E3 Coverage: Ubisoft Conference

30 Years of Entertainment

By Tom Wadsworth

Ubisoft have come to E3 prepared to celebrate their 30th birthday. For 30 years now the company has been a big player in the games industry, with many major titles under its belt, but lately the company’s reputation seems to have sunk a little. Games like Assassin’s Creed being tossed out every year in disappointing to almost unplayable states has done little to uphold the company’s reputation. Add to this heavy downgrades suffered by their last major new IP, Watch_Dogs, and you’ve got a company that’s in severe need of impressing this yeah to win back some consumer good will.

The conference opens with a burst of colour, as Just Dance 2017 is unveiled with a Don’t Stop Me Now dance routine. The performance starts off great, definitely immediately grabbing the audience’s attention, but begins to devolve as the stage is swamped with bizarre costumes as more and more dancers are piled on. It gets a bit confused and over-stimulated, but overall it’s a bit of fun and it’s good to see the show kicked off with something less serious. Interestingly we now know that the game will be out on the NX, one of the only things we know about Nintendo’s elusive new console.

In quite a jarring contrast we go from costumes and dancing to gruff men and guns with a new Tom Clancy title, Ghost Recon: Wildlands. The game launches next March and promises open world exploration as you and your friends work together to take down some big bad drug-lords. The co-op gameplay looks to be a lot of fun, focussing on tactics and stealthy infiltration rather than run and gun gameplay. That said, the game doesn’t really seem to pose much interest beyond that. If you’ve friends willing to buy the game and play alongside you it could be fun, but otherwise it seems to be a fairly generic shooter combined with Ubisoft’s penchant for open world games, which frankly is getting a tad stale. Later in the conference they showed a trailer for an expansion to this year’s title, The Division, which adds survival elements to the game. It fails to inspire much interest in a game that many have quickly found to be a lacklustre experience. Maybe people are finally getting tired of bland, military/ spec-ops shooters?

The next trailer soliloquises about riots, rising crime rates and burning flags as were bombarded by more militaristic looking neon graphs and footage of violence. What looks to be another oh-so-gritty action game finally gets interesting when South Park’s Eric Cartman appears as his infamous superhero alter-ego, The Coon, at which point the crowd finally gets excited. Trey Parker, Matt Stone and producer Jason Schroeder take to the stage, joking about how they auto-generated this “cool” trailer, already poking fun at the more generic games on show as well as the games industry’s problems with hype culture. The Fractured But Whole follows directly from the incredibly successful South Park: The Stick of Truth, and from what we’ve seen it still manages to maintain the show’s precise brand of humour with surprisingly solid RPG gameplay. Whilst many would have been fine with, and perhaps expected, the same game repackaged with a new coat of paint, the new title has changed up the gameplay in various ways. Most interestingly, battles no longer have the player rooted in the same spot, instead allowing for movement to dodge attacks and tactical positioning. It’s shaping up to be a superbly imaginative offering that justifiably has a lot of people excited for its December release.

Next we’re shown some of Ubisoft’s offerings towards the latest leap in gaming technology; virtual reality gaming. Two titles are shown, starting with Eagle Flight, a gorgeous first person flying experience that places multiple players in a Paris reclaimed by nature. Players are split into teams of eagles hunting down rabbits, which can be found anywhere from deep underbrushes to the top of the Eiffel Tower itself! The next game places you on command of your own Starfleet vessel as you go boldly where no one had gone before. Star Fleet: Bridge Crew seems to fulfil a dream trekkies have had for years now, allowing crews of players to take on different roles and work together to properly control the vessel. Its accompanied by a bright art style based on the original Star Trek TV series; personally I’m a Next Generation man myself, but the look of the game does wonders to add some real child-like wonder to the game. The unfortunate worry however with VR is cost; with the tech still costing hundreds of pounds apiece, it’s still far from being that enticing to most consumers. This problem is amplified by the fact that these are both multiplayer games that will require multiple headset’s to be bought for the full experience. Still, the apps themselves are certainly promising and show that developers are really embracing some interesting new ideas.

