Ubisoft’s 2016 press conference felt like the last remnant of a bygone era; two long hours of celebrity guests and interviews, extended developer monologues, awkward dancing and one or two of the cringe moments E3 showcases had become famous for. The dancing remained in 2017 but Ubisoft tightened things up on all other counts, a much shorter show where the developers were circumspect and heartfelt, the awkward moments were endearing (I don’t think Shigeru Miyamoto is capable of inducing cringe), the celebrities mostly absent and most importantly, the games looked really cool.
Mario + Rabbids feels like a far bigger deal than I gave it credit for after the leaks; the power of Miyamoto appearing at a publisher press conference will do that. The game also looks interesting, an XCOM-like strategy game with the Mario (and Rabbids, I suppose) charm. Certainly not what I expected and not one of the games I would have said I’d be itching for prior to the show, that I now am is the sign of a successful demo.
Despite having no real affinity with Beyond Good and Evil, the prequel reveal was an exciting moment. The undeniable passion of Michel Ancel and the decade plus underdog story the game has become are hard narratives to avoid being sucked into. The mentions of online play make me question exactly what type of game this is and whether it meets the original vision of a Beyond Good and Evil follow up, but it looks like finally this is happening.
Toys to life for spaceships is such an obvious idea I can’t believe it doesn’t already exist. A million parent’s wallets groaned in agony at the thought, even if toys to life is post-boom. Lego Dimensions went some of the way to vehicle customisation but Starlink goes whole hog, a non-toy mode is a welcome addition but it would be overly generous of Ubisoft to allow the same functionality for toy and non-toy users.
Skull and Bones continued the string of exciting new reveals, and is another that makes so much sense you wonder why it took so long. Ubisoft hasn’t had much luck with derivative multiplayer games in recent times, For Honor being a prime example, and ship combat always looks more exciting than it ends up being for me. I’m keen to hear impressions from the show floor.
Then there is what we knew was coming. Far Cry 5’s reveal was designed to shift the conversation from “cutting critique of modern America” to “hey, this is Far Cry”. That doesn’t mean Ubisoft won’t attempt to say something with Far Cry 5, but expectations need to be realigned for a series that hasn’t been known for its subtle touch. The action looks awesome and the return of Far Cry 2 style buddies is welcome. Messaging will be crucial for Far Cry 5, if Ubisoft doesn’t trust it can deliver a nuanced critique of the militia movement and American politics it better keep feeding us dogs doing awesome things and bomber runs in a crop duster.
The Crew 2 struck me as a sequel nobody asked for, but looking at the ambition on display this was probably always the plan. I didn’t particularly enjoy the story or driving engine of The Crew 2, the story seems to have been fixed with a more general quest to “be the best” but adding planes and boats triples the driving/piloting engines they need to get right. There is potential here but I am very much wait and see on this one.
Assassin’s Creed is going to be doing the heavy lifting for Ubisoft’s E3 streaming schedule, both in content and in advertising it. If you are going to pimp your post show stream at least get a direct feed to said stream rather than filming a TV like a 90s public access games show. Just Dance games still come out on the Wii, which makes sense but is still hard to believe. The hand-me-down Wii market must be thriving. Is this the first game to release across three console generations?
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is in “just give it to me” territory and knows it, and Phone Destroyer could be interesting if it isn’t merely a vehicle for microtransactions. Steep could be the first decent winter Olympics game ever made, it seems to have found its niche. Transference had one of the more indecipherable trailers I’ve seen, I am a VR believer but am also a giant wuss when it comes to horror/thrillers so we’ll see if I can handle it.
Ubisoft did a great job presenting itself as a friendly publisher, almost enough to make you forget its love of microtransactions, ridiculous pre-order economy and continued misuse of the word “iconic”. The games have never been a problem for Ubisoft, it is everything it does around them that gamers take umbrage with. It was nice to forget that for an hour or so and just get excited about some upcoming games, but once the shine wears off remember: be wary.