Assassin's Creed: Utopia was a cancelled mobile game developed in conjunction by Ubisoft Montreal and Kabam that was planned to be released exclusively through GREE, a Japanese social gaming platform focused on free-to-play apps available on Android and Apple iOS devices.
News on the project first broke with an official press release from GREE on 21 February 2012 announcing that the company had entered into a partnership with Ubisoft to create a then-untitled mobile game that was expected to release in December after the platform's full launch in Europe finished between April to June 2012.
However, details remained scant for months, with the only reliable information being that a game was in production, until mid-June shortly after E3 2012. In an interview with producer Andréane Meunier, video game website Pocket Gamer revealed the game's name to be Assassin's Creed: Utopia, as well as sharing a piece of concept art, screenshots of test footage, and early specifics. Utopia was set to take place at the start of the Europeans' colonial expansion into the Americas, specifically in 1586 with the establishment of the Roanoke Colony, and from there would follow the settlers as they endured for the next 150 years beyond the settlement's historically documented failure. Meunier made sure to mention that while Utopia's plot would lead into the broader American Revolution narrative depicted in the then-upcoming Assassin's Creed III because of ending just twenty years before the preceding Seven Years' War, there would be no direct connections between games.
When asked whether the Assassin's Creed series would be compatible enough on mobile to entice current smartphone gamers or convince long-time fans to switch systems, particularly on a platform typically used for casual games that was little known outside the Asian markets, Meunier was sure GREE's reputation of crafting unique social experiences would benefit Ubisoft while still staying true to the values and feel of the brand.
The social aspect was just one reason why Ubisoft sought to work with GREE, since a feature with that level of interactivity was not present in the multiplayer elements for Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood or Assassin's Creed: Revelations. The second reason was because of recent online customer research conducted by Ubisoft, which found that a fair number of people were Assassin's Creed fans who did not play the console games. Seeking to attract more fans—particularly people whose experience with the series was limited to literature, or who were interested in the games' settings but disliked open worlds—Ubisoft decided to break from its past partnership with Gameloft which had produced all of its mobile games thus far, and instead turned to GREE's expertise running an online platform with a userbase then of nearly 230 million people.
The project was delayed for unspecified reasons, though, even after GREE's successful launch on 11 June. Two months later, GREE made a press statement on 22 August announcing that it would attend the Tokyo Game Show from September 20–23, but did not directly name Utopia as one of their highlighted games. It would be another two weeks before Utopia made its first appearance to media and ticketholders on 6 September during "Digital Days 2012", Ubisoft's own internationally-covered event in Paris, France focusing on new projects across all game systems. There, alongside booths promoting the latest working entries in other Ubisoft franchises like Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon and Rayman, gameplay details for Utopia were revealed and it looked to be on track for its release date of winter 2012.
Four days after Ubisoft's conference, the first playable demo was released in its pre-alpha stage, allowing select testers a glimpse into the game that had been vaguely hinted at for months and was projected to finally start official testing later that year. On 14 September, GREE issued a press statement announcing Utopia as part of their game lineup for their appearance at the Tokyo Game Show and on 20 September, Utopia finally made its public debut, where it was mentioned in interviews with GREE Executive Director Sanhisa Kotoke and Ubisoft Japan Marketing Director Yoshihisa Tsuji.
Following both conventions, however, Utopia suffered delays again, and as before, there was no statement on why or when fans could expect an update. By 6 November, a week after Assassin's Creed III's October debut, Utopia was still officially slated for an undefined winter release, but nothing came by the year's end nor as February 2013 came to a close, earning GREE the dubious honor of surpassing their previous record of four months of communications silence on the one-year anniversary of first announcing the game. This lack of news stretched endlessly for further months, indirectly confirming that the project had been silently scrapped behind the scenes. Finally, on 7 November, nearly a full year after Utopia's intended release, Ubisoft Netherlands officially informed Dutch video games website Gamer.nl that the game was cancelled but did not elaborate further.
