Reviewing Ubisoft’s E3 2016 Press Conference

I said in my preview that Ubisoft like to put on a show.  After their 2016 conference, I stand by this statement.  There were a lot of inconsistencies in Ubisoft’s show this year, but it did manage to be mostly entertaining throughout.

They started with a cold open on an absurd Just Dance segment.  A bunch of dancers in dumb costumes were dancing to a Queen song.  That’s the way to show Just Dance.  There was no lead in and very little discussion afterwards.  An interesting fact is that the game is coming to the NX next year.  That makes sense, but it was weird of Ubisoft to acknowledge it.

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The first real demo they showed was for Ghost Recon: Wildlands.  Although real might not be the word to describe it.  A highly scripted demo with canned voice over was used to show off the game.  After being criticized for doing this with The Division, I would have thought Ubisoft would have learned not to do this anymore.  But they did, and it made the demo worse.  The game is built around being open and experimentation, and I feel like the demo they showed misrepresents that.  The game could be good, but they did a terrible job of presenting why.

A game that I think will definitely be good but was also presented poorly was South Park: The Fractured But Whole.  A Ubisoft developer sat down to talk with Matt Parker and Trey Stone.  That’s fine.  The have been on the stage in previous years and are funny guys.  However, having a developer trying to match their humor while also presenting the game was a bad decision.  Some of the jokes in the game didn’t hit either.  The gameplay changes are interesting and the trailer at the end of the section was a highlight.  However, I think it would have been better if that was all they had shown.  The last game was a success, they don’t need to try so hard to sell this one.

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This was followed by a check in on The Division.  I will echo what I said in the Microsoft review; I don’t care about The Division.  They announced a Sam Fisher outfit and gave some more info on the DLC.  I don’t know enough about the current state of the game to say if any of this is meaningful or not.

Then came one of the worst demos of E3.  They demoed Eagle Flight, their VR game, live on stage.  I came in to E3 assuming this game was like Flower.  I was very wrong.  This is a competitive multiplayer game where you play as an eagle that shoots projectiles at other players and constantly screams in a game of capture the flag.  That was a disappointing revelation.  But even once I came to terms with what the game was, I still looked bad.  It didn’t seem to justify its existence as a VR game, and the constant screaming was unbearable.  And while a bad demo of Final Fantasy XV isn’t going to tank that game, this was probably the only shot Eagle Flight was going to get.

A much cooler VR presentation was the one for Star Trek: Bridge Crew.  I have no personal affinity for Star Trek, and I don’t know how deep or practical this game is.  However, it is an interesting idea for using the technology.  I could also see it being used to show off VR to a larger audience.  They also used this as a reason to have Levar Burton on stage, and he was delightful.

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The best game in Ubisoft’s lineup is For Honor.  What I appreciated was that they focused entirely on singleplayer this year after the multiplayer focus last year.  It started with a CGI trailer that did a great job of setting up the world in For Honor, and this was followed by a gameplay demo where the Viking faction was attacking a Samurai stronghold.  The combat in this game looks intense, tactical, and brutal, and the world is fascinating.  If the story mode is fully fleshed out, then they have got something special on their hands.  My only disappointment with the For Honor presentation is that the game is coming out the same day as Persona 5.

Ubisoft then announced a sequel to Grow Home called Grow Up.  Grow Home was a fun and unique little game last year.  The fact that Ubisoft recognized that and wanted to do more with it is great.  However, part of me worries that making a larger experience out of Grow Home will ruin what made the first game special.  It’s too early to start worrying about that though.  I’m just happy this game exists.

The next announcement was great at the time but is apparently a huge letdown.  Trials of the Blood Dragon was announced in the most over the top fashion.  A game combining the gameplay of Trials with the aesthetic of Far Cry Blood Dragon is a great idea.  And it was available that day, which is always a great thing to do at a press conference.  But the game is apparently pretty bad.  It takes Trials and adds a bunch of pointless new mechanics that ruin the fun.  That’s a shame, but it was still a great moment in the conference.

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A less great moment was when the Assassin’s Creed movie producer came on stage to talk about the film.  I don’t know who thought this was a good idea.  Maybe a trailer was necessary, but having the producer on stage was definitely not.  Not only is this a video game event, but they also don’t have enough of a track record with movies to have this make an impact.  If this led to the announcement of a new Assassin’s Creed game, then it would have been fine.  As it was, this segment was only good as a time to use the bathroom.

The big headliner was Watch Dogs 2.  They showed a lot of the game, and I have some mixed thoughts.  The gameplay of the first game was solid, and the sequel seems to expand on it.  The ability to hack more vehicles and machines is cool, and I love that you can play the whole game non-lethally.  What turned me off was the tone.  This super edgy hacker stuff that is dumb but not dumb enough.  I don’t get the impression that Ubisoft thinks it’s dumb.  If they did and leaned into it Saints Row style, then that would be great.  Instead they are stuck in this obnoxious middle ground.  The main character seems to suffer from this less than his supporting cast though, so I can only hope for some mid-game twist where he betrays them.

The end stinger was Steep, a game about extreme snow sports.  That is a genre with a distinct lack of games, and what they showed was promising.  I love the idea of an open world mountain, and the variety of activities were promising.  It did look a little rough though, and impressions from people who played it seemed to back this up.  That is not necessarily a bad thing in most situations, but this game is supposed to ship by the end of the year.  I think there is something cool here, so I hope they delay it if they need to.

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Ubisoft is in a weird spot right now.  A lot of backlash has come their over the homogenization of their games, and they are in the middle of a potential hostile takeover by Vivendi.  But despite all of this, they still managed to put on a good show with a diverse lineup of games.  It wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t bad.

Final Score: 3 Stars

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