By Steven Petite
It was too long. Ubisoft’s E3 conference opened with a lengthy and perplexing dance number to unveil the latest iteration of Just Dance. The scene was furnished with a dancing lion, giraffe, and panda bear, and for a moment, I thought I had accidentally redirected by browser to the latest Miley Cyrus video. Unfortunately that wasn’t the only moment when I lost track of where I was and what I was watching. Ubisoft put on a painstakingly long showcase that cultivated content fit for half of the show’s length at best. It clocked in at right around two hours, roughly double that of EA’s and Bethesda’s, and it was also significantly longer than Microsoft’s—a first party publisher.
Within it all there were some highlights and low points. I’d like to get the lows out of the way first.
Like Bethesda, Ubisoft has embraced VR, but unlike Bethesda, the two games Ubi presented looked at best average. Eagle Flight, a game where the player literally embodies an eagle, appeared to be tech demo fodder and I can’t imagine it going beyond that in the retail version. Ubisoft is apparently trying to do for Star Trek what EA is doing with Star Wars — but to a lesser degree. Star Trek: Bridge Crew lets players explore space in one of the iconic ships of the classic franchise. Ubisoft asked veteran Star Trek actors for assistance in demonstrating the “coolness” factor of the experience. And, of course, they gave rave, scripted reviews (of course, all the press conferences are scripted). The problem is that the game looks bad. The little game footage we saw was stagnant almost to the point of stills. The emphasis was on the reactions over the content, and while that may work for diehard Star Trek fans who also happen to be early VR adopters, for the rest of us, it ended up as a ‘so what’?
One of the most anticipated games from Ubisoft is For Honor, an open world game set in the medieval period. When this was first announced last year at E3, it seemed promising but after seeing it in motion this year, it’s hard to imagine that it will end up as anything more than mediocre. Hack and Slash games are a dying breed of game in large part because gamers are increasingly eager for engaging, immersive experiences with depth. From the ten minute clip, For Honor seems to be a clunky, shallow experience with pretty visuals. That’s extremely disappointing. But I hope I’m wrong.
And then there were two portions of the show that didn’t make sense at all. The reveal that Trials and Far Cry: Blood Dragon have been combined into a crossover was certainly strange. The only strong point there is that we don’t have to wait to see if the end result is as uninspired as the concept. Trials of Blood Dragon is available today as an E3 celebration bonus.
However, the worst part of Ubisoft’s E3 showing wasn’t a video game.
2016 is the first year since 2008 where we won’t receive a mainline Assassin’s Creed game in the Fall. They are taking a break to revamp the series and address consumer concerns, but probably also to give the world a breather. Somehow, they couldn’t stay away. In the middle of the show, they brought out Frank Marshall, a producer on the upcoming adaptation of Assassin’s Creed starring Michael Fassbender.
E3 is for video games not movies and I’ll leave it at that. I might’ve forgiven this inclusion had the conference fit into a suitable hour length production. But since it was as long as the film itself will be, it was unnecessary and off-putting.
There was still some gold to be mined, though. Grow Up looks to be a charming sequel to last year’s quirky robot hit, Grow Home. The gameplay for Ghost Recon: Wildlands showed off the gorgeous terrain of Bolivia, and the story it harbors is compelling. The concept of special agents taking down an El Chapo-inspired cocaine kingpin is an engaging twist on the typical warfare presented in games of its kind. It has obviously taken cues from The Division’s mechanics, which also had new content revealed.
Watch Dogs 2 was equally impressive as it seems Ubisoft has taken critiques of the original to heart to provide a more worthwhile open world experience. And Steep looks like a perfect ode to SSX, although showing a snowboarding game as the final piece of the conference is perplexing.
However, in my opinion, the saving grace of the show was Matt Stone and Trey Parker providing new glimpses into the sequel to South Park: The Stick of Truth. It may be hard to take a game with a name like The Fractured But Whole seriously, but make no mistake, a lot of intelligence has been put into the role playing game set to release this December. The combat mechanics have been reworked to include additional levels of strategy and thought, and the comedy is, as always, spot on.
Overall, Ubisoft suffered from its outlandish conference runtime. There was some good to be found, but they struggled to deliver only the highlights. Sadly, they left the door open for negative criticism.