The neatest thing about Ubisoft's just-revealed The Division wasn't the graphics (they're fine) or the guns (they shoot stuff) or even the intelligent grenades (they roll around and blow up). It was the way the game works with an iPad.
(Or really, any tablet. But let's go with iPad.)
At a hands-off demo at Ubisoft's booth yesterday, they mostly just showed us the same demonstration they showed during Ubisoft's press conference, but at the end, they showed off a bit more about the iPad integration.
The Division is an online, open-world multiplayer shooter (Ubisoft calls it an "RPG" but from what I've seen of the game they must be thinking of this kind of RPG). A bunch of people can play together, and tackle co-op missions or fight one another. In the demo we saw, a couple of players were running around a post-disaster New York City, trading fire with a team of enemies. In the midst of the firefight, an aerial drone appeared, piloted by another player holding an iPad.
The iPad's screen, which during my press booth demo they projected up onto one of the big screens, showed a top-down view of the action that won't be unfamiliar to those who have played Ubisoft's Ghost Recon games. (It's more or less the view from any of the aerial drones you can control in those games.)
By tapping his screen, the tablet-holding player was able to tag enemies, which would then highlight them on the other players' HUDs, or even issue buffs to make his teammates stronger and debuffs to lower the armour rating on the opponents. At the end of the demo, the player fired missles down on two enemy soldiers who had been taking cover on a rooftop, wrecking the entire roof and killing the soldiers.
It was an interesting take on the sort of "uneven co-op" that's become more popular lately — one player plays the main game and the other takes on a support role that isn't quite as demanding but is still enjoyable. This isn't an entirely new idea, but it does seem to be gaining traction lately. It makes gaming more inclusive, and makes it possible for a roommate, friend or significant other who doesn't necessarily have the same sorts of controller skills participate in the game.
The Division is only one of Ubisoft's E3 games to use tablet-augmentation; the publisher has clearly become enamoured of the idea. The Crew, their massive, always-online racing game, has a companion app that lets players customise their cars and view the game's map as they drive. Assassin's Creed IV also has a nifty companion app that lets players read the game's map while sailing the high seas (among other things).
All of these functions feel like the sorts of features that the Wii U Gamepad can accomplish, which is more or less the case. Ubisoft head Yves Guillemont explained to Stephen yesterday that while they won't be bringing more exclusives to Wii U until the console starts selling better, they learned a lot from the launch games the did create for the two-screened system. "We knew we could learn second-screen with Nintendo," Guillemont said, "so we went full-speed to use this capacity the console was bringing. … What we saw is that, in learning that, we can also use it with the other consoles with [Xbox] Smart Glass, for example, and it’s a good option that is coming to us."
The companion apps for ACIV and The Crew seem neat, but I'm much more interested in the way The Division's tablet integration allows another player to join the game in such a real, useful way. Touch screen gaming has brought a legion of new gamers into the fold, and if more hardcore console games can start allowing those newcomers to play along without diluting the experience for veterans, that can only be a good thing.