Unfortunately, because this statement was given by a small branch instead of the larger Montreal studio that had helmed the project, this news and any reporting on it remained primarily restricted to non-English speaking European readers. It would not be until 12 February 2017, over four years since English media had last covered anything on Utopia, that fans would learn what had befallen the game that was long plagued by undescribed issues. On that day, artist Lulu Zhang took to the American site ArtStation to post two concept pieces she had been hired to produce, one with an Indigenous chief holding an Apple of Eden aloft before two Colonial Assassins, and another showing four Assassins protecting a tribe of Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains from an attack by soldiers in the Spanish army. In her comments, she said that the game's development "had been frozen", finally delivering closure on Utopia's fate.
Utopia would have been a freemium real-time strategy game. In the historical setting, a number of Assassins had stowed away aboard the ships that carried settlers to North America. Upon arriving at Roanoke Island, players would work on "building [their] own Assassin's Creed utopian colonial city" in-between battling rival human or A.I.-controlled colonies for resources, all while learning how the early Colonial Assassins "influenced history and helped shape the nation's original thirteen colonies".
In test footage, the colony's buildings were designed in period-inspired American or European style and arranged in an isometric layout similar to other strategy games like Civilization or Age of Empires. One resource players could collect was gold, some of which could be acquired by tapping the sacks of coins that hovered over the roofs of houses representing taxes paid by civilians. However, the demo did not go into detail on the features of other buildings like the watchtower or Assassin bureau shown in the early screenshots.
Players' military units could explore the map and engage other factions in 3D asynchronous brawls, or could ally with friends to participate in "limited time epic battles". Upon entering combat, a new screen would appear, split between the player's unit icons over a blue background on the left and the opposed units over a red background on the right. Both forces were arranged in their starting positions into a superimposed 3-x-3 white grid as the Animus created a representation of a unit's weapon range on the battlefield and any viable targets. From here, players could rearrange their units in various positions, keep the current troop layout, or even remove them beforehand to try and maximize any advantages, especially as some units could attack multiple enemies at once. For example, in a basic line formation based on unit specialty, archers would be in the back, with axe-wielding fighters in the middle and spearmen in front to ward off oncoming assaults. While only melee fighters were featured at the Tokyo Game Show, Marketing Director Yoshihisa said there were plans to include archers as well as units who wielded the series' iconic Hidden Blade, with the eventual goal of having ten different soldier classes to play with.
Combat was turn-based in a style reminiscent of Final Fantasy, and presented players with three options to choose from. "Guard" set a unit in a defensive mode, while "Attack" triggered a more offensive action, and "Auto" let the game's A.I. decide all units' moves and ultimately the outcome of the skirmish. If players opted to "Attack", any enemy spaces in range were highlighted in red, and the action would complete by either selecting the square and tapping "OK" in the HUD or double-tapping the target of choice. Their unit would then dash forward and act before retreating to their spot in formation. Players also had the option to "Cancel" the unit's action if they wanted. The order of battle was based on individual unit speed to determine initiative, as the strength of all units varied depending on their Attack, Defense, and Agility stats.
Utopia would have also had unspecified "Abilities" that did not require energy systems like mana or cooldown timers, and over 100 different characters could be unlocked. As a freemium game, players had the option to spend real-world money to increase their progression by speeding up building time or gaining early access to exclusive characters and items.
For the wider modern day framing device, Abstergo Industries had learned about the idyllic Assassin colony through their own research and had begun developing their newest project codenamed "Utopia". Seeking to duplicate the colony's benefits into their plans for a New World Order, Abstergo relied on the success of the Animi Training Program that allowed employees to relive the genetic memories of unrelated individuals. By implementing that feature into "Utopia" and marketing it to the public as a game system, Abstergo could collect a vast amount of information by studying countless players' progression data as they to unknowingly furthered the Templars' goals through reliving the period when the colony was known to have existed before technically disappearing from historical record.
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