E3 2017 Impressions: Ubisoft Conference

ubisoft

Vive la France!

This was strange territory for me. For the first time in a few years, Aisha Tyler was not going to emcee the Ubisoft conference. I know she’s a polarizing person, but I grew to really appreciate her level of cringe. Without her, I have to depend on Ubisoft to step up. And I don’t like their level of cringe. Aisha, come back to me!

Past that, I had little expectations from the ladies and gentlemen from France. Well, other than Assassin’s Creed Origins and Far Cry 5, which were already announced. South Park: The Fractured but Whole was definitely getting shown. And I knew they were going to drop another Just Dance because that series is a moneymaker. That’s about half a show right there. Would the other half surprise me?

As before, the games are listed in the order in which they appeared.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Ubisoft began the conference with something that’s been bandied about recently. CEO Yves Guillemot was joined onstage by Mario creator and perpetually smiling man-child Shigeru Miyamoto. Together, they announced Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Info about the game leaked last month, but it was formally introduced here. The game, a mash-up of two universes no one knew they wanted, actually looks fun.

The story is straightforward. A vortex appears over the castle in the Mushroom Kingdom, and mischievous Rabbids spew out. Mario, Peach, Luigi, and Yoshi set out to clear out the new menace. Joining them are four friendly rabbids dressed as just like them.

I gotta say that seeing a rabbid, dressed as Princess Peach, disapproving of Peach’s clothes is slightly humorous. But only slightly.

In a bit of a curveball, this game is a turn-based tactical RPG. The comparisons made to X-Com are apt. In battle, Mario’s team and the opposing rabbids are on a battlefield filled with objects walls. When it’s your turn, you maneuver your characters around the field. Just like X-Com, cover is extremely important. Here, though, your characters can move farther, either through normal moves or by being catapulted by another character. The idea is to flank your opponents in order to get off a good shot. If a rabbid is behind a wall, you can still shoot the wall to bring it down.

You fire at enemies with what looks like a stylized Mega-buster. Miyamoto and Guillemot both sported a pair. I want the one painted like Bullet Bill!

The battles are actually pretty challenging despite the cutesy presentation. It’s not on the level of X-Com, but it’ll demand some careful planning and management. As you progress through the game, the battles will get more complex. An assortment of objects placed on the battlefield will alter your strategies. Pipes will allow characters to travel even further than normal. There are blocks that explode when shot, as well as blocks that contain a large ball that rolls across the field when shot. Occasionally, rabbids will be perched on raised platforms, allowing them to pick you off despite cover.

When not in battle, your team explores the Mushroom Kingdom. As usual, coins are scattered about. You collect these in order to buy gear. There are a few environmental puzzles and some red coins as well. The puzzles usually lead to a chest, which will contain new items.

Everything has the look of an insane Nicktoons show produced by Nintendo. Miyamoto is involved, so you know the quality and level of detail will be high. The gameplay looks to be fun as well. The only question is how much depth the gameplay has later on. Here’s hoping that it has plenty.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle will be released on August 29th for the Nintendo Switch.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

We’ve already covered Assassin’s Creed Origins on this space. This presentation mainly consisted of director Ashraf Ismail talking about the game and behind-the-scenes. Ismail’s last project for Ubi was Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Yea, this game is in good hands.

Assassin’s Creed Origins will launch on October 27th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

The Crew 2

In 2014, Ubisoft released The Crew. It promised a persistent online racing world with MMO elements and an engaging story. It gave me server issues and a story I couldn’t care less about. Hey, game companies. Here’s a tip: NO ONE WANTS TO PLAY A RACING GAME THAT’S MIXED WITH A CRIME DRAMA! When I load up a racing game, I wanna RACE! NOTHING ELSE!

Wait…Ubisoft listened? The Crew 2 is just about racing? Bullshit!

Well, to be honest, there is a story. The story is that you want to climb up the ranks and be the best racer. That is a story I can get behind.

The game is still a persistent online open-world game. Although the locations still mirror real-life U.S. locations, in The Crew 2 the country is called Motornation. The locations shown include New York City, Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon, and the Mississippi River. Driving across Motornation is completely seamless, with no loading screens whatsoever. In total, there are about 2000 square miles of real estate to race in. And the racing isn’t limited to the streets. For the first time, The Crew 2 introduces a wicked amount of vehicles. They include speedboats, Indy cars, stunt planes, monster trucks, and buggies. That’s a huge departure from the first game, which had any vehicle you wanted so long as you wanted a car.

