I want to offer nothing but my sincerest condolences to the person or people working for Ubisoft who spoke up over the Assassin's Creed Valhalla trailer. I imagine you viewed the latest trailer that was incorrectly labeled as "Gameplay footage" and said something along the lines of "That's not gameplay". I imagine when the "Gameplay footage" was sent to Microsoft to use in their live stream, you felt an air of dishonesty hang over your head. I bet you wondered about the ethics of the people you work for, but were powerless to stop some higher power. A power that understands more about the TI-82 that replaced their brain than any actual video game console. I bet this employee laughed as much as I (and the hundreds of people in the stream chat), but immediately felt disgusted. I'm spinning this story hypothetically, but I refuse to believe such as person doesn't exist. But I refuse to believe everyone looked at this and said "This is fine". Ubisoft is now just advertising things that aren't real.
Watch this trailer:
Oxford defines "Gameplay" as "the tactical aspects of a video game, such as its plot and the way it is played, as distinct from the graphics and sound effects", so unless Ubisoft is promoting some Sega CD style FMV game, this ain't it chief. All we saw was cut and edited footage so tightly choreographed that it might has well been a cutscene. I assume that in the full game we aren't going to be able to zoom in on the characters faces while they are making serious expressions. I assume that we aren't going to be able to make the time move rapidly while looking at picturesque locations without the player on screen. It's parody levels of absurd how little of the game is here. No UI, no assassination mission, not even a hint of player control. It's in engine footage some of the time for a little over a minute, and that is it.
Dealing with major publishers has, for a long time now, felt sort of dirty for me. It's easy to go through E3 trailers and pick apart all of the little dishonesties and carefully crafted hype building. That feeling of constantly trying to be sold something, like they are trying to pickpocket you with their mind. It's become routine for a publisher to cross the suspension of disbelief line and then peddle back after the backlash, but this is a leap of the line and off a cliff. I started writing this immediately after watching the trailer, so I don't know if there will be backlash at all. But there should be, and lots of it. This whole thing would be far less egregious if Ubisoft wasn't hyping it up for a week. It's like they were passing out tickets to a new movie they made, then they put on a sock puppet show projected on a screen, and then genuinely wondered why people were upset.
Publishers are constantly trying to reinvent words and twist what your expectations into what they want. Ubisoft wants you to see a new Assassin's Creed and buy it without question because you saw the logo and something that looks cool. Of course it's going to look cool if you string together and reshape it. People can literally can make a sculpture out of trash. What I want to know is what the game is going to look like moment to moment. I want to see what it's going to look like when I play it, not your over zealous video editor. Remember, Ubi, you can only lie so much no one believes you. As goes the story, "The boy who cried gameplay trailer".
(Nick Miller is a video game historian and collector based in Cincinnati. You can reach him at [email protected])