By Alex Daud Briggs |
If one thing is clear from Ubisoft’s E3 this year, it’s that they’re listening. It doesn’t feel like too long ago that Ubisoft were infamous for dubious DLC practices and uninspired sequels – but the last couple of years have been a firm renaissance for the company, and this year’s E3 is a fine example. Whilst there weren’t too many surprises, the amount of detail we got on Ubisoft’s upcoming games was exciting and reassuring.
It began with Just Dance 2019, a release at which hardcore fans in the audience may typically yawn. But instead of just showing some gameplay, everyone watching was handsomely rewarded with a dance number lead by a man in a panda suit. Just Dance may not be a main attraction for many, but theatrics like these have made for an affable tradition. Little footage of the game was shown, but you can’t miss the memo: it’s an over-the-top dance simulator where you play as colourful, wacky characters. A colourful start to a solid presentation.
Beyond Good and Evil 2 is up next. Last year’s conference saw ten years of waiting finally put to rest with a proper trailer, and this year was a chance to elaborate. This year’s trailer detailed more of the gorgeous design, from the animal characters to the sci-fi Hinduism-inspired city they inhabit. One interesting thing to note is that the developers are collaborating with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s company HitRECord to involve fans by integrating their own original art and music into the game. While I’m usually sceptical when games try to involve fans more, this seems like an interesting opportunity for creatives types to make their passions known. It is also interesting to see celebrities like Gordon Levitt getting more involved with game design and that Ubisoft is willing to cooperate.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt wasn’t the only celebrity Ubisoft brought to E3; Elijah Wood also took to the stage to give more information on his studio’s upcoming VR game Transference. From what we can tell, you play as a young boy hooked up to some kind of reality altering device by his totally unsuspicious father. The game does a chilling job of bleeding the virtual world into the real one, as well as interlocking it with the family drama between the son and his father. Horror games using VR to further immerse the player is nothing particularly new, but the surreal tone has great potential for unique mind shenanigans.
Tom Clancy’s The Division garnered a mixed reception when it came out thanks to a lack of end game content, but again, its sequel demonstrates Ubisoft’s welcome capacity to listen. The Division 2’s E3 section starts with an excellent trailer depicting the transition between an innocent scene of a little girl playing in a garden only to the dystopian state of Washington DC, where people are slaughtered in the street before our heroes arrive. The trailer does a fantastic job of creating the oppressive tone of the game while still making it colourful and interesting. The floor demo further showed that the team was interested in improving overall content and content strategy, addressing paltry endgame fears by releasing free story expansions.
One of the biggest surprises of Ubisoft last year, the crossover Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, was a unique tactical RPG that felt surprisingly fresh for both the Mario and Rabbids series. This year, Mario + Rabbids: Donkey Kong Adventure made itself known via a fantastic live rock cover of the original Donkey Kong theme. The DLC takes players out of the Mushroom Kingdom and into to DK’s familiar lush jungles, with new playable characters – including the big ape himself and his own rabbid counterpart, of course. Overall, it looks like a fun expansion for an already great crossover.
An especially intriguing new IP showcased was Skull and Bones. Taking a cue from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, this game allows the player to control a pirate on high seas of the Indian ocean. A live demo was shown at the conference, demonstrating how one might attack and raid a ship as well as defend themselves from rivals. Considering how popular to ship combat was in Black Flag, I think it was a smart move to turn the concept into a brand-new IP where it can hopefully expand further. We haven’t seen too many high-quality games about pirates, so the game fills a nice little niche.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is Ubisoft’s take on the toys to life concept, a genre that seemed to be fading out with the exception of Nintendo’s amiibos. However, Ubisoft seems to be putting their own spin on it: the toys for Starlink are spaceships with modular parts – such as weapons – which, when affixed to the toy, will then appear in-game. It’s been met with some resistance, but there is potential here. Kids getting into collecting different parts and creating their own modified ships is a palpable prospect indeed. The big highlight however was that the game would feature a crossover with Nintendo’s Star Fox series, with an Arwing model exclusive to the Switch version. They even managed to get Star Fox and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto to come on stage for the second year in a row. It’s always cool seeing crossovers like this, and that Nintendo is still willing to give Fox’s crew work even after the lukewarm reception to Star Fox Zero.
Saving their most anticipated game for last, Ubisoft unveiled Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. The latest game in the long running franchise taking place in Ancient Greece. Since Assassin’s Creed Origins came out last year, the series has been heading in a new direction, readjusting its focus slightly to incorporate RPG mechanics. Odyssey pushes this trend further, implementing Bioware-style multiple choice answers for the player to choose from. Whilst controversial, a system like this really plays to Assassin’s Creed’s strengths. I always felt the main draw of the series was how it immersed players in historical worlds, and in that respect, RPG mechanics allow for greater interaction with their inhabitants. Besides that, it’s a welcome break from the norm which Unity and Syndicate did not stray from. Besides debating philosophy with Socrates, it just looks like a tonne of fun. Credit to Ubisoft not only having the option of a female protagonist, but also stating that she is the canon protagonist of the game which is something that they have been criticized for in the series’ previous entries.
At the end of the conference Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot stated that he optimistic about the impact that technology and video games have on society, and after their seeing their conference, I felt the same way. While Ubisoft didn’t bring the biggest surprises to E3, this was amongst the most solid conferences they’ve ever had. They brought many highly-anticipated games to the show and still managed to maintain their usual flair without major detraction. Ubisoft are listening and that is a fact: be it fans, Nintendo, or Elijah Wood, that’s something we can all be excited for.