Early gameplay looks fun, but some questions arise. In one gameplay video, you see a race where the driver is in a Porsche. After a bit, the cars hit a ramp and are suddenly driving on rooftops. Back at ground level. The game suddenly does an Inception-style world-bend, and suddenly there are speedboats racing. The world bendiness is still present. Soon enough, the speedboats give way to stunt planes. That’s all pretty cool, but is that how the game will play? People who tried out a demo on the E3 floor say the same odd transitions happen in the demo. Is the demo just a sample crunched together for time, or is it the actual way the game plays?

Hopefully, we’ll get some more hints on the gameplay soon. The Crew 2 is expected to release in “early 2018” for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

Look, Ubisoft. There’s nothing else to say about South Park: The Fractured But Whole. I already know I want it. I’m not pre-ordering because I hate pre-ordering, but I’m buying this game. Stop delaying this game already!

For those who don’t know, the game picks up right where the previous title, South Park: The Stick of Truth, left off. Instead of a medieval fantasy setting, the New Kid and the South Park kids are playing superheroes. And this is a South Park game, so expect tons of crude humor and farts. You know, awesome stuff.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole is planned for an October 17th release for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Transference

When I first saw the trailer for Transference, I initially thought it was a VR acid trip starring Elijah Wood. The game itself is not entirely too far from that thought.

Transference is the brainchild of Ubisoft Montreal and Spectravision, Wood’s production company. It is meant as a psychological thriller where the player enters the digitally recorded memories of a man with obsession issues, played by Macon Blair. The game has you assume control of his thoughts, making choices as you watch his interactions with his equally troubled family. Other clues and interactions open up depending on previous choices. Family members will react and change depending on your choices as well. This will allow the game to be replayed multiple times, with wildly different results.

Transference is expected to release in Spring 2018. Ubisoft is planning two different versions. They will offer a VR version for PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive. They also list PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, meaning there will be a non-VR version as well.

Skull and Bones

Although the Assassin’s Creed series got stale after time, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is one of my favorite entries. I’m not the only one; Black Flag was well received by many. One of the things everyone enjoyed in the game was the ship combat. Ubisoft knows, decided to make an entire game around the mechanic, and added multiplayer to it. The result is Skull and Bones, a PvP pirate ship combat game. And I squealed with glee when I saw it.

The game is set in the 18th Century, a time when piracy was prevalent. You and your fellow pirates, however, are not in the Caribbean but the Indian Ocean. The trades routes there are ancient and very lucrative. But warships from the East India Trading Company, sea monsters, and other scalawags will make things rough for you and your fleet.

During the presentation, a gameplay trailer showed off a 5v5 multiplayer battle. During the gameplay, the different types of ships are explained. There’s the Frigate, with a reinforced hull and the most guns. The Brigantine is equipped with a battering ram, used to smash into enemy hulls. And then there’s the Sloop of War, the most nimble of the ships and armed for long-range attack. As players progress through Skull and Bones, access to more ships and upgrades are unlocked.

Since the area you traverse is open water, there are several things players can do. Merchant ships can be encircled and ransacked. The particulars are vague on actually boarding ships, but it’s reasonable to assume that there has to be some way of commandeering the ship if the goal is to plunder. Your fleet can also choose to take on the warships of the East India Trading company. The makeup of your fleet will help determine if you can sink the warship or be damaged badly. If you choose to sail in disputed waters, you can set up multiplayer PvP matches with other pirate fleets.

The combat is very frenetic. Positioning is very important since you have to judge the wind and seas properly in order to strike or evade. Players can switch between ships to either helm them, support fleet mates or even betray them. Again, positioning is king in this contest, and the fleet who can use the wind effectively will gain an advantage. During PvP battles, other warships may join the fray. Ship damage is represented by a health bar. If that health bar reaches a certain point, it’s good to have an escape plan handy and ready to execute.

All of this sounds phenomenal, and the gameplay footage shown looks amazing. But since this is a multiplayer title, the focus should be on Ubisoft’s servers. For Honor, another fun and gorgeous game with PvP elements, was ultimately done in by its servers, which were not able to handle traffic satisfactorily. It behooves Ubisoft to iron those issues out lest it claims this game as a casualty, too.

