Ubisoft E3 Confrence 2017: Something Evil This Way Comes

Posted in Kulturecade by - June 15, 2017

It feels safe to say that by this point in time, Ubisoft has a reputation for playing it safe; when you have the Assassin’s Creed, Tom Clancy, Far Cry, and Just Dance franchises to fall back on, you can afford to bank on your known properties. Somewhat surprisingly, then, Ubisoft had some impressive reveals up its sleeve for this year’s E3, even if some of the games showcased have been in development for a while now or were leaked beforehand. It wasn’t a perfect show, but Ubisoft had a strong showing this year didn’t disappoint.

First up, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot took to the stage to talk about Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle… with surprise guest Shigeru Miyamoto! Yes, their banter was a little stilted at times (which can easily be chalked up to Miyamoto needing a translator), but the genuine warmth between the two helped sell me on an idea that I thought was a hoax when I first heard about it. The game itself looks good, with the art styles of Mario and the Rabbids meshing well, and the turn-based combat showed off depth that I wasn’t expecting from a game intended for younger audiences. I’ve never been a fan of Ubisoft’s Rabbids or understood their enduring popularity, but this game has me intrigued.

Next up was another trailer for Assassin’s Creed: Origins, surely one of Ubisoft’s biggest upcoming titles, if not the most significant. It’s also the least interesting part of the show, for no other reason than it was revealed yesterday at Microsoft’s conference and there wasn’t anything new on display in the trailer and brief snippet of gameplay. I’m sure the game will be good, and it certainly looks pretty, but the hype just wasn’t there, and it showed in the audience’s excited-but-not-ecstatic response to the series’ return from its brief hiatus.

Moving on to games that got a bit less focus, The Crew 2 got a beautiful cinematic trailer, and a short presentation that doubled down on Ubisoft’s “bigger is better” philosophy of developing games. This was followed by trailers for both South Park: The Fractured But Whole (which hopefully won’t be delayed again) and a VR horror game called Transference. The Transference trailer was almost entirely live action footage, so it was more of a tone piece than anything else, but hopefully, more details will emerge in the coming days.

I think it’s safe to say that Ubisoft’s biggest new IP is Skull & Bones. A co-op pirate ship game with competitive multiplayer sounds fun, but it is incredibly derivative of the sailing in Assassin’s Creed 4 (a comparison which Ubisoft wholeheartedly owned up to, leading me to believe that there may be more to this game than just more of the same). The “shared, systemic world” allegedly evolves over time, but no concrete examples of how this would affect the game were given. Also, sea monsters! Everybody likes sea monsters.

The rest of the conference was relatively lightweight (except for the end, which I’ll get to in a minute). Shocking no one, Just Dance 2018 is coming out this fall, and the accompanying on-stage dance routine was pretty decent. South Park: Phone Destroyer is a mobile game that appears to be a turn-based action RPG, although no further details were given. The Nintendo Switch exclusive Starlink: Battle for Atlas looks like it could be fun, but while the plastic ships that attach to the controller look cool, I doubt the practicality of having to pause the game every time you want to switch out weapons and parts. There was mention of a digital option, so I suppose the gimmickry will be easy enough to circumvent. Steep is getting a Road to the Olympics expansion, although I’m not sure why we needed six months prior notice. And last but not least, Far Cry 5 continues to look good in a new gameplay trailer that shows off some of the features new to the series (squad commands, airstrikes, a dog companion and the like).

So, here’s the part people are going to be talking about: Beyond Good and Evil 2 is real, and it’s coming next year. The trailer was gorgeous (although the series has taken a decidedly M-rated turn with the somewhat jarring barrage of profanity), the world looks interesting and lived-in, and the game should be able to attract newcomers because it’s set before the birth of the protagonist from the first game. The team behind this game seemed genuinely excited to finally be making a sequel after 15 years, and Beyond Good and Evil 2 was definitely the most interesting thing Ubisoft showcased today, ending the show on a strong note.

It’s also worth noting that Ubisoft’s presentation, in general, was good: there were a few minor stumbles, but no cringe-inducing moments or serious technical gaffes. None of the speakers displayed overtly false enthusiasm, and on the whole, the entire thing had a nice amount of excitement without trying too hard. The Ubisoft conference never hit an astronomical high, but it also never fell on its face, keeping a consistent but manageable hum of energy throughout.

All in all, Ubisoft had a good showing this year, even if it probably won’t be remembered for anything besides the Beyond Good and Evil 2 trailer in a few months’ time. If you’ve noticed that I’ve been saying “good” quite a bit, that’s because it’s hard to call this year’s presentation anything else; it was consistently better than being just OK but stopped just shy of greatness. Ubisoft had a few neat surprises and all the returning franchises look as solid as ever though, and that, coupled with a distinct lack of unfunny jokes and technical issues, solidifies Ubisoft’s 2017 E3 conference as one of its best in recent memory.

Final grade: B-

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