polished gunplay around. Little is known about the third instalment yet – and we might be being optimistic on it landing in 2018 – but this will surely be a treat whenever it lands. Due out 2018, for Nintendo Switch.
The next instalment of the popular franchise shows the infinite possibilities for eye mechanics in gaming and real life
By Dr Eduardo Velloso, Research Fellow, Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces, University of Melbourne
Adam Jensen is a security guard whose body is fused with machines that enhance his capabilities: prosthetic arms and legs that make him stronger and faster and eyes that see at night.
He’s the central figure in the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the highly-anticipated next instalment of the Deus Ex franchise, which brings players into the dystopian future where human augmentation is a reality.
But what makes Mankind Divided unique is that it’s not only Jensen’s eyes that are augmented, but also the player’s. It makes this game one of the first big titles to support eye tracking game mechanics.
In the game, players who have an eye tracker can aim with their eyes to fire or punch enemies. Looking at the edges of the screen causes the camera to pan, giving players a natural way of exploring this fantastic universe. Eye tracking also allows the game interface (e.g. health bar) to disappear into the background and only appear when players look at the corresponding area of the screen. This removal of elements that do not belong in the game world can create a more immersive gameplay experience.
Mankind Divided was released in Australia on August 23.
Traditionally, eye trackers have been used to monitor a player’s gaze as a way for the developers to know whether players are looking at the right things at the right times. Now they can also be used as a game controller. Previously confined to research labs, eye trackers once cost tens of thousands of dollars, but can now be purchased for a few hundred dollars. Under the bonnet, these devices are little more than a combination of infra-red LEDs and cameras, but they offer a huge potential for creating novel game experiences.
Our research has been exploring exactly what these experiences can be. In October, we will present a conference paper at the Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play (CHI Play) where we catalogue the eye-enabled game mechanics that have been explored in industry and academia so far.
We identified five big categories of mechanics.
Navigation (e.g. using your eyes to determine where your character moves to)
Aiming & Shooting (e.g. aiming your weapon with your eyes and shooting by clicking with the mouse)
Selection & Commands (e.g. using your eyes to pick up objects in the game)
Implicit Interaction (e.g. adapting the artificial intelligence of the game depending on where you look), and
Visual Effects (e.g. changing how the game world looks according to how you observe it).
Our research also found the kinds of mechanics that take input from the eyes are evolving with time. In the beginning, due to the high cost of the eye tracking equipment, games often just used the gaze position as a substitute for the mouse.
Now, we are starting to see a second wave of games, where eye tracking is an optional feature, not essential to the core gameplay, but that offer additional features to players who own an eye tracker.
As eye tracking gains popularity, we expect to see a third wave of games in which the eyes play a central role in the game, with mechanics that could not have been achieved with a different body part.
Eye tracking is also particularly interesting for Virtual Reality. Many eye tracking manufacturers already offer ways of incorporating their devices into current VR headsets and the upcoming FOVE VR headset will ship with eye tracking by default.
Our eyes offer a very powerful way of interacting with the world around us. Video games offer a fantastic opportunity for exploring these possibilities, pushing the boundaries for what can be achieved with eye tracking.
As eye tracking matures, we expect to see a wider range of devices augmented with eye tracking by default.
Samsung has already demonstrated basic eye tracking capabilities in their phones and MSI has recently released a gaming laptop that ships with an integrated Tobii eye tracker. Also, the JINS MEME eye tracking glasses look just like your typical pair of Ray Bans, offering exciting opportunities for tracking the eyes throughout the day.
When Far Cry 5 arrives later this month, it’s looking to not only cement the reputation of the open-world action franchise within that genre, but also take on the likes of Minecraft.
The unexpected challenge to Minecraft’s throne comes courtesy of a brand new content creation mode, dubbed Far Cry Arcade. The feature gives players access to a huge library of assets and materials, and allows them to experiment at will. The end result is essentially a software suite within the game that lets the fan community create and play new levels, maps and challenges entirely divorced from the game’s core offering.
“Far Cry Arcade is a chance to give players the opportunity to be a part of the development community,” says Phil Fournier, associate producer on Far Cry 5. “Since Far Cry 2, we’ve given tools to players to build their own maps, create their own scenarios and be super creative. Far Cry Arcade pushes it to the next level, because now the [customisation] is even more accessible.”
Having played two examples of what can be created in Far Cry Arcade at a preview event, there’s huge potential in the mode, and not just for endless variations on shooting challenges. One, Upside Down, strips out all weapons and simply charges the player with escaping from a nightmarish three-dimensional maze. With corridors constructed out of ominous grandfather clocks and rooms unsettlingly populated by deer and other wildlife you might encounter in the main game, there’s no active threat, but ominous music and the time pressure make the mind-warping experience particularly tense.
The other map shown to WIRED dropped players into an assassination mission. Here, weapon load-outs can be chosen before beginning, and it even offered a master challenge level where you only have a handful of throwing knives. Here, stealth is important, as you make your way through a construction yard, taking out enemy agents until you can get to your prime target. Take him out, and suddenly the map becomes an escape run, where you must dodge foes until you can reach a big rig and drive to safety while avoiding a hail of gunfire. This offered a more conventional Far Cry combat experience, but one far more focused on stealth and rapid take-downs than the core game.
The final version of Far Cry Arcade will allow players to build missions in three gameplay modes – single player, co-op, and player-vs-player maps supporting up to six people. It also offers up more than 9,000 objects and assets to experiment with, drawing on not just Far Cry 5’s own components but elements of other Ubisoft games such as Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs.
