In the beginning of this generation of gaming, Ubisoft stood tall as a beacon of consistently enjoyable experiences, delivering quality games in the Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six series that proved legitimate competition to Call of Duty and Halo titles. Since then, the company has delivered several half-baked and poorly developed titles that have failed to impress and capitalize on the popular branding that precedes them. Has Ubisoft lost its way over the course of this generation, and will its most successful franchises ever enjoy the level of success and critical acclaim they became accustomed to in their glory days?
Ubisoft initially “got” the whole vibe of the Clancy brand, and introduced incredible titles such as Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, and Rainbow Six: Raven Shield when the stealth genre was predominantly occupied by Metal Gear Solid and tactical shooters hadn’t quite taken off. These older titles were classics, bringing innovative gameplay and extraordinary narratives to the masses with incredible graphical prowess and complexity. However, recently, Splinter Cell: Conviction and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier have proven to be enormous departures from the popular and wildly successful formula that made earlier titles in each franchise critical darlings and platinum sellers.
Things began to go downhill after Ubisoft tried to stray from the foundation that the Tom Clancy books established for earlier games. Ubisoft began introducing absolutely ludicrous plotlines into their Clancy titles, and promptly forgot the roots that governed the espionage and tactical gameplay that so many gamers easily fell in love with. As Ubi moved further and further away from realistic and intricate narratives with similarly themed gameplay, they began to lose sight of the Clancy brand’s integrity. The company’s obsession with mainstream accessibility resulted in overly simplified gameplay mechanics that compromised meaningful depth and intrigue for autonomous functionality and a complete lack of substantial difficulty.
Don’t believe me? Take a look back at some of the more popular titles in the Clancy franchises from recent memory. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Double Agent had what was arguably one of the most enjoyable and creative takes on asymmetrical multiplayer with Spies vs. Mercs, which was ditched in Conviction in favor of a short-lived cooperative mode. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 featured a gritty and engrossing storyline with unique shooting mechanics and a visceral graphical style and teamwork-oriented and polished multiplayer, while Ghost Recon: Future Soldier features two modes, muddy textures, a convoluted and contrived narrative, and generic multiplayer. I challenge you to look back at some videos of GRAW 2 and compare them to Future Soldier, then tell me which has a more pronounced and confident graphical style. You might be surprised.
Thankfully, the Rainbow Six franchise is still relatively untarnished, although at this rate, the upcoming R6: Patriots isn’t looking too promising based on early footage. EndWar was a poorly conceived disaster, and HAWX was a shallow and derivative experience. The main problem with every Ubisoft-developed Tom Clancy title in this day and age isn’t that they are bad ideas, per se, but the company is too fearful to take the risks and innovate in the ways that they used to do so regularly. Whether or not accessibility sells better is irrelevant at this point, considering that hardcore and innovative Clancy games sold millions and stayed with gamers for a long while.
What happened? Why the shift? Did Call of Duty really reduce the lowest common denominator to the point that anything that tries to differentiate itself fails in the market? Future Soldier could’ve been great, but the graphics were muddy, the animations stiff, and the gameplay exceedingly familiar. The gadgets are cool, but they don’t change the way you play cover-based shooters in a way that sets it apart from other, more surefooted titles such as Gears of War 3, which knows exactly how it wants to play, and exactly how it wants to look. Newer Clancy games all have an identity crisis: Ubisoft has this great idea, and then rather than fleshing it out and brainstorm art style and gameplay mechanics, they forego any kind of structural planning and begin development without a clear cut objective.
Will the Tom Clancy games ever reach the potential they are so deserving of in the next generation of gaming? At the rate things are going, it’s looking as if Ubisoft is perfectly happy with driving its flagship titles’ reputation into the ground with bland and uninspired sequels that fail to bring anything meaningful to the table.