Ubisoft @ E3 2012: Awkward, Tasteless, and Dumb.
or, What the Fuck Did I Just Take
I just got done watching Gamespot’s replay of the Ubisoft press conference from yesterday - my work schedule is necessitating a more leisurely pace for these recaps. And… I don’t know, you guys. Someone really needs to check in on Yves Guillemot, make sure he’s okay. This shit is getting weird. And I don’t mean Satoru Iwata holding a banana weird. I mean, like, salvia weird.
So chronologically speaking I guess we need to talk about Flo Rida and Just Dance 4. I guess. I have the same problem with these dance games as I do with Military FPSes - I can’t tell the difference between Dance Central and Just Dance. I don’t think there is a difference, and much like how Guitar Hero tried valiantly to jump onto the Rock Bandwagon (see what I did there?), the difference at the end of the day is probably going to be more about tracklists than anything else. I think a lot of people have the Kinect now, and a lot of people have the Wii, so that’s pretty much your choice made for you. Let’s move on.
Far Cry 3
And suddenly, everything went completely off the rails. The Far Cry 3 gameplay demo started out with the main character (you) awkwardly fondling a topless native woman’s breasts. The native lady (who I’m pretty sure was voiced by Zoe Saldana, or someone who was trying really hard to sound like Zoe Saldana) tells you something about your destiny or something, then you get up to find that the entire village is watching you have weird sex with this woman. And then it turns into Avatar - the music swells, you pledge to lead these poor, backward islanders against the menace of Someone Bad, then you dive into the ocean.
And this is where shit gets really weird. Because suddenly you’re having LSD flashbacks, you’re being taunted via televisions by your Heath-Ledger-As-Joker arch-nemesis (who we see turning into different characters - into you, for instance, or into strippers), you drop into a deep pool of water and see entire rainbows of televisions. They hit the “insanity” thing pretty hard - so I guess we’re being led to believe that you’re an unreliable narrator and something, something. Listen. Who gives a shit. We’re missing the obvious stuff.
Why the fuck were you having sex with the villager?
Why was the entire village watching you?
Did we really need a scene of an enemy soldier beating a tied-up woman in the first two minutes of the game?
It isn’t just gratuitous, it’s completely tasteless. I don’t know if it was meant to establish the surreality of the setting or if it was there just to titillate people (my money is on the latter) but it tainted the entire presentation for me. Far Cry used to be a halfway-decent open world shooter with some really nice environmental effects.
When did it turn into this?
Splinter Cell: Blacklist
A lot of people I’ve spoken with since this game was introduced aren’t super happy about it, and I can understand why. The trailer was chock-full of Sam Fisher killing a lot of keffiyeh-clad Iraqis, and if you read my article about Medal of Honor from yesterday, you might think that I would be eager to lump Splinter Cell in with the other gross, vaguely neo-imperialist oorah titles. And you wouldn’t be wrong. Well, not entirely, anyway.
I guess the difference is that I like the Splinter Cell games. For one, they’ve never taken themselves quite as seriously as their FPS counterparts. I liken them more to Metal Gear than Medal of Honor - there are secret plans, shadowy organizations full of ridiculous ninjas, apocalyptic superweapons, and the like. And while the trailer was pretty troubling from my particular standpoint of wanting to avoid as much jingoistic propaganda in my games as possible, it probably isn’t going to be representative of the game at large. At least, I hope not.
Avengers: Battle for Earth
Embarrassingly low-res, awful CG, and we didn’t even get to see the main cast of the Avengers doing anything except watch Wolverine and Spidey beat the crap out of some B-list villains. This would have been a bad trailer in 2002. Next!
I’m going to talk at length about ZombiU in the next couple of days - I think it’s important to put the game in the context of the WiiU, so I’ll write more about it when I write about Nintendo’s offering this year. All I’ll say now is that I really liked the trailer and I can’t wait to see more.
Assassin’s Creed 3
Before I write something inflammatory, I want to be clear here. I’m a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Assassin’s Creed 2 was without a doubt one of my favorite games of 2009. Brotherhood was fantastic. I’m eight hours deep into Revelations right now and enjoying the hell out of it. The Assassin’s Creed games manage to keep the core gameplay of the series solid while constantly introducing new and interesting concepts and mechanics. My feelings for the franchise transcend “affection” and tend more toward the “fangirl” area.
So let me tell you, then, why I’m not excited about Assassin’s Creed 3.
I’ll admit that I had my hopes up for a more baroque setting in AC3. I wanted revolutionary Paris. Maybe industrial revolution-era London. I’ve spent probably hours thinking about how cool an Eastern setting would be for an AC game. Maybe something in China or Japan or India. Something new. Something exciting.
So yeah, I was a little bit crestfallen when I heard we were going to 1770s America. My beautiful architecture, replaced by trees. My bustling cities full of life, replaced by snowdrifts and wild animals. The disappointment of it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Take, too, the character of Connor. I like that he’s apparently Native American. I like that his facial animations and combat animations have been improved - if nothing else, the game looks incredible. I don’t like how his voice actor has been stumbling over his lines in the material that we’ve seen. I don’t like how the character seems to be a return to the Blank Slate Assassin in the vein of Altair from AC1 - especially not after Ezio (so full of life! so full of personality!) just took us through a whole trilogy of gross sobbing and incoherent emotional noises.
It’s intractable, at the end of the day - I’m still going to buy it. I’m going to play it, and I’m going to enjoy it, because I like the parkour and the combat and I really like the look of the naval sections. But I can’t help but feel like something is missing.
Yes, it’s actually called that.
This was the most embarrassing part of the whole thing. Toby Turner starts gushing obnoxiously about esports and then suddenly there’s a battle of the sexes thing going on and frankly the game was so uninteresting, the announcing was so painful to listen to, and the memory of Toby’s voice grating in my ears was so soul-crushing that I zoned out and thought about pancakes for like 20 minutes. I remember feeling shame. That’s about it.
And then, suddenly, blessedly, riding from out of the mist, came Watch_Dogs. I still don’t really know how to describe it - it’s almost a modern cyberpunk setting, a strange amalgam of Deus Ex and Grand Theft Auto, coupled with the absolute most gorgeous visuals I’ve seen so far at E3. The gameplay trailer we got was agonizingly short and left me hungry. And the reveal at the end suggests that we’re looking at either co-op multiplayer or a full-fledged MMO environment? Holy shit. Sign me up. I wish I had more to say about it. Please watch that video, it was amazing.
Finally, I want to say something. I’ve seen a lot of people giving Aisha Tyler shit for not being the World’s Best E3 Press Conference Host, and all of the obvious stuff aside (would you be saying this shit about her if she weren’t a black woman? nope), fuck that. Aisha Tyler was great. She was obviously working with a pretty bad script and literally the world’s worst co-host in Toby Turner, but she was one of the only people on stage so far this year that didn’t make me feel the most severe douche-chills. She was funny when the script allowed her to be, she ad-libbed her way out of some painful moments, and she was one of the only people who seemed genuine. Aisha Tyler was great. Haters to the left.
I really don’t know what to say about Ubisoft this year. Aside from Watch_Dogs, I didn’t come away super-impressed by anything, and the trailer for Far Cry left a profoundly bad taste in my mouth (seriously, WHAT WAS THAT). Hopefully what we saw from the Big Three will make up for it.
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