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Opinions 13 June 2021, 19:14

author: Alexander Eriksen

Alex is a gaming industry veteran of institutions like GameSpot and Twitch. His work has been published on GameCrate, Yahoo News, and The Wall Street Journal. Twitter: @Alexplaysvg

Ubisoft at E3 Ushers in an Age of Rehashing

Ubisoft is one of the most important companies for gamers in the world. So it is not surprising that we expect much more from them.

Ubisoft’s hour-long E3 keynote feels like it could have been done and dusted in fifteen minutes given that the company isn’t out to capture new territory with gamers by, say, announcing a free to play Battle Royale to compete with Warzone or launching a whole new franchise.

No, what could have been trailers uploaded to YouTube each somehow got stretched out into twenty minute long segments where we don’t actually learn much. There were no big surprises and the vast majority of the discussion focused on new or expanded content for Ubisoft’s existing slate of franchises. If you want the low-down on those, read on.

Sticking to the Basics

The biggest reveal of the show was a gameplay demo of the Rainbow Six: Siege spinoff, Extraction. The game brings back the zombie mode event they ran a few years back and it looks like decent fun. The “just put zombies in it” formula is something the studio seems keen on given they have this game and a new zombie roguelike mode for Watchdogs: Legion.

The gameplay footage is reminiscent of Back 4 Blood or the PC indie horror shooter G.T.F.O. and adds a bit more texture to what was a fun, if straightforward, experience back when this was a limited-time event for Siege. In this more fleshed-out standalone, alien bacteria from a meteor has spread around the world to places like San Franciscso and New York. These become “containment zones” and are walled off from the rest of the world.

The team Rainbow operators will join up in three-man teams under the banner of a new organization called “React”. The missions are broken up into sections, we don’t know exactly how many, but you and your teammates will need to go into enemy territory and complete an objective like rescue a VIP or gather intel.

All the things that make Siege great will be here too with barricades, gadgets, a gaggle of guns, and plenty of operators to choose from. It’s unclear exactly which operators or gadgets will make the transition to Extraction but count on there being series favorites like Ash and Tachanka to bring to bear against the alien menace. A neat wrinkle to the game is that any operator lost in the field must be rescued before you can play as them again. You also risk losing your XP and upgrades should you be captured.

While all of this is neat and something different for the studio it’s not that different and we are talking about a siege event from three years ago. Despite having all that time for development this doesn’t look all that different from what we experienced back in 2018. And that pattern holds pretty much for the entire show.

Where’s the New Stuff?

I can remember when E3 meant actual announcements. Gamers took this as a time to pay special attention to what the big players were bringing to the table but so far this E3 for Ubisoft feels like a post to the company’s community blog – all little updates and tidbits meant for the diehards that would actually read something like a community blog.

Mario fruitlessly searches for new IPs. - Ubisoft at E3 Ushers in an Age of Rehashing - dokument - 2021-06-13
Mario fruitlessly searches for new IPs.

There just wasn’t a lot of new stuff to show off. And yet the presentation stretched on for an entire hour. That big Star Wars open-world game Ubi have been working on? Zero mention of it. Any new Far Cry 6 details? Just a cutscene we’ve already seen parts of. Literally any news about Splinter Cell or The Division? Nope. Are they even still updating For Honor? Who knows.

We did get to see the reveal trailer for the Avatar game that literally no one is asking for and some kind of extreme sports game called Riders Republic but out of nine announcements only two were for new properties. That’s got to be a record for E3.

It’s a real head-scratcher looking at this E3 showcase and wondering how a bunch of vague mentions of updates for games, some of which have been out since 2015, amounts to a mission statement of where the company is going.

They didn’t even show off Far Cry 6, their major release this fall, in any kind of detail. They did show off what comes with the season pass but it seems to have nothing to do with FC6 and instead brings back villains from the previous three games as playable characters inside of what looks like one of the franchise’s bizarre drug-fueled fever dreams.

It makes you wonder just what the future of the company is exactly without new franchises or even sequels to their successful ones. It’s not like they’re short on money or time to plan these things out so does this represent a fundamental shift in their approach to the industry?

Rehash = Cash

Ubisoft’s play is not to create new franchises or games but to rely on their established catalog and serve up tweaks and changes to give the company an illusion of actual production.

Don’t get me wrong, if they’re updating Ghost Recon for instance with little changes and updates, that’s still work. But it isn’t on par with sinking serious resources into launching a new franchise or leveling up an existing one through a sequel.

By bringing back old Far Cry villains for a spin off adventure you have to question the thinking behind digging up old assets and just remixing them. This may be a lesson they learned with New Dawn, which acted like a mini sequel to FC5 and was generally well received but felt more like DLC than it’s own game. Maybe they see that as a more lucrative model than to risk losing money on an untested idea or a brand new IP.

No matter where you look in this showcase there’s rehash after rehash. We have a “new” game that’s a remix of R6: Siege assets, a season pass for Far Cry that remixes assets from past games, and even their guitar teaching game, Rocksmith, is becoming a subscription service that adds little more than new songs.

But why take that route when there’s already a massive modding community for Rocksmith that has users adding their own DLC content, for free, to Rocksmith 2014? Are those people just going to drop the mod community they built and sign up for a subscription?

The fact that they didn’t even mention any of the new artists for what they’re calling Rocksmith +, just the genres they’d be adding, wasn’t encouraging. Why not add more instruments like drums or piano? Or teach people how to sing? Or multiplayer that lets you form a virtual band with other people over the internet?

The only answer I can come up with is that it’s cheaper to remix what you’ve got on hand and sell it as something that looks new enough to your established fanbase. That approach seems to have been applied to literally every franchise in their catalog. Today we saw rehashed Rainbow Six, rehashed Far Cry and rehashed Rocksmith just to name a few.

The only new thing we saw was Avatar and let’s face it, there is literally no one on earth excited to play that. No one. Maybe you could chalk it up to COVID disrupting literally every industry but I can’t help but walk away from the first day of E3 with the feeling that Ubisoft is seriously off their game and falling back on their catalog to float them through the next year while exerting themselves to the absolute minimum. 

If this time next year we see Assassin’s Creed getting yet another documentary mode or Watch Dogs: Legion getting another round of story DLC you could beat in an afternoon, it is at that moment I will seriously begin to worry about Ubisoft’s future.

Alexander Eriksen | Gamepressure.com

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