“Ubisoft [studios] share everything, from assets to expertise,” says Fournier. “We’ve got a big, big library of assets and we were like ‘let’s just get that all in the hands of the players!’ Because we might have Assassin’s Creed fans that also play Far Cry and they want to create maybe a new version of Paris or London. Who knows what sort of crazy scenarios or crazy Inception-style maps and levels we’re going to see.”
While accessible from the main menu and given its own focus, Far Cry Arcade also exists within the core game as literal arcade cabinets. These are intended as a subtle bit of world building, crafting more realistic, ‘lived-in’ environments, while providing players respite from the main focus of the game – which revolves around freeing an isolated region of Montana from the control of the Eden’s Gate doomsday cult.
“It’s plugged into, and has purpose in, our main universe – you actually carry over all of your character customisation,” says Fournier. “You might want to show off your new wardrobe or new gun. It’s really there to supplement the main, core experience of Far Cry.”
Not every character upgrade you unlock in the solo campaign will carry over into Far Cry Arcade, but those that do – such as better weapons proficiency, or certain movement boosters – can similarly improve your performance in the user-created maps and modes. It feels like a nice way to add replayability as you try to get better times or improve performance, and adds a way to enhance your skills to take on tougher maps. Good performance in Far Cry Arcade feed back into the main campaign, too – there are 500 levels of progression to work through by completing maps, earning virtual cash and perk points to unlock more skills.
While Ubisoft will be adding its own in-house creations to Far Cry Arcade, players’ creations will also be able to be shared amongst the community. It’s this aspect that Fournier hopes will take off, and inspire Minecraft levels of creativity in both the player base and the developers.
“I hope that we’re gonna see some crazy world building that might even inspire us to release some different type of content later down the road,” he says. “I mean, this is all part of us wanting the Far Cry fans and community to be really active, and we want to listen to their feedback and build on what works and what doesn’t work.”
Away from its arcade, Far Cry 5 is shaping up to be a real treat in its own right, and potentially the best instalment in the series since 2012’s Far Cry 3. While 2014’s Far Cry 4 and 2016’s [Far Cry Primal were fine additions to the series, the former felt like a redux of the third game, while the latter seemed more like an experimental spin-off – almost like a test-run for a new franchise Ubisoft wasn’t quite confident enough in. In comparison, Far Cry 5 feels like a real evolution, with new ideas and features that enhance the base model without feeling like a departure from what the series fundamentally is.
Playing a near-final build, it proves immediately more immersive, with an opening mission to arrest the dangerous Joseph Seed going badly wrong, and stranding you – as a newly appointed deputy sheriff – in Montana’s wildlands. The core threat of the Eden’s Gate cult feels more relevant and contemporary compared to past Far Cry villains, particularly given the rural American setting. They’re believable in a way that the caricaturish likes of Pagan Min from Far Cry 4 never managed to be.
It also feels truly open, without the linear mission structure of past games. The fictional Hope County is split into three regions, each overseen by one of Seed’s warped children – militaristic Jacob, who enforces a credo of ‘the weak shall perish’; sadistic John; and the seemingly pacifistic Faith, who ensures dedication to the cult through a psychedelic drug called Bliss – and while the goal is to bolster resistance efforts in each area and take back control, you’re left to liberate each one as you see fit.
“I think one of our breakthroughs is really how you interact with the story, with a quest, and with the narrative,” says Fournier. “It’s not about a character going from point A to point B, it’s really about you kind of being distracted and going and choosing your own adventure.”
“I think it’s the first Far Cry where after the intro, you’re really dropped into that world and you can experience and explore every different area,” he adds. “There’s no more secluded islands or bridges to connect you to a different part of the game. You can really go into the three different regions and explore to your will, push back against the cult.”
Although the main campaign is largely single-player focussed, you can hire certain Hope County residents as Guns for Hire and, more interestingly, key animal partners as ‘Fangs for Hire’. Ubisoft revealed Boomer, a canine ally, soon after the game’s announcement, but once left to my own devices, I found myself far more interested in recruiting the newest animal comrade – Cheeseburger, a bear from the local zoo.
After completing a quest to rescue him, battling against the cultists turned into the kind of anarchic fun Far Cry does best, with Cheeseburger tearing into enemies and scattering their ranks. However, Cheeseburger presented a unique challenge for Ubisoft’s recent experiments in artificial intelligence.
“I think to this day, we don’t really have a keen sense of how a bear thinks,” says Fournier. “For Boomer, we all know what a dog should act like, how it behaves – we all have dogs around us. For Cheeseburger, it was a different sort [of challenge] but we actively wanted to give him a gameplay purpose.”
For Fournier, that turned into making Cheeseburger “more of a tank – they’re out front and then you take care of the rest [of the enemies] in the back. But it’s so weird at the same time, to be able to pet the bear – I really invite players to do that when they play the game! We want people to care about those Fangs for Hire – they’re really there to support the experience and support the narrative of the game.”
Liberating Hope County – with or without the aid of AI ursines – remains Far Cry 5’s raison d’être, and it gives players far more freedom in how to achieve that goal than past entries have. It’s the addition of Far Cry Arcade that feels like the greatest innovation though, and with its potentially infinite array of maps and challenges, could see the game occupy a similar space as Grand Theft Auto Online – beloved by fans and relevant years after release.
Far Cry 5 launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on March 27.