There are yet more cheers as the booming voice of Jason Vanderberghe takes to the stage, seemingly walking right out of the pages of Game of Thrones to present For Honor. The game was shown off at last year’s E3 to much excitement, but now seems to have piles of new information to hold our interest. As well as the grand combat between Knight, Samurai and Viking factions; the game now boasts single-player campaigns for all three playable groups. With highly competitive scene between multiplayer games currently saturating the market, the addition of these campaigns, as well as the game’s general charisma, will hopefully inspire a bit more staying power for the intriguing title. Combat is show to be visceral and gratuitous, with added layers of tactical planning as you choose which direction to swing your weapon or block enemy attacks. This isn’t just a gore button-masher; you’ll have to think on your feet to survive the onslaughts of enemies. Again, the game thankfully seems to be happy revel in its own ridiculous premise, simply oozing character. Definitely one to look forward to for fantasy buffs out there.

Another couple of smaller reveals towards the end of the show. Minor hit Grow Home not has a more developed sequel in Grow Up. Again you’re in control of the adorable little red robot, BUD, as he seeks to reach new heights. You’ll be platforming along various colourful landscapes, riding into space on the plants and flowers you grow along the way. It’s a simple and cute little idea that if executed well, shouldn’t leave players wanting to grow up at all! After a downright cringe worthy unveiling by creative directors Dean Evans and Antti Illvessuo, Trials of the Blood Dragon seems to fall a little flat. It combines the 2D, stunt-oriented gameplay of the Trials series with the brilliant 80’s sci-fi visual flair of Far Cry 3’s DLC, Blood Dragon. It’s an interesting idea to be sure, but really offers nothing new and disappears from the stage without much interest. The game was released immediately to mixed reviews on Steam, many citing its short length and divergences from the Trialsformula as reason for the poor reception.

Ubisoft’s next big title is a controversial one. The original Watch_Dogs met with an extremely mixed reaction on release, a victim of ridiculous degrees of exaggerated hype and numerous downgrades by the time of its release. This coupled with a generic story and frankly unlikable protagonist made the title a huge disappointment for many, and I sequel seemed unlikely or perhaps even unwanted. Nevertheless, here it is, it actually looks far more promising than its predecessor. Gone are the blur of depressing greys from the previous game’s PR, and in their place we see a band of young hackers with bright visuals and anarchistic attitudes. It sounds like an old kid’s TV show, and seems to come bundled with all the energy you’d expect from that. Seemingly anything in the environment can be interacted with through the player character Marcus’ phone, allowing the player to indulge in a little mayhem as they play. The footage showed Marcus driving a car remotely, messing with a cherry picker and flying a drone to spy on enemies. The goal of our protagonist and his allies also seems to link into modern fears surrounding technology, privacy and authority in a way that young people especially will be interested in. Keep an eye on this one, especially if you’re into Mr. Robot; if it isn’t handled as badly as its predecessor, it could be very interesting.

The final showing for this year is Steep, collaboration between Ubisoft and GoPro that seems to be some kind of winter sports simulator. The game allows you to ski down various peaks down whichever path you choose, then upload your tracks to challenge other players. You can also pause the action mid gameplay and rotate the camera to get some cool angles. It’s certainly very pretty, but there doesn’t seem to be anything else to it. It’s a strange game to end the show on, a spot usually saved for big releases. This seems more like a game that will accommodate a handful of people desperate for a new SSX title, but does nothing for the majority of players. Altogether, it leaves the conference on a low note, especially since hordes of fans have spent the last couple of years clamoring new instalments in popular series. Rayman hasn’t appeared properly since 2013 and after the various rumours around its development, many are incredibly disappointed not to see the long awaited sequel to 2003’s Beyond Good and Evil (so much so that Ubisoft have since had to make apologetic statements clarifying that concept hasn’t been abandoned).

All in all, Ubisoft’s conference seems to have been quite a successful affair. Their VR support shows promise for future advancements and they’ve shown themselves to be putting resources into more interesting titles. Aside from a brief bit of info on the Assassin’s Creed movie, there was no mention of Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed or any of the other series that the company has been uninventively churning out for the last few years. With IPs like South Park, For Honour and Grow Up, as well as the new angle on Watch_Dogs, it feels like Ubisoft will be tackling the criticisms of its major franchises and branching out into more interesting areas.

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyvHLbvVnog&w=560&h=315]

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