Ubisoft @ E3 2014 – Stage Show Impressions

I’ve said before that in recent generations each new Ubisoft game is broken somehow.

The same could be said for their E3 press conferences.

Granted, Ubisoft has their fans. I am admittedly not one of them. So take my word about Ubisoft for what it is–an outsider looking in once a year, hoping that Ubisoft will succeed to draw me in, pretty much universally being disappointed every time. Last year left me with an overall better impression than usual; this year was a slight step down, but not a complete tumble. First, the games. Here’s what Ubisoft had to show on-stage:

  • Far Cry 4
  • Just Dance 2015 (+Just Dance Now)
  • Tom Clancy’s The Division
  • The Crew
  • Assassin’s Creed: Unity
  • Shape Up
  • Valiant Hearts: The Great War
  • Rainbow Six: Siege

Earlier today I commented that I appreciated Microsoft’s lack of gimmicks at their stage presentation. Sadly I can’t say the same for Ubisoft. The terrible MC was back, the on-stage dancers were back, and the show started with a pointless (but admittedly pretty funny) teaser featuring the iconic Raving Rabbids. But that isn’t to say the press conference was all bad. At E3 2013 Ubisoft got my attention with Trials: Fusion, Watch_Dogs, and The Division, and this year they got me again with The Division, but they actually had less to show of actual gameplay than before. Snowdrop engine looks truly fantastic and is a great showcase for next-gen hardware, but there’s still a lot to be learned about the game that we won’t get from a cinematic trailer maybe mixed with a bit of early footage. Tuck it into the back of your mind for next year’s E3, but don’t expect to see an actual release until 2015.

What I am surprised to be pleased with is the new Assassin’s Creed: Unity. I’ve been pretty hard on the series the last couple of years for lagging behind graphically and being too unbelievable mechanically, but with Unity that trend is completely over and done. Movement is fast, fluid, and intricate, and the new engine finally does justice to the vivid historical environments the series has featured since its inception. I might actually give the series another chance, which coming from me is saying a lot.

UbiArt, on the other hand, though it looks nice, has yet to turn out a game that really captivates me. I love the idea of making games that look like art pieces, and the framework itself is genuinely impressive. There’s just a critical difference between making a great medium and making a great use of a great medium. UbiArt Rayman games started looking very samey very fast, so I’m glad that Ubisoft hasn’t pushed that series forward again this year, but for all its differences I’m not sure Valiant Hearts: The Great War has what it takes to finally make UbiArt worthwhile. The proposed storyline and the actual art style and gameplay don’t mesh, making me perpetually question if the title is intended to be silly or serious. If the latter ends up being the case, sign me up. Otherwise, just leave my name on the waiting list for a really good UbiArt game. I want UbiArt to succeed, and not just by the sales figures, but by being properly realized for the potential it has.

And all that is to say nothing of Far Cry 4, The Crew, and Rainbow Six: Siege. Though seemingly different in just about every way, my overall impression was very much the same. There’s big moments, interesting features, and a respectable amount of effort behind each one. But how will they penetrate the gaming library? I’m not talking about the market–that’s a given. What will make these games stand out in gamers’ libraries mere months after their release? Far Cry games always generate a lot of hype, often based on mild controversy, but it tends to die down fairly quickly. The Crew’s vast playing space is a great selling feature, but hard to fit on box art. Rainbow Six is a long-running series that seems to be returning to its roots, but the heavy tactical aspect may or may not stand well against the likes of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Battlefield: Hardline. There’s a lot of potential in Ubisoft games, even some great ideas, but the execution has a very Ubisoft feel all around, and it’s always a mixed bag. And unlike Microsoft and EA, Ubisoft shows no intention of attempting to repair their image, even after Watch_Dogs–the poster child of next-gen gaming–got mixed reception. Flawed or not Ubisoft games sell well enough, and so long as that is the case nothing will change for the French developer. They’ll just keep on wavering between great and mediocre, usually striking neither and landing at merely average.

As a final thought, it would seem Ubisoft’s stage show seals the deal on 2015 game releases. Simply put, 2015 is going to be a huge year for gaming, and 2014 won’t have much in the AAA department to hold us over until then (The Crew just barely sneaks in this November). It’s not too surprising that we’ve got a year’s gap in big releases now that next-gen hardware is only just out in a sustainable audience’s hands and developers can start working on games for them in earnest. That means lots of hype and anticipation, which is great, but it also puts the pressure on developers to deliver as big as they promise. The current norm for games is delays and less impressive products than product demos, but it’s not unreasonable to blame 7th-gen consoles for that. With the Xbox 360 and PS3 more or less out of the picture, we can finally start moving forward again. Consider me pumped for that.