Skull and Bones has a vague release window of “Fall 2018.” It will be available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Just Dance 2018

Note: The trailer linked is not what was actually shown at E3. That video…well, just you wait.

The Just Dance series chugs on, and at least my daughter is not bored of it. Just Dance 2018 will be little changed from the previous ones. The game sports a track list of 300 songs, including Side to Side by Ariana Grande feat. Nicki Minaj, Chantaje by Shakira feat. Maluma, and Bubble Pop! by HuynA.

Just Dance 2018 will hit the dancefloor in October. It will be available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and even the Nintendo Wii U.

South Park: Phone Destroyer

I’ll just use the official description for the game to explain the game:

South Park: Phone Destroyer brings you iconic South Park characters, action-packed real-time strategy, exploding PvP battles, trademark South Park humor and collectible cards in a perfect mix that’s spicier than Cartman’s chili con carne.”

From the looks of the video, it’s part RPG and part card game. Whatever it is, expect the same crudeness the console video game will serve. It’s even available on the same day ass South Park: The Fractured But Whole, October 17th. It will be available for both iOS and Android.

(UPDATE: I found a link to the game on Google’s Play Store. It’s marked as unreleased. I was not able to download it since all my devices are seemingly incompatible. But look at the In-App Products section. Prices range from $0.99 to $99.99. So yeah.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas

The toys-to-life category of video games has seen some slowdown since Activision’s Skylanders series first debuted in 2011. The genre is still selling well enough, however, that Ubisoft decided to throw its hat into the ring with Starlink: Battle for Atlas.

The sci-fi game has very little to tell. The toys, in this case, are collectible starships. These have snap-on hardpoints on the wings and fuselage. Players can swap parts in and out in order to change the ship’s configuration on-screen. The toys are then attached to the console’s controller, where the game will recognize them. Switch users will have to use a Joy-Con attachment. The players will be able to create and command a team of pilots and directly control them onscreen.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas will take off in Fall 2018 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch.

Steep: Road to the Olympics

Steep, the extreme sports title, is getting an expansion pack. Steep: Road to the Olympics will be set in Japan and South Korea. The expansion pack will include several new events: Big Air, Downhill, Giant Slalom, Halfpipe, Slopestyle, and Super G. It will release Steep: Road to the Olympics on December 5th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. A Nintendo Switch version is expected to be released at a later date.

Far Cry 5

Considering the amount of controversy the reveal of Far Cry 5 kicked up, it’d be hard for a gamer not to know what it’s about. For those in the dark, the game takes the Far Cry series to the United States. A cult of religious of fanatics named Eden’s Gate, led by a man named Joseph. He and his followers have carved out territory in Hope County, Montana. The player must go into Hope County with a small squad and attempt to wrest control of Hope County from them.

Ubisoft is not new to controversy. They saw some backlash with 2014’s Watch Dogs and its portrayal of constant surveillance and loss of privacy.  That year, they also caught flak with the cover of Far Cry 4. On it, a blonde with white skin and a pink suit is sitting on a statue and has his right hand on top of the head of a subservient Asian person. But the controversy surrounding Far Cry 5 is much more divisive. With its mix of Americana and Christian tones, many people are calling it despicable and even blasphemous.

Whether you approve or disapprove of the premise in the game, gamers who want to play it will find that it’s largely the same as other entries. The focus is on liberating Hope County little by little. Whereas earlier entries in Far Cry had you mostly going solo, here you are leading a squad. The gameplay trailer showed a sniper, a pilot, and a dog assisting the player. Dogs can be friended and let loose on enemies. He can even bring guns back to the player. How the sniper and pilot factor in remains to be seen.

As is normal for Ubisoft open-world games, Hope County is a persistent online area, Other players can drop in, help out, and either stick around or drop out. Again, the specter of server issues looms large. The release of last year’s Watch Dogs 2 was marred by connection issues. Ubisoft has committed itself to the persistent online model. They need to get its infrastructure up to snuff if it doesn’t want to handicap its games out of the gate.

