Rejoice, oh fans of Crytek’s 2004 classic Far Cry. Ubisoft have announce that a….how do I put it, redux? Re-release?…..of said First Person delightfulness will be available as of February 11th in the form of Far Cry: Classic. Updated visuals, brand new cut scenes and other jiggery pokery means that for just $9.99 (US Bucks y’all) you can go back to the Island where it all began and retread those most hallowed of grounds in all their glory….
…….Not if you have a PC though. Sorry, did I forget to mention that bit? That’s right, Far Cry: Classic – originally released solely for the PC back in ’04 if you recall – will not be given a PC release.
Aaaaaand that little event perfectly sums up Ubisoft, who are the subject (or should that be target) of this particular episode of my game ramblings.
Here’s the thing about ole Ubi; they have made – and continue to make – some of the best games put to code. But where once the name Ubisoft was synonymous with edgy, hardcore titans like the Tom Clancy Series (at least, I think it was, right?), now they fall into the same category as other bloated, faceless, corporate monoliths like EA and are known for their lazy and third rate approach to anything even resembling a PC game. And that’s the bit that stings.
Waaaaay back in the mid 80’s Ubisoft – started by 5 brothers in Brittany – made deals with Electronic Arts, Sierra On-Line and MicroProse to distribute their games in France. Success quickly led to other deals in other territories and before you could say Rainbow Six, Ubisoft started their own development arm. Today, they boast around 30 individual studios (some founded by Ubi, others acquired over the years) in 19 countries. They employ the world’s second largest amount of in-house developers and can claim to be the third largest independent games developer on the whole ruddy planet. So well done them. But success, as usual, comes at a price. Ubisoft’s price was their connection to the very fans that made them what they are.
Up until 2004, every Tom Clancy game (all owned by Ubisoft since they acquired Tom Clancy’s own Red Storm Entertainment after the very first Rainbow Six game back in 1998) was released on PC. We are talking around a dozen Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon Titles, with all of their DLC’s and sequels and extra bits and pieces, many of which were solely available on Windows. Not to mention titles like Far Cry, the Rayman Series, and a whole grab-bag of random titles that helped build Ubisoft into a giant on the development and publishing stage. That changed – slowly at first – but then as the inevitable wave of cash poured in from the console market, Ubisoft left the PC world behind. Forgotten. Betrayed.
It feels as if they almost resent the PC market now. Their games, not all, but most, many of which with sooo much potential, are invariably chucked through their in-house ‘porting machine’ that seems to require little more than “Press 1 to port to PC”. And lo – a PC version of Rainbow Six: Vegas is shat out like an unwanted colonic tumour and left to fester in its own bile. Leaving half finished games riddled with more bugs than a Ukrainian prostitutes toilet seat. Connection issues, crash to desktop, GPU incompatibility, key-bindings (I mean, key bindings, what the actual fuck?) Jesus, Far Cry: Blood Dragon doesn’t even run on my machine to this day and Ubi’s tech support was like talking to office IT punks who can barely manage to change printer toner. Trying to have a 4-player co-op session on Vegas 2 really was like being in Vegas in that it was a roll of the fucking dice whether or not we’d get a game at all.
And it’s as if they don’t even give a shit. I mean, they barely even hide their contempt. There’s precisely dick in the way or after sales support. Almost no patching. Ghost Recon: Future soldier even had their PC version canned after not much time in development without even a fucking press release out of courtesy to their fans. And then what happens? A year later the Ubisoft Porting Machine dumps out the PC version with barely a whimper, like it didn’t even touch the sides. Was it worth the wait? Was it fuck. What a load of tripe. The potential in that game had me salivating; pre-planning tactical scenarios and custom load outs with my clan for weeks before hand. What an unmitigated disaster, a total waste of my life and a scar of disappointment that will never fully heal.
That’s what is so painful; when Ubisoft nail it, they really nail it. When they don’t, it feels like they simply don’t care about the PC market any more. If it wasn’t for the fact that Vegas 2 was such an unbelievably good game – once you managed to get in there – we would have simply thrown it to the side and cracked on with something else. But God it was good. Naturally we expected the same from Future Soldier. We were wrong.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the latest title I’ve played of theirs, and guess what? It’s very good. A clean PC port, excellent gameplay, and challenging to boot. So why the inconsistency? How was Ghost Recon so badly done and yet Blacklist seems to have made the transition effortlessly? It’s for reasons like this the phrase “don’t hold your breath” is so common within the circles I dwell when talking about Ubisoft, because you just never know. All faith has gone. When you talk about Valve, Gearbox, Irrational, Crytek, these guys have had hits, and misses, but you can’t shake the feeling in your heart that these guys want to make good games; artists constrained by the shackles of commerce. Ubisoft, EA, Activision, these are the billion dollar goliath’s, raking in cash, buying up indie-developers and swallowing their souls. Money machines, worrying ever so slightly about the whole creative side of things – and yes occasionally turning out fucking good games.
That is where they dwell now; the mighty halls of big industry gaming, where the PC crowd are very far from The Master Race. It’s all Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs and other AAA titles.
It’s a rollercoaster ride with Ubisoft. You never know which way it’s going to go. The problem is though, they have stung me too many times for me to give them the benefit if the doubt. In fact it’s now the opposite. As much as I may get excited at their upcoming releases, ultimately I assume it will be yet another ruined opportunity. It will take more than Splinter Cell: Blacklist to change that.
And so what of Ubisoft’s future? Rainbow 6: Patriots is still apparently in the works despite a horrendously bad production thus far which ended up seeing the entire creative team ‘deleted’ and Ubisoft essentially starting again from the ground up. The Division is the next title incoming (due sometime in 2014), and once again it looks like it has vast stacks of potential, with a current-gen breakthrough in destructible and dynamic environments and an excellent 4-player co-op system. But guess what, it was only confirmed that it would have PC release after they asked fans via Twitter to sign a petition and declare interest. I mean Jeeeeesus. They’ve also hinted at a Far Cry 4 which, after the instant classic that was the series third instalment, I am already excited about.
Each one of those three titles alone has the potential to be truly epic and to be a contender for game of the year. But they also have the potential to be crushingly disappointing.
I’m hoping for the former, but guess what, It’s Ubisoft, so I won’t hold my breath.