If platform holder conferences at E3 2018 are about bragging – over most powerful consoles, most exclusives, most players – then publisher conferences are about having fun. Without needing to play favourites or build armies of format loyalists, they’re freer to celebrate the games themselves, and you’d be hard pressed to find a publisher who throws more of a party than Ubisoft.
Ubisoft’s E3 2018 conference, held at The Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, was especially jubilant, opening with a live, single-take dance number, starting from an alley behind the venue and leading to an onstage performance. The fact that it was headed up by a panda band leader, and featured French courtesan cosplay and an alien with cranial tentacles, only added to the delightful madness, and set the tone for the rest of the event.
The dance number was, unsurprisingly, a lead-in to the announcement of Just Dance 2019, Ubisoft’s annual music game, with this year’s entry arriving on all formats on 25 October. While no gameplay footage was shown, it’s a staple of Ubi’s calendar and enjoys a dedicated fanbase – just not necessarily one that overlaps greatly with the general E3 crowd, a fact driven home by the game still coming out on Wii, Wii U, and Xbox 360, in addition to modern consoles.
The theatrics continued throughout the event. Antti Ilvessuo, creative director on the newly announced Trials Rising, entered the auditorium on a dirt bike, before proceeding to crash into a table on stage – after he’d gotten off the bike. Later, composer Grant Kirkhope led a live band through a suite of music from Mario + Rabbids, celebrating the upcoming Donkey Kong Adventure expansion for the surprise-hit Nintendo Switch game (which arrives on June 26, free to season pass owners).
Trials Rising looks like it could be the biggest and most ambitious entry in the physics-based stunt series to date. Locations span the world, from the Eiffel Tower to Mount Everest, and the game introduces a new multiplayer mode, Tandem Bike. This sees two players controlling one motorbike, and promises even more chaos than Trials is already known for. The full game launches in February 2019 on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch, but eager riders can sign up for a closed beta now.
The first massive spotlight went to Beyond Good and Evil 2, with both a new story trailer and the first glimmers of gameplay footage. Somewhat confusingly, the trailer ended with the appearance of Jade, the protagonist of the 2003 original – despite last year’s reveal of BGE2 saying this will be a prequel. A mystery for another day at this point. In terms of gameplay, Ubisoft showed new heroine Shani navigating the ridiculously beautiful Ganesha City – a futuristic, Indian-inspired megalopolis that blends traditional architecture with towering cyberpunk vistas – both on hoverbike and hopping about on foot. Although we were treated to examples of some melee combat, at this point there’s no sign of any deeper interface, such as Jade’s photography from the first game.
There’s still a huge amount of excitement surrounding BGE2 though, and Ubisoft announced plans to tap into that community spirit through a partnership with HitRECord, the collaborative production company founded by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The actor and director appeared on stage – and wouldn’t be the only Hollywood figure to show up – to announce the “Space Monkey Program”, a drive to create music and art inspired by the game world, which will be integrated into the final game. More details here, and contributors whose work ends up being used will be paid for their efforts. There’s still no sign of a release date or even formats for Beyond Good and Evil 2 though, so it’s perhaps best not to get super excited to play the game itself just yet.
More footage and information was provided for Ubisoft Singapore’s Skull & Bones, although at this point, I still don’t see much more to the game than Sea of Thieves with the ship-to-ship combat of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The game promises an open world environment set around the Indian Ocean, and the ability to play solo or build a crew with friends. On land, safe camps allow you to pick up missions or buy parts to customise your ships, while nautical battles can see you teaming up with other crews to take on tougher vessels. It does look absolutely stunning, though, and its more realistic aesthetic may appeal to anyone put off by Sea of Thieves’ cartoonish look. One potential edge S&B has over Rare’s pirate game is that it’s not limited to one platform – it’s currently set for release in 2019 on Xbox One, PS4, and PC – and can therefore reach more players. Reaction in the Orpheum was positive.
At various points, Ubisoft bolstered its commitments to its ‘games as a service’ offerings. Rainbow Six: Siege continues to go from strength to strength, now boasting 35 million players, while multiplayer brawler For Honor will see its biggest update ever in the upcoming Marching Fire expansion. Due out on 16 October, the pack adds a fourth faction to the game, with Three Kingdoms-inspired Chinese warriors joining the existing knights, vikings, and samurai. A new castle siege mode called Breach will also be added to the game. Expect to see similar content rollouts for The Division 2 (out 15 March on Xbox One, PS4, and PC), with creative director Julian Gerighty revealing a raid mode for the game and three episodic DLC packs planned for the first year – which will be released for free. Service games have been a big winner for Ubisoft, so we’re likely to see more titles take on those elements.
Perhaps the strangest title from Ubisoft this year was Transference, an upcoming VR-focused game from actor Elijah Wood’s production studio Spectrevision. Announced at E3 2017, this was the first chance anyone had to see what it was really about, with Wood himself on hand to show it off. It’s a mostly live-action experience, featuring real actors as members of a family apparently to be subjected to experiments by the deranged father. Players will inhabit each member’s life, switching between them to uncover a dark mystery. That concept lends itself well to the VR experience, but with the game also set to launch on “conventional platforms” when it comes out in the Autumn, it’s hard to tell how important virtual reality will actually be. Like Skull & Bones, there was a strong reaction from the crowd for Transference, so this may have legs.