E3 2015: Ubisoft Press Conference Impressions

Ubisoft had a hell of a fall season last year, launching three high profile games (Assassin's Creed: Unity, Far Cry 4, and The Crew) within one month's time. What Ubisoft brought to its 2015 press conference beyond Rainbow Six: Siege, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, and The Division ‒ three strong releases already ‒ could be classified as unexpected. Watch Dogs 2? Another Assassin's Creed? Not quite, but after a meandering expo from EA, Ubisoft had little momentum to lose.

Good thing the sequel to South Park: The Stick of Truth held its own against EA's best trailers. With an immature name and great pun to match the show's equally juvenile humor, I nearly did a spit-take when South Park: The Fractured But Whole emerged on-screen. Promoting superheroes instead of a fantasy motif, I nominate The Fractured But Whole for E3's most needless but welcome sequel (and seriously best name). We know nothing about the mechanics, but The Stick of Truth stood as a piece of unrivaled fan service, and I trust Matt and Trey to outdo themselves again.

Bringing the show back down to earth, the ensuing segment starred a cooperative multiplayer brawler called For Honor, with spurts of blood supplementing clashes of iron and steel between knights, samurai, and vikings. We watched two teams of four clash on a battlefield of hundreds of pawns, a la Dynasty Warriors. At the same time, the main draw is tactical swordplay similar to Chivalry: Medieval Warfare or Mount & Blade, where you position your blades to counter or overpower the thrusts and swings of opponents. I will reserve my judgment until I see more, but suffice to say For Honor could become my favorite new IP from this E3.

The Crew, not to be left in the dark, will receive an expansion pack, too. Called Wild Run and concentrating on motorcycles and monster trucks, Ubisoft is giving The Crew a graphical overhaul this November. Will that fix the broken GPS, teleporting drivers, or limited draw distances? One can hope. 

And because we have yet to hear tell of a Far Cry 4: Blood Dragon 2, Trials Fusion: Awesome Level Max boasts 30 new tracks ... and “a cat riding a fire-breathing unicorn.” You cannot make this up. I tried to picture how Awesome Level Max might look and nearly had a stroke.

Back for more, The Division unveiled dark zones, areas filled with loot for three-man squads to quarrel over. Once you have said goodies, you need to extract, but what unfolds during those 90 seconds is a game changer. You can come under attack from enemy teams, sure, but do you dare betray your friends to grab all the spoils for yourself? While Ubisoft did not acknowledge the consequences of choosing to execute allies, I suspect a few friendships will come to end when The Division launches March 2016.

Anno fans have a shorter wait, at least. In November, Anno 2205 will transport the popular city-building franchise to the near future, where humanity has escaped its earthly shackles. While only a brief trailer was shown, I am still curious about the technology powering the game’s lunar civilizations. The Anno series remains unique in that it focuses on very specific time periods, unlike the millennium-spanning Civilization games, for example.

Just Dance 2016 also shook things up. Players can now dance to their favorite songs using their smartphones, and the live performance by Jason Derulo provided me an opportune time to go to the bathroom, just in time to come back and hear news about Just Dance Unlimited, a streaming service that will upload new tracks regularly.

Viewers received some narrative setup for the multiplayer-heavy Rainbow Six: Siege, too. Terrorists have begun manufacturing homemade chemical bombs, and your squad consists of the world's most elite operatives, apparently. The developers even announced “TerroHunt” (Terrorist Hunt), a single and co-op mode versus AI that embraces the small-scale level destruction first seen in Siege’s alpha. The "live" demo began as five soldiers infiltrated a capitol building, then defused a bomb under opposing gunfire, though I expect the full game to vary objectives between maps. Fans adored Terrorist Hunt in the Rainbow Six: Vegas series, myself included. A current-gen version of that concept just sounds like bliss.

Trackmania Turbo hid some tricks up its sleeves. Its plethora of user-created tracks will transfer from PCs to consoles, but budding map editors can create courses at random, like terraforming the earth and letting the game concoct a track’s layout. My only concern is if all the procedurally generated raceways will be beatable.

I have additional worries about Assassin's Creed: Syndicate based on Unity’s technical bumbles (that is a separate discussion). Ubisoft offered a broader peek at Syndicate's Victorian scenery, such as factories that abuse child labor, and the Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood aspects of recruiting citizens to rebel against the corrupt and greedy (nothing novel on that front). Strange, then, that Ubisoft submitted a trailer in place of actual gameplay, which is present on the show floor. That demo depicts a chase through London’s streets, where Jacob brawls with templars on top of horse-drawn carriages and navigates a train station using a grappling hook and winch.

For a game that nobody saw coming, though, Ghost Recon: Wildlands earned a share of the E3 buzz. The drug bust that Ubisoft demoed advertised three options ‒ long range, stealth, and ambush ‒ for carrying out orders. The final seconds of the trailer then zoomed out to reveal a colossal map, but I suspect the way players select assignments is similar to Payday 2, where teams pick a job and the game transports them to an area near the objective. I also wonder, for example, if completing tasks sloppily (i.e., loud versus silent) affects payouts and ratings.

On that note, I would score Ubisoft’s conference higher EA’s showcase, not that I could dislike the latter much more. Ubisoft promoted numerous trailers instead of gameplay, however, which is why I would give the edge to Microsoft as my favorite presentation of E3 2015 so far. Hours will tell if Sony edges out its precursors. 

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