It’s Ubisoft’s (or Oo-bisoft depending on how French you are) 30th birthday, and we are all invited to the celebrations! In what can only be described as a fortunate role reversal, it is gamers who are receiving all the gifts.
Hosting Ubisoft’s gift giving E3 conference for the 5th consecutive year was actress, comedian, and talk show host, Aisha Tyler. You might recognise her from Whose line is it Anyway?, The Talk, or Criminal Minds. She also voiced Lana Kane in the animated series Archer, so you know she is open to some high-quality banter.
The banter actually begins in the pre-show, during a montage of “favourite community gaming moments” selected by Ubisoft. One of the videos featured a YouTuber yelling out “Ubisoft you have fucked up so many games… [but] this is the greatest game of all time!” in reference to the Division. At least Ubisoft can laugh at themselves, right?
On a more serious note, though, by the end of the Ubisoft E3 press conference, I wanted to be yelling out the same thing. I wanted no more of the same old filler- looking at you Assassin’s Creed and Just Dance. Instead, Ubisoft needed to showcase new IP, the novel progression of existing IP, or innovative use of emerging technology.
Just Dance 2017
But of course, the game-reveals begin with Just Dance 2017. We’re introduced to the game by a group of dancers in quirky outfits (think animal onesies and David Bowie-style make up) performing a choreographed dance to Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now.’ I was reminded of a high school end of year showcase. But the most confusing thing about this announcement was why this game will exist at all. Yes, Just Dance is considered one of Ubisoft’s flagship franchises, but why bother with the yearly releases? There was no mention of any new features in Just Dance 2017 (neither during the conference or in the official trailer), and the song they chose to show off was not from 2016 or 2015… it was released in 1979 (seems appropriate for a game with 2017 in the title…). If new games do not provide new features, Ubisoft would be better off sticking with the Just Dance Unlimited streaming service as a means of continually providing new dances. Just Dance 2017 will be available on PS4 and XboxOne in October this year, and will launch on the NX in 2017. Amusingly, mention of the NX was the only thing that received a cheer from the audience during this game reveal.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Mercifully, the Just Dance 2017 announcement was short and was quickly proceeded by a cinematic trailer for Ghost Recon: Wildlands. It is an incredibly good looking trailer- at one point I really wasn’t certain whether they were showing us real world footage alongside animation. The game answers one hypothetical (and pretty ridiculous) question: what would happen if Mexican drug cartels invaded and proceeded to take over the entirety of Bolivia in order to gain access to an abundant supply of coca leaves? Your recon team must traverse the largest open world that Ubisoft has ever created, and take down the Mexican drug cartels. This game can be played solo or in 4-player co-op, and the order in which missions are attempted is at the players’ discretion.
We were treated to a gameplay walkthrough of a mission involving the capture of a body disposal expert in a Mexican drug cartel. It was a quality walkthrough- effectively showing off the landscape, multiple vehicles, stealth elements, drones, explosions, and benefits of collaborating as a 4-man team. The game will be released on March 7th, 2017.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
The next game couldn’t have been any more different to Ghost Recon: Wildlands, in look and feel. South Park: The Fractured But Whole was introduced by a serious-looking trailer, but Trey Park and Matt Stone (co-creators of South Park) soon quelled any rumours that this sequel would be anything other than classic South Park comedy. Park and Stone explained that the game picks up after “Stick of Truth” and sees the South Park kids acting out their own superhero fantasies. The game parodies superhero movies, specifically mocking the DC and Marvel franchises. In The Fractured But Whole, players can create their own superhero persona, choosing from 12 customisable classes. The combat system has been upgraded with new movement options and the ability to manipulate turn order.
The game will be released on December 6th, 2016. Players who pre-order the game will receive a downloadable version of the Stick of Truth for free.
There was a point during this game reveal when Park and Stone were asked: “So, what exactly is new?” The question was met by an awkward pause. This reflects exactly what I was thinking at this point in the conference, and was exactly how Ubisoft were responding. It just seemed like more of the same- with minimal changes to existing IP.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
It might not have been the new IP I was hoping for, but the recent release and positive reception received by the Division was enough to interest the crowd in announcements about this game. And to be honest, it wouldn’t be a Ubisoft conference without reference to some kind of Tom Clancy game. Justin Gerighty, creative director of massive entertainment, took to the stage to make 3 announcements about the Division. The first was the ‘Underground’ expansion would feature unique missions with every play through (“endless replayability”), and be available on Xbox One and PC on June 28th, and PS4 on August 2nd. The second announcement was that players in the Division would receive three new exclusive outfits- inspired by Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six Siege, and Ghost Recon- to use in-game. The final announcement was that a second expansion to the Division was in development, called ‘Survival.’ A cinematic trailer for ‘Survival’ suggested a PvPv Nature emphasis to the game.
Then some VR announcements! This has the crowd excited! The first of two VR games to be shown off was a cute little game called Eagle Flight. The creators of the game and the creator of Oculus Rift played the game live on stage, in the first live VR showcase at E3. Eagle Flight appears to be a 3v3 PvP party game in which players are eagles flying through the city of Paris, France. The mini-game (or only type of gameplay) played by the 6 on-stage was a version of capture the flag in which players must find a dead rabbit and be the first to bring it back to the nest of their team. I’m not sure if I would just be happier playing this type of party game with standard controllers so I could interact with my friends while playing. There seemed to be something anti-social- a disconnect between players (in a team-based party game!)- with their VR headsets on. The game will be released on Oculus Rift and all other VR devices, “this fall” (i.e. spring for Austalia).
