The State of Play – Average Ubisoft?

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Do you know how much Ubisoft’s operating revenue for the last reported financial year (2014) was? I do – $1.5 billion.

That’s a lot of money. It’s the kind of money that rockets the French colossus into the top video game publishers on the planet. Top by income that is, not necessarily quality.

For all their power, vast resources and massive budgets I can’t help but feel that Ubisoft put out very average releases and tend to play it safe.

They have their hugely profitable franchises; Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and the seemingly endless Tom Clancy releases to name a few. These titles are guaranteed, bankable games. They are Ubisoft’s bread and butter. Yet they lack substance and they whiff of recycled ideas and concepts.

I often enjoy talking to people about their favourite games of all time and not once has somebody named an Ubisoft title. As a company I believe they lack the balls, the ambition and drive of a From Software, say, or a Naughty Dog. The story telling in a game such as Assassin’s Creed feels convoluted and hokey compared to The Last of Us for example, with stiff dialogue that doesn’t ring true.

Playing an Ubisoft game is like eating a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet; it’s tasty, quick and you believe yourself to be contented. A short while later however, you realise the contented feeling you have was actually trapped wind and once this has been remedied you are left feeling empty and hungry once again. The lingering smell of stale egg fried rice serving as the only memory of the entire experience.

I don’t intend to come across as bashing Ubisoft unashamedly without recognising some of their better efforts. The first Splinter Cell game I enjoyed very much. The stealth gameplay, lighting and level design was all fantastic. I played it to death on the XBox twice (the first time I encountered a game breaking bug later on and had to restart, which was nice). For me, it’s their best game I have ever played. The original Rayman was also not bad, for the time.

In recent years their releases have been met with average reviews where a simple “meh” will normally suffice in summing up. Take the upcoming Tom Clancy’s The Division or Far Cry Primal for example. On the surface they are highly glossy from a well established line of franchises and yet I would put a wager on neither of them being hailed as a masterpiece after release. They are destined to be awarded an “8 out of 10”, a “3 out of 5 stars”, “75 – 80%” – you get the idea.

Yet it doesn’t have to be like this. Nothing grinds my gears more than seeing video game companies playing it safe, not when they have such talent and resources at their disposal. Do we really need another Assassin’s Creed? Are we salivating for yet another generic Tom Clancy title?

Maybe the bean counters and share holders at Ubisoft think we do – they want to invite us back to the Chinese buffet – but not me thanks, I’ve had my fill.

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