The demo for Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division was one of the weirdest experiences I had at EGX. Ever since the game was announced, I have been cynical that what we've seen of it so far has been very controlled and carefully constructed to present an image of teamwork and tactics that just don't happen in real games.
The weird, artificial, faux-military chatter meant to simulate real people playing the game that Ubisoft had subjected us to in that E3 trailer had lodged itself in my brain as a sign that maybe it wouldn't be all that amazing, and maybe that scripted teamwork would totally break down come launch day.
When I found out the game was going to be playable at EGX, I was interested to see whether random people coming together would play the game the same way those scripted demos suggested. UK Editor Laura and I sat down with a stranger… and then the (really nice and polite) Ubisoft PR representative stood over our shoulders.
At the same time, the other teams scattered around the demo area were all trying to do the same thing. We had the choice of letting bygones be bygones, or we could “go rogue” and try and kill them. Of course, being a videogame with a gun in it, every single person who played it decided to go rogue. It turned into a weird mix of PayDay 2’s extraction and a normal shooter’s King of the Hill mode.
I decided to try and go the sneaky route to get the drop on the other teams. The stealth was very well done, and obviously modelled on the newer Splinter Cell games. I darted from cover to cover, and successfully sneaked past another team of players and deploy my auto-turret.
During all of this, Laura and Mr. Stranger tried to deal with them head on. Whether they knew what I was doing and wanted to be a distraction for them or whether they were just caught in a bad situation I have absolutely no idea, but it worked and for the time being we had the advantage over everyone else.
Again, this is the sort of strategy which worked well in an environment where we were constantly told to work together, but how that’ll work when most players probably won’t have a team when it comes out is a different matter entirely. As the demo ended, I was acutely aware of not knowing anything new about the game from before I tried it.
I can’t tell you if The Division is going to be good or not. What I played was well made, and I did enjoy it, but it was also so orchestrated, and the pressure of having someone from Ubisoft talking to me through my headset really made it difficult to play the game in a way I would at home.
My idea of seeing how it works in normal peoples’ hands couldn’t possibly have happened in this environment. I played a fairly long demo, against other human beings, with people I know weren’t paid by Ubisoft to act enthusiastic, and I still have no idea how it’ll hold up come release day when there are countless lone wolves and simply awful teammates added to the mix.
It felt like being dragged into an ad rather than playing a game, and unfortunately I’m just as cynical now as I was back at launch.
We’ll just have to wait and see whether my suspicions about it are true when The Division launches on March 8 2016.