Far Cry 5 will be released on February 27, 2018 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Beyond Good and Evil 2

This was the “OH SHIT!” moment of E3 2017. Despite being a cinematic trailer only, enough people lost their shit when Beyond Good and Evil 2 was revealed that I’m sure the ushers had to clean the seats wearing hazmat suits.

2003’s Beyond Good and Evil is a cult classic. A sequel has been asked for and teased for years. Eventually, it would be revealed that the game would, in fact, be a prequel. It didn’t matter. The fact that it made an appearance at E3 2017 is almost too good to be true.

The 2003 original starred Jade, and investigative journalist and martial artist who works for the IRIS network, a resistance group. She set out to uncover an alien conspiracy. She did so by getting photographic evidence of the controversy. Along the way, she fights enemies and solves puzzles. She is accompanied by Pay’J, an anthropomorphic boar; Double H, an IRIS operative, and an AI named Secundo.

Beyond Good and Evil was a commercial flop, which explains Ubisoft’s reticence to fulfill director Michel Ansel wishes of making the series a trilogy. After gaining a rabid cult following and a ton of requests for the sequel, Ubisoft teased it back in 2008. Since then, all signs pointed to Beyond Good and Evil 2 being either vaporware or a cruel joke on its fans.

Then I saw the trailer. In it, an anthropomorphic boar is executing a transaction with a similarly human-like ape. Suddenly, my eyes popped out of their sockets. This can’t be…

It was.

The boar was not Pay’j, but the futuristic setting and graphical style made me wonder if it was the prequel regardless. It was until the end when the ape give a woman a disc that she then pops into a skull-shaped reader. The frame backs up to a view of the woman, from a distance, talking about the disc’s contents.

I am absolutely convinced that was Jade!

Since this was a teaser trailer, it was only cinematics. Nothing resembling gameplay was shown. The characters were of varies species and cursed like sailors with gonorrhea. Everything about the teaser was much different than the original, but to me, it felt like Beyond Good and Evil. It was only when the title popped onscreen that fans and gamers everywhere let out a collected roar. There was finally proof that Ubisoft was working on the title.

But as Wolf said in Pulp Fiction, let not go sucking each other’s popsicles just yet.

The scope and ambition of this game are enormous. Ancel showed off a rough tech demo of the game. According to them, the game was equal parts open-world, RPG, and procedural generation. Everything is still very raw, so no specifics were nailed down other than the fact that it’s a prequel.

This game is still in its very early stages, so Lord knows when we’ll see a release date. Fans have waited fourteen years for this game. Let’s hope they don’t have to wait too much longer.

Odds and Ends
  • One thing I forgot to mention in the Assassin’s Creed Origins write-up is that Ubisoft seems to have eliminated towers from the game. Players can still climb structures to get a better vantage point, but it will not be required to open up areas of the game.
  • Another Assassin’s Creed Origins tidbit: both the Xbox One X and the PlayStation 4 will render the game at 2160p30, the latter with checkerboard rendering. Cue to framerate elitists (like me) shouting shenanigans.
  • Ubisoft can always be counted on for cringe, and this conference was no exception. Yves Guillemot and Shigeru Miyanoto had some awkward interactions. It’s mostly a cultural thing I’m sure, but it still looked cringy.
  • The cringe award for E3 2018 has to go to the Just Dance 2018 segment. It featured popping and locking Sub-Zeros with LEDs on their masks and chestplates, ponytailed ladies dancing to J-pop, a dancing panda, and singer Bebe Rexha. I get it. They’re dancing. But at least let Aisha Tyler give me my cringe and not dancing Lin Kuei. Whaddya say?
Colclusion

Ubisoft’s conference was not spectacular, but they did announce some really solid games. And they delivered the biggest blockbuster announcement of E3 with Beyond Good and Evil 2. I would say that for an instant, it even eclipsed the hype for the Xbox One X.

The game I was most interested in is South Park: The Fractured But Whole, but quite a few titles impressed me. If Ubisoft can deliver these games on time and as shown (remember, they love bullshots), and the servers are strengthened, they are going to have a couple of great years.

He has been playing video games for longer than he would like to admit, and is passionate about all retro games and systems. He also goes to bars with an NES controller hoping that entering the Konami code will give him thirty chances with the drunk chick at the bar. His interests include vodka, old-school games, women, vodka, and women gamers who drink vodka.

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