In the video game industry, Ubisoft have established themselves as quirky and different – they are the video game publisher that are perceived to be rather liberal with the development and acquisition of Intellectual Property (IP). Since 2016 the company has opened or acquired six new studios, so the expectation that Ubisoft would bring something fresh and new to E3 was greater than ever.
However, murmurings of additions to the Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry franchises, and the E3 teaser trailer confirming yet another Just Dance title made me wonder whether I’d be having a post-presentation Dudley Dursley-like whine about the lack of new IP. On the flip side, if there was going to be a focus on existing IP, I was hoping Ubisoft would pull their weight and not their punches.
For the first time in 6 years, Aisha Tyler was given a pardon from hosting duties. Instead, Ubisoft’s CEO, Yves Guillemot took to the stage for the first announcement. This was a declaration of their intention to play Ubi-hard ball.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
We jump straight into the first reveal, and it is one that receives a big cheer from the audience (maybe because it’s not Just Dance like everybody expected). It’s a short clip of two Rabbids (Ubisoft’s Minions equivalent) interacting with a Mario question mark block. Then Yves Guillemot tells us: “We’ve always wondered what would happen if our crazy Rabbids were released upon the world of Mario.” Really, have you? That seems convenient.
Suddenly, Shigeru Miyamoto is on stage, and both he and Guillemot are posing with Mario-themed hand cannons, which Miyamoto jokingly declares are “a bit different to the weapons in Ghost Recon.” It’s all a bit awkward, but also fun and light-hearted.
Importantly, the game seems inviting. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a turn-based tactical adventure that is exclusive to the Nintendo Switch. Rabbids have been teleported to the Mushroom Kingdom, and the world has become unstable and chaotic. It is the job of Mario and friends (including friendly Rabbids donning the costumes of Mushroom Kingdom characters) to restore order. The game switches from exploration mode to turn-based arena battles. It has all the styling of the Mario games, and all the humour of Rabbids. Miyamoto notes that he decided to allow Ubisoft to develop a Mario game on this condition – that it not be a Mario jump platformer, and instead be a Mario game that has never been made before. It certainly looks like Ubisoft have delivered.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins
There was no Assassin’s Creed game released last year. The franchise is back in video game form this year for the Assassin’s Creed 10th anniversary with Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Ashraf Ismail, director of the game, tells us that this game will take us back to Egypt to show us how it all began. We’re then treated to a trailer that promises it is actual in-game footage. And it is stunning. Graphically stunning.
The presentation then moves to 30 seconds of gameplay as an eagle tagging enemies… and then an assurance that you can play a demo on the E3 show floor. It’s an oddly quick segment. Perhaps this is because the game was addressed in the Microsoft press conference, but there was a 30 minute live gameplay stream immediately following the press conference.
The Crew 2
Now we jump straight into a slick montage of beautifully-rendered vehicles racing on their respective terrains. The protagonist is apparently proficient at driving all these vehicles – street cars, racing cars, speed boats, motorcycles, dirt bikes, and planes. This is The Crew 2 – a game that is all about motorsports, and “way beyond driving.” Dare I say that this game might just be the career mode from FIFA crossed with Steep, in a motorsports skin. Maybe it would seem more appealing with some kind of detailed explanation or gameplay trailer. But no, there is none. We move on quickly.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
A new trailer for South Park: The Fractured But Whole graces the screen, with a release date of October 17th. Nothing is said by anyone about this. I guess this is just a reminder that the game exists and will be released soon.
This is the kind of off-the-wall content I expect from Ubisoft. Transference is a VR project from Ubisoft and Spectrevision that is part game, part film. In the trailer, a scientist on a 2003 VHS recording tells us that we are about to experience a recorded consciousness – memories and emotions from a disturbed individual that have been uploaded from the Walter test case. His assurances that we will be “completely safe” are unsettling in their repetition. Apparently, this was the goal of the game’s development team (which includes actor Elijah Wood) – “we want you to be able to take off the [VR] gear and still feel unsettled.”
