Sometimes there are good presentations. Sometimes there are bad; and sometimes, there are those that are simply muddled. Ubisoft falls into this latter category. While some great games were shown, like South Park: The Fractured But Whole, the tone and length of the conference were consistently odd from the outset.
It started with a dancing troupe of weird candy cane men and giraffes for Just Dance 2017. Then, the traditional host, Aisha Tyler, appeared to give her condolences for the victims of the Orlando shooting the day before. While this sentiment was highly laudable, its delivery was uncomfortable, especially considering that she was surrounded by the cast of Ringo Starr’s mind.
Tone was a problem throughout the conference. Those that arrived on stage were constantly appealing to the audience’s sense of humour, while delivering very few games of levity. Almost all of Ubisoft’s big titles were shooters, with violence and darkness as main motifs, making those jokes seem out of place and strained. Some did hit, however, such as Trey Parker and Matt Stone making light of Kanye West’s dead mother game, but most were immature, eye-rolling and unfunny.
The one game that did manage a number of successful gags was South Park: The Fractured But Whole, a sequel to The Stick of Truth, which parodies the superhero genre. Everything it presented made was at the expense of both Marvel and DC’s movie offerings, as well as the RPG genre, making the game seem genuinely topical as well as entertaining to play. While I love fantasy games, The Fractured But Whole seems to be more up my alley in terms of content. Playing a satire of what I love (heroes that wear ridiculous costumes, and have even-more ridiculous names) is a dream come true; a dream that will make my Baron Zemo action figure very proud.
The first of Ubisoft’s shooters shown was Ghost Recon: Wildlands, a game which brings open-world action to the drug lords of Central and South America. While this concept is intriguing and very topical (the Mexican drug war brings in 13-49 dollars annually), the gameplay is what worries me the most. Animations and mechanics had odd snapping motions during the demo, as if aiming, driving and other movements felt sticky and unrefined as of yet. I also think that Wildlands will suffer greatly from open-world fatigue, as it shares visual and mechanical similarities to Metal Gear Solid V and Just Cause 3 to name but a few. Having said that, the co-op looked great. It thoroughly encouraged varying styles between players, with each of the four in the demo piloting widely different vehicles to apprehend a target. This will hopefully differentiate Wildlands from its numerous competitors.
Ubisoft’s biggest game, Watch Dogs 2, was shown during the latter half of the conference. Even though it seems to have bettered its predecessor with regards to gameplay and world-building in almost every way, with more fluidity in movement, brighter visuals and more variety in hacking, I couldn’t help but cringe throughout the demos and trailers shown. Modern clichés proliferated, as if the team at Ubisoft Montreal sat down and said to themselves “What does 2016 look like culturally?” The result of this has been smart phones, dubstep, hipsters, drones, hackers and nerds, none of which can be easily portrayed without veering into an unintentional mode of self-parody and annoyance.
The Watch Dogs 2 segment of the conference was one of many which overstayed its welcome. The Assassin’s Creed movie, For Honor and Steep also had this problem as each had a mix either CGI trailers, lengthy demos, developer monologues, and even interviews on the stage. I feel as though Ubisoft’s lack of games to show led to this forced elongation of the conference, with the next Assassin’s Creed game taking a break until 2017 hurting it the most. Game fatigue was felt throughout. For example, seeing the skiing and snowboarding of Steep in a trailer showed everything I needed to know about the game: it’s a third-person sports title dominated by openness and rag-doll physics. An extended demo was by no means necessary.
To wrap-up, For Honor was shown in a particularly lacklustre manner, as the demo with Vikings lacked any soul or intrigue. It consisted of zoomed-out, hack-and-slash gameplay, with little-to-no personality. It was more Heavenly Sword than God of War, and I could not be less interested. The Assassin’s Creed movie seems to be shaping up nicely with its brand new story (removing the pressure to live up the games’ characters and plots), fantastic director and help from Ubisoft. The fact that so much of the film will take place in the present (65%) scares me slightly, but I have faith that it will at least prove an interesting watch. Speaking of watching, a Watch Dogs movie was also mentioned, which will probably be pants.
Ubisoft delivered a conference that was awkward, lengthy and tonally off. Some interesting tidbits were shown but, overall, the absence of Assassin’s Creed or UbiArt offerings left it entirely lacking in style, beauty or fun. On the other hand, thank God there were no more Rabbids.