Ubisoft’s “Far Cry” bet
Mega-publisher Ubisoft is in need of a hit with the launch of today’s “Far Cry 6,” an already-divisive sequel that has the best shot of giving Ubisoft a 2021 blockbuster.
Why it matters: Ubisoft’s workplace issues — its failures and the internal and external efforts to address them — have rightfully gotten a lot of attention in the past year. They exist alongside deep creative problems that raise questions about Ubisoft’s future as a hitmaker.
- The company is two years removed from a game that was so poorly received that Ubisoft delayed three major releases to improve them.
- Last year’s big fall Ubisoft games included one surefire hit, “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla,” but also a flop in “Watch Dogs Legion.”
- Ubisoft has spent much of 2021 announcing radical online multiplayer-focused shifts for some of its best-known franchises, which haven’t launched yet.
The details: For now, there’s “Far Cry 6,” which puts players in the shoes of Dani Rojas, a guerilla fighter in a fictionalized Caribbean nation that resembles Cuba (and has mixed results depicting its Spanish-speaking citizenry).
- It is not a franchise deviation. In keeping with the five other major “Far Cry” games of the past decade, it focuses on open-ended, chaotic first-person conflict, letting players gather an arsenal of weapons and vehicles to use to attack enemy bases and slowly move through another gorgeous virtual locale.
- The series has done the same with games set in a fictional Himalayan country, somewhere in the Stone Age, and, most recently in a Montana county overrun with religious extremists.
- “Far Cry” games nod at serious themes — here, the difficulty of revolution — but spend much of their time being goofy — here too, the opportunity to use a rooster based on a “Street Fighter” character in the game’s virtual cockfighting.
Reviewers have been all over the place, with this one praising it, another calling it “fun but the most inessential game I played this year” and one just bailing on it because it is so much more of the same.
- This reporter's take from several hours of playing: Fun but, yeah, very familiar, feeling a bit like an annual phone upgrade that I could have skipped.
The big picture: Not all change is needed or good, of course. The sequel is getting knocked for playing it too safe in the same week that the company’s announcement of a big change for its “Ghost Recon” series drew daggers.
- Ubisoft has reinvented one of its big franchises in a way that was commercially successful. Its 2017 edition of “Assassin’s Creed” shifted the series from focused, stealthy adventures to sprawling, action-first epics.
- It has yet to figure out a successful reinvention for its other big series.
What’s next: “Far Cry 6” may well be a hit, as “Far Cry 5” was before it, but Ubisoft appears to know a shake-up is needed.
- During a podcast in June, Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier noted that the next “Far Cry” could go in a “radically different direction.” That tracks with a source of my own who said the company was exploring a more online-oriented approach for a sequel.