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Ubisoft's E3 2012 Press Conference: Wonderful Surprises Amid Seething Acrimony

Okay, so the press conference was a complete debacle, but there were games! Great ones, even!

Oh, Ubisoft.

We knew you had something crazy in you. After last year's Mr. Caffeine-addled shitshow, it became readily apparent that reason and caution were concepts that you no longer understood. Still, nothing could have adequately prepared us for the festival of painfully acrimonious banter, awkward audio gaffes, and loopy attempts at eSports promotions we all just endured. You can't script an event that batshit crazy. It had to be organically grown.

Watch Dogs came out of nowhere and floored the audience with an incredibly impressive demo.
Watch Dogs came out of nowhere and floored the audience with an incredibly impressive demo.

It was largely grown from the seething, white-hot hatred displayed between the conference's hosts, Archer star Aisha Tyler, and YouTube guy who says stuff about video games Tobuscus (I had to Google him, as I imagine many of you did.) There was clearly meant to be a bit of jabby back-and-forth between the two, but within minutes it became obvious that Tyler and Tobuscus weren't on the same page. Hell, it was like they were hosting two different events. That continued ever forward until Tyler seemed to legitimately start sniping at the guy every time he talked over her. And that happened a lot. I cannot envision a scenario in which Tyler does not put one of her heels through that guy's eye socket backstage.

The tone for ludicrousness was essentially set by the conference's opening, in which Just Dance 4 was unveiled by women dancing to a variety of songs, including Flo Rida's "Good Feeling," which was performed by the rapper himself. The combination of the suspect choreography and Mr. Rida's indifference to the audience he was performing for signaled what was to come: a ramshackle production featuring a wide variety of uncomfortable moments.

But before we dig into any more of that, we should talk about some games. As much as the production was a disaster, the games shown at the event were by far the strongest of any of the conferences thus far. Between Rayman Legends, Far Cry 3, Assassin's Creed III, and new property Watch Dogs, Ubi's lineup looked extremely strong.

Let's deal with that elephant in the room right now. Watch Dogs. What is it? Based on the demo and Ubisoft's initial press blast for the game, it's an open-world adventure game where "the city is a weapon." The demo showed what was presumed to be the game's lead character skulking around what appeared to be a modern-ish Chicago. Demonstrating an adept talent for hacking, the character, at various points, used his cellphone to short out other electronic devices in the area, including other phones, and a traffic light. That traffic light caused a fortuitously timed pile-up that allowed the character to get to his target. From there, the game launched into third-person shooter mode, with some slo-mo bullet-time stuff and the requisite cover mechanics.

Rayman Legends looks like it'll use the GamePad in some interesting ways. Looks fun, too!
Rayman Legends looks like it'll use the GamePad in some interesting ways. Looks fun, too!

Oh, but that's not all. Watch Dogs also appears to include some kind of multiplayer element. At the very least, it looks as though you'll be playing as multiple characters, as the end of the demo showed the hacker being chased off by a police helicopter, and another nearby hacker being instructed to protect him. Ubisoft's press release did little to clarify the nature of all of this, save but to say that you will be fighting to take down a "corrupt system." No platforms for the game were announced, though Ubi's press site has it listed as a current-gen title (Xbox 360, PS3, PC).

That was the show's closer, and it left a hell of an impression. But let us not forget the earlier gems that popped up. Rayman Legends, for instance, got its first spotlight session. In the game, you'll be doing the same sort of cooperative platforming as in Rayman Origins, but now there's a new character to play as. That character is controlled exclusively via the Wii U GamePad. You tap and swipe around the screen to move the character around, tripping platforms and solving puzzles along the way. This became especially prevalent during a rhythm-platforming sequence, where the GamePad player had to tap along with the music to ensure the other characters were able to move forward. Also, straight up, that game looks gorgeous.

Another serious looker was Far Cry 3, though admittedly that game received a far more incoherent demo than the rest. You could certainly see the lush jungle and environmental tech, but the action had a bit of a bizarre flow to it. Dream sequences, random tigers, and a rather risque opening sex (or at least dry humping/boob grabbing) scene gave the whole experience a real fever-dream feel. Some of that was undoubtedly intentional, but it didn't necessarily play super well while watching it in action. I've no doubt that game is probably pretty cool. That was just a very odd way to show it.

Lastly, there was the Assassin's Creed III demo. You've undoubtedly seen the game in action numerous times now, if you're a fan of this series, and the new demo mostly showed more of what we've already seen, albeit in more fleshed-out format. Multiple dynamic combat sequences were shown, as well as several sections featuring the game's protagonist, Connor (not even going to try to spell his Native American name), bounding around the woods and enemy encampments. This series has always been renowned for its fluid mechanics, but the ease of movement seen in this demo looked absolutely phenomenal. When Ubi said it was going out of its way to make the world of Revolutionary-era America look natural, they weren't kidding.

Those were certainly the highlights, though there were other titles shown as well. In addition to Watch Dogs, Ubisoft announced another new IP, a Wii U-exclusive zombie horror game called ZombieU developed by Ubisoft Montpellier. Horrendously awkward title and total lack of in-game footage aside...well, actually, I don't have anywhere to go with that. It has a horribly awkward title and the trailer was basically just the opening credits of Zombieland set to "God Save the Queen." Because the game is set in London. So it's thematically appropriate, you see.

I'm still curious about ShootMania, despite that awkward demonstration at the conference.
I'm still curious about ShootMania, despite that awkward demonstration at the conference.

And then there was ShootMania, which may have gotten fucked over the most severely by Ubisoft's bewildering antics. In order to show off the game, eSports folk introduced more eSports folk we were presumed to recognize, and then proceeded to partake in a deeply confusing tournament, during which I had no frigging idea what was going on. I know some people shot some other people, and the teams were split up by gender. That's about it. The boys won, in case you were wondering. Not that it matters, since reports seem to indicate that none of it was played live. Supposedly the "tournament" was livestreamed a few days ago. Oops?

Hey, it's Ubisoft. The unexpected, unreasonable, and idiotic should be expected. But at least the games were mostly very good, and were given solid opportunities to shine. Except for ShootMania. Sorry, Nadeo. You got screwed on that one.

Random Thoughts:

  • I cannot stress the discomfort level felt during Tyler and Tobuscus' dialogue exchanges enough. You could hear a pin drop during the uncomfortable silences. Fortunately, they were usually too busy bitching at one another to allow for uncomfortable silences.
  • That said, go Aisha Tyler. She was as professional as could be expected during such a fiasco, and mostly managed to stay on script, where she could. And good on her for not dropping any Archer references. Would've been too pandery.
  • Yves Guillemot is an adorable French imp and I just want to pinch his cheeks and hug and squeeze him to death. Is that weird?
  • I just realized I totally forgot to mention Splinter Cell: Blacklist, probably because I already talked about it during the Microsoft recap. It's still Splinter Cell: Blacklist, in case you were wondering.
  • I also forgot to mention that Kinect-enabled Avengers game. Yup. Moving on.
  • I like zombies, and even I can't get excited for ZombieU. If your target audience can't even get excited, then that perhaps bodes poorly.

Sony's up shortly. Stay tuned.

Alex Navarro on Google+