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Developers, Take Note: Ubisoft Got it Right

By: Steven Chaffin, Jr.

February 07, 2013 - 8:25 CST

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While other developers are slipping into repetition, Ubisoft is embracing innovation.

Earlier, I was contemplating writing a piece on repetition within the gaming industry when I began to turn my thinking away from series that are mundane and repetitive towards series that have been able to remain relevant over the course of several releases.  I then stumbled upon an article discussing the announcement of a new Assassin’s Creed title.

When Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and Assassin’s Creed III were announced, my response was, “Bleh, not another one”.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first three titles, especially Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.  Both offered awesome experiences and breathtaking, above-average visuals, and by the end I felt as though I shared a personal connection with Ezio.  Ironically, the fact that those two games were among my favorites was the primary reason I groaned at hearing of more releases.  Although the end of Brotherhood left gamers with an abundance of unanswered questions, it was nevertheless an excellent and fulfilling conclusion for me.

Let me explain.  When something beautiful is created and enjoyed, it’s easy to screw up a second time around.  Ubisoft had managed thus far to release three great Assassin’s Creed titles, and so it seemed increasingly likely that they would screw up if they kept making more games.  I didn’t want to see a wonderful series become bland and repetitive, and so when I heard Ubisoft was developing Revelations, it seemed to me they were intentionally sabotaging their own creation.  After playing Revelations, my view didn’t change.  Admittedly, I didn’t play through it entirely, but I quickly picked up on a few things: The game offered the same awesome environment, same awesome protagonist, and same awesome gameplay mechanics.  But the “awesome” wasn’t what I noticed.  What I noticed was the “same”, sprinkled with a few new additions that I never particularly cared for.

So I hopped off the Assassin’s Creed bandwagon for a while.  But the next thing I knew, Assassin’s Creed III was announced, and suddenly I wanted to smash my computer screen.  The series I loved was becoming another Call of Duty; a series of good games being release factory-style one after the other without making any meaningful changes between releases.  This trend made a degree of sense to me with Call of Duty, but for a series that I had never even expected to become a series, it was saddening and disappointing.

Ubisoft proceeded to smack me in the face.  Hard.  The spry Ezio and beautiful European architecture, despite my ongoing love affair with them, were being left behind and replaced with a new protagonist in a more recent, more well-known and tumultuous period in history: The American Revolution.  Now I must admit that American history is, in my opinion, hands down less interesting than European history, but that wasn’t my concern.  Ubisoft could have released a couple more Assassin’s Creed titles that followed the pattern of Brotherhood and Revelations and still have made a boatload of money, but they realized that interest in those things wouldn’t be sustained forever and that it would become inexplicably boring.  And so Assassin’s Creed III was born, full with new gameplay mechanics, awesome sea battles, and a new and expansive environment. 

There is undeniably a lot of repetition in the gaming industry right now.  Call of Duty is the most beat-to-death example of this.  Call of Duty 4 changed what it meant to be an FPS, and for years Activision and the game’s developers kept the formula the same with each new release, breaking records every time.  Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the first installation of the series since then to have made any noticeable (and beneficial) changes beyond a few new maps and weapons. 

Developers who are in a rut right now (see: Capcom’s Resident Evil) should take note of Ubisoft’s ability to do what many developers have failed to do.  They made a great game, and although I was skeptical at first, made a great, ongoing series that will be enjoying its fifth console release within the next year or so.  Not only are they making each subsequent Assassin’s Creed title better, unlike the downward trend that is my beloved Resident Evil series, but they are also innovating rather than simply cashing-in on what made their previous titles successful.  There is a lot new and old developers alike can learn from Ubisoft’s success.

As an aside …

Ubisoft, as a longtime fan of the series and former skeptic of it, you have restored my faith in your ability to continue developing awesome Assassin’s Creed titles.  I would, however, like to make one suggestion: Get rid of the Animus, and start focusing on history.  The idea of the Animus isn’t inherently bad, but let’s be frank: the real beef of the game is when it is historically engaging, not when we’re running around in the modern world with superhuman abilities.  Pick an awesome time in history (there are tons, hit me up for suggestions) and run with it.  The Animus subtracts from and confuses what is otherwise a flawless experience.

Steven Chaffin, Jr.

Steven Chaffin, Jr. is a games reporter for NextGenUpdate.

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