Always Watching: Ubisoft's E3 2016 Live Conference

Ubisoft E3 2016 Eagle Flight

There was a moment at the start of this year’s Ubisoft press conference which sums up the company in one. Immediately after a dance routine set to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, host Aisha Tyler, surrounded by loudly-dressed dancers and also a giraffe, made an heartfelt tribute to the victims of the recent Orlando shootings. This mix of earnestness and occasional weirdness has been Ubisoft’s MO for a while now, and this year’s showings were no exception.

Ubisoft started off with Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, providing further insight into the drug cartel take-down which will drive the narrative, as well as a multiplayer mission that spanned from stealthy recon to charged base assault to a vehicular chase. There seems to be echoes of Metal Gear Solid V with the setting and the open-ended ways to approach a mission. Wildlands will come out on 7 March 2017, almost exactly a year after The Division came out.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone were on deck to talk about South Park: The Fractured But Whole. A civil war has broken out amongst the kids after they fail to decide how best to play ‘billion dollar superhero franchise’. Combat has similarly increased in scope, incorporating tile-based movement and the ability to influence the turn order through the power of, uh, farts. The game will be released on 6 December.

At last year’s event, we were introduced to For Honor, and at the time we assumed it to be a medieval MOBA. Today, we learned there will be a single player campaign, one which appears to take heavy cues from Ryse combat mechanics and God Of War’s self-seriousness and liberal approach to historical interpretation. If you choose to go medieval with your loved one, For Honor will come out on 14 February 2017.

As Ubisoft is wont to do, it is committing resources to new hardware with a pair of virtual reality titles. We got another look at Eagle Flight, this time though a multiplayer capture-the-flag mode with Oculus’ Palmer Luckey. We were also introduced to Star Trek: Bridge Crew, where four players can don VR headsets and simulate the experience of being on the Star Trek bridge. The potential of this idea may be sunk by the reality of having four people in the one space, each with separate PCs and VR headsets.

Aside from that, there were trailers for: Grow Up, a space-venturing sequel to last year’s quietly successful platformer Grow Home; the Survival expansion for The Division, which I’m not sure how it’s different to the rest of the game; and for Trials of the Blood Dragon, a mash up of Trials’ mechanics and Blood Dragon’s aesthetic. Watching those two march on stage in gaudy matching tracksuits explains so, so much about their respective games.

Because Assassin’s Creed is taking the year off, we’ll instead be parkouring in modern-day San Francisco in Watch Dogs 2. Missions and gameplay appear to iterate on the first title. But contrary to to flat and featureless tone of the original, Watch Dogs 2 appears to have some semblance of personality. Sure, its interpretation of hackers is a very early-00s one, but it has the potential to come off as goofy and enjoyable enough. Ubisoft would want this to be the case, given it also announced that a Watch Dogs movie is in the works.

Closing things off was not a debut trailer for a third person shooter or action-adventure, but for Steep, an open world extreme snow sports game. Players will be able to snowboard, ski, parasail and glide around the French alps, challenging friends and online players along the way in seemingly organic routes. As much as I want to roll my eyes at the game’s Red Bull promo aspirations, the brutal bone-cracking sounds whenever a player bails provides some hope of slapstick fun.

No other company would end their conference on this type of game, this untested IP. Then again, not many other companies have a slate of games that range from earnest-to-a-fault to comically absurdist. Like its press conferences, Ubisoft’s output might not always succeed in its intentions, but it has always at the very least been worth watching.