Go Team Cake!
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.
We were told we were “Team Cake”, and how Team Cake was totally the most successful team of that day. Cake had beaten every other team reliably up to that point, and so we absolutely had to live up to our delicious name. Of course, on the other side of the demo area I’m sure another Ubisoft rep was telling the other team the exact same thing.
Our rep explained the controls, abilities, and goals, and made sure to constantly remind us to work as a team and communicate. That’s when it struck me that the demo was just as orchestrated as any E3 trailer with fake voice chat I’d seen before that. It was by far the most scripted, hand-holding demo I played at EGX, and that was a major problem for me.
The game itself is a lot of fun when you have two teammates. Imagine the RPG mechanics of Borderlands meeting the tone and tactical gameplay Ghost Recon in a level structure similar to that of Payday 2. Set in a post-apocalyptic New York, our goal was to find some resources and try to evacuate. We could scavenge for new weapons and equipment to boost our stats, much like any other MMO, but on the whole we were ushered by the PR rep into a large open area in the centre of the zone.
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 video game with a gun in it, every single person playing 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 to go the sneaky route to get the drop on the other teams. The stealth was very well done, and obviously modeled on the newer Splinter Cell games. I darted from cover to cover, and successfully sneaked past another team of players to 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 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.
This sort of strategy worked well in an environment where we were constantly told to work together, but how that’ll work out at home post-release is a different matter entirely. As the demo ended, I was acutely aware I didn’t know anything new about the game compared to before I had 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 have at home.
My idea of seeing how it works in normal people’s hands couldn’t possibly have happened in this environment. It felt like the Stepford Game Demo: 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. I don’t know how the MMO aspects will work, all I know is it was fun to shoot someone in the face… which is only apparently a small part of the game.
It felt like being dragged into an ad rather than playing a game, and, unfortunately, I’m just as cynical about The Division now as I was when it was revealed. We’ll just have to wait and see whether my suspicions about it are true when The Division launches on March 8, 2016.