Skull and Bones
At first glance, this game appears to be Sea of Thieves with better graphics. But no, Ubisoft have taken the innovative naval combat from Assassin’s Creed and created a pirate-themed high-seas tactical action game that seems to have a considerable amount of depth. In Skull and Bones, players collaborate with other bloodthirsty players to terrorise the trade routes of the Indian Ocean.
We are shown gameplay from one of the 5v5 PvP modes in Skull and Bones, called Loot Hunt. Players must strategically manoeuvre their ships, using the wind and currents to manipulate their speed, in an effort to position themselves to best destroy the enemy fleet and claim their bounty. Each ship in the party of 5 has its own strengths and weaknesses, so operating effectively as a team is very important. You can even board and take over enemy ships.
Just Dance 2018
And the crowd goes mild as three or four songs are pumped out, and the dancers perform some well-choreographed routines. The panda costume makes an appearance – fittingly, even it looks a bit tired and past its use-by date. A recording artist, Bebe Rexha, performs a song that presumably features in the game. It seems Ubisoft knew this was going to be a dud reveal, as the words ‘Coming up: Far Cry 5’ scroll along the bottom of the screen.
South Park: Phone Destroyer, & Starlink: Battle for Atlas
A couple of quick reveals follow the Just Dance performance that put everyone to sleep. South Park: Phone Destroyer is an iOS game that seems to be a South Park combat game on your phone. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a starship battle game that has “freedom at its core.” Players can build LEGO-like space ships in real-life and import them into the game using the Nintendo switch pad, or an online alternative for other consoles.
I’m still not convinced that Steep is a game, rather than just a demo of Ubisoft Annecy’s capabilities. It feels like they were developing an engine for another game, or just honing their skills, and decided to release it as a standalone title. In Steep: Road to the Olympics, you take on the role of an athlete in or training for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The video clip is vague. Is this just a snow version of The Crew 2? How will I choose between this and the inevitable Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympics that will be released?
Far Cry 5
The announcement of Far Cry 5 received the biggest cheer of any game at this conference. It was a nice reminder that the audience was still there, and awake. In Far Cry 5, Hope County, Montana has been overrun by a fanatical cult. People are “fucking scared,” says the creative director. Swearing! The crowd like him already. Pretty sure I saw a Blue Heeler in the game – points for including some Australia.
Despite the violent overtones, it is nice to have a AAA game that appears to exist within the rules and the context of modern society – there are no zombies or spaceships or ancient civilizations etc. Beyond that, Far Cry 5 looks like a typical high-quality first person shooter. Worth exploring if you’re a fan of the franchise or the genre.
Beyond Good and Evil 2
We’re now shown what was probably the most engaging game trailer of Ubisoft’s press conference. Let me set the scene. An anthropomorphic monkey with a heavy British accent swindles an anthropomorphic pig, then escapes into a futuristic East Asian setting via hoverbike. A chase ensues. There are almost as many explosions as expletives. And finally, they settle in a South-east Asian version of Tatooine. It looks pretty freaking cool.
Fans of Beyond Good and Evil have been waiting for this game for 14 years. Details about the game are still vague – we know that Beyond Good and Evil 2 is a prequel to the 2003 original and is set before the birth of Jade. It is also going to feature a seamless online playground with co-op. It looks like an exciting game. I’m already a fan of the characterisation and setting.
After the trailer, the directors of the game seem to invite Yves Guillemot back on stage to pat them on the back a little bit more. But wait, no. They have invited him up to wrap up the press conference. Suddenly, 1 hour and 10 minutes after commencing, all the development teams are on stage applauding to signal the end of the press conference.
Ubisoft’s press conference was not what I expected. Both in quantity and quality, the games presented by Ubisoft were acceptable. However, as a whole, the press conference was neither entertaining nor engaging. It felt like a series of game trailers with no real explanation or banter pre-reveal or post-reveal. Further, many of the reveals did not feature any demonstration of gameplay. I wonder if this is because E3 was open to the public this year, meaning gamers could experience the gameplay for themselves on the show floor rather than having to live vicariously through the press conference demonstrations. Ultimately, even those this was a much more succinct presentation than last year, the absence of Aisha Tyler, or even a host in general, meant this press conference had no real narrative, and the playfulness of Ubisoft was unable to shine through. Grade: C