Ubisoft cops a lot of flak for the “Ubisoft Game”, an open world formula that Ubisoft titles have stuck to for the better part of a decade. Climb towers to open a map chock full of side missions and collectibles, Ubisoft games from Assassin’s Creed to Far Cry to The Crew all employ some variation of it. At E3 2016 Ubisoft did a fantastic job of shifting away from that perception, featuring as diverse a range of games as you will see, from extreme sports to VR to yes, their traditional open world experiences.
Ubisoft felt like the most “traditional” E3 press conference. EA, Bethesda, Sony and Microsoft all drifted away from interviews and kept a snappy pace over 60-90 minute shows, Ubisoft was happy to devote time to celebrity interviews, developer monologues and extensive gameplay demos. Almost every game featured in its show got a live gameplay demo, both games we knew about and games we didn’t (or were not supposed to, this was technically the official reveal of Watch Dogs 2). Debuting Watch Dogs 2 and Steep with gameplay demos shows bravery and confidence, while Ghost Recon: Wildlands and For Honor both look much better for another year of development.
Ubisoft also took the risk of demonstrating VR on stage, something all of the other press conferences (aside from a John Carmack cameo) avoided. Eagle Flight is one of the more inventive uses of VR thus far and to see it as a game rather than another tech demo was encouraging, while Star Trek Bridge Crew is another “well, duh” use of VR that nonetheless looks great. Eagle Flight in particular is a good VR demonstration in that the abstract nature translates to a screen better than a head bobbing first person experience, it looks better on screen than most VR games do. I don’t think this will signal a new age of VR demos at press conferences but it does show that with the right games it can work.
I have to come back to the sheer diversity of Ubisoft’s line-up. South Park, Grow Up, Wildlands, Watch Dogs 2, Steep, Just Dance, Trials of the Blood Dragon, For Honor, the VR games, Ubisoft is covering a lot of ground. That kind of diversity will always result in many people tuning in and out of the show, few gamers are interested in every genre and peppering the show with interviews doesn’t help the pacing, but you can’t deny that Ubisoft has a quality software lineup coming.
The plea from Yves Guillemot to close the show is a fair indicator of just how serious this potential hostile takeover by Vivendi is to the company. It is impossible to know just what Vivendi’s intentions are should it forcibly buy out Ubisoft, but rarely do moves like that come through without disruptive change and usually job cuts. Ubisoft is in a good place in terms of games, I hope that the studios under its umbrella get to continue that good work.