Star Trek: Bridge Crew
The second of the VR games, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, seemed to be the complete opposite. While the game promotes a considerable amount of communication between players, it appears to lack more in-depth levels of gameplay. The game was announced through a gameplay video featuring Star Trek actors from across the generations, and platforms. Players take on the role of a Star Trek crew member on the bridge of the U.S.S. Aegis, issuing and acting out commands in order to eliminate or evade any threats. The polygon graphics were lame, and Levar Burton (from 1987’s Star Trek: The Next Generation) seemed like a weirdly dated choice of star power to promote this game. Star Trek: Bridge Crew will be released “this fall” (i.e. spring for Australia) on all VR systems.
Aside from Watch Dogs 2, For Honor is perhaps the most hyped of Ubisoft’s up-and-coming games. Prior to the conference, footage of the Samurai and Knights from the game was floating around the internet, but fans were holding out for some gameplay footage from the Viking faction. And Ubisoft delivered.
For Honor is an immersive, medieval, hack-and-slash video game featuring a skilled combat system that the developers describe as being all about “the art of battle.” At the E3 press conference, Ubisoft showed off a lengthy gameplay cross cinematic video that showed the Viking invasion of a Samurai stronghold, culminating in the gory death of a mini-boss (which was greeted with much applause from the audience). The gameplay video didn’t actually show off “the art of combat” very well- in fact, it actually reminded me a little bit of Samurai Showdown from Wii Sports Resort. The game looks very crisp, though- with good armour textures and differentiation from the environment.
As a side note, I’m enjoying the uncluttered hub of recent AAA games- a feature that For Honor perpetuates.
Looking for a great Valentine’s Gift? For Honor will be available from the 14th February 2017.
Grow Up, & Trials of the Blood Dragon
We were then shown two new games, both of which were introduced very awkwardly, and whose trailers were short and sharp- almost like a side note, or a way to fill downtime between big game announcements. Grow Up (a sequel to Grow Home) will be released in August this year. Trials of the Blood Dragon is quite literally a combination of Trials and Blood Dragon- it is available now!
Assassin’s Creed Movie
While Ubisoft were adamant that there would be no Assassin’s Creed game released this year (which I’m sure we’re all grateful for), there was some obligatory cross-promotion for the Assassin’s Creed film. Executive producer Frank Marshall sat down with Aisha Tyler for a short interview praising the cast of the film, and warning gamers not to expect it to be entirely faithful to the Assassin’s Creed games. We were then treated to never-before-seen ‘behind the scenes’ and actual film footage. It was so brief that I think the footage still is never-before-seen.
Watch Dogs 2
Do you remember Watch Dogs 1? Do you remember the hype before it was released? And do you remember when all the EB games pre-owned bins were littered with discarded copies of the game? Well, Ubisoft have persevered with the IP, and it looks like they have learnt from their mistakes.
Let’s be honest, going into the Ubisoft E3 conference, Watch Dogs 2 was the big ticket item. Prior to the conference, a cinematic trailer was already floating around the internet. When the big screen flickered to show an image of hacker organisation Deadsec, the audience at the E3 conference went wild (comparative to the mild response for most other titles). This time, all the hacking action takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area- an area known for its hipster, indie tech hub and start-up vibe, and is a stark contrast to the grungy Chicago locale of Watch Dogs 1.
The gameplay video Ubisoft showed off was pretty cool. The audience watched a gameplay walkthrough of a mission to hack a device inside a corporate building that involved stealth, combat and the use of a variety of cool tech. Set in an open world, the game feels like a tech, indie hipster version of GTA. Watch Dogs 2 also has a co-operative and competitive multiplayer element.
The game will be released on November 15th this year, and PlayStation owners will have access to all the WD2 DLC 30 days prior to other console owners. There was also a garbled announcement about a Watch Dogs film.
Just when it looked like the press conference was wrapping up, it was revealed that there was one last gift to unwrap! Ubisoft Annecy (a studio experienced at making multiplayer games) have been working on a new IP called Steep! Steep is an action sports game set in the Alps. The game is open-world and sees players racing and challenging other real-world players in all manner of extreme sports- including snowboarding, gliding, base jumping and skiing. Ubisoft showed off some game engine footage, which made Steep look like a Red Bull or GoPro promotional video (not just because there was Red Bull and GoPro advertising…)
The landscape is beautiful and was inspired by the location of their Ubisoft studio. Unfortunately, there is no word of a story mode, which is concerning because I’m unsure how many times jumping off a snow-capped mountain will be fun. It needs a little Point Break treatment. This game seems to be all about sharing content, creating action moments and challenging other players (who drop in and drop out of your game). The mentality of Ubisoft Annecy and the fluid movement system reminds me of Avalanche Studios (Avalanche! It must be a conspiracy) and Just Cause 3.
The game will be released in December of this year.
At E3 this year, Ubisoft announced a games line-up that was both mature and tech focussed. That might sound like an odd statement to make given that one of the games was called The Fractured But Whole, however even South Park requires a certain maturity to appreciate the depths of the humour. And while only two of the games were VR specific, all the new titles (well, except For Honor) featured some kind of tech element- the pinnacle being Watch Dogs 2. You’d think that technology was the traditional 30th-anniversary gift. Unfortunately, the gameplay footage all seemed a bit surface level (I guess that is to be expected from games that are in development) and nothing “Wow!”’D me. During the pre-show, Ubisoft staff members declared that turning 30 was a positive milestone because it meant that the company could claim a strong sense of identity while still maintaining the power and energy of youth. I think, for the most part, the great host, weird star power, and diverse range of established games, demonstrated that this was true. Grade: B-