Post Script

Etched on a cave wall in pre­his­toric Europe is the next chap­ter of Ubisoft’s de­sign doc­u­ment

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The past few months have sug­gested that Ubisoft is chang­ing its ways. Con­fir­ma­tion that there won’t be a new As­sas­sin’s Creed game on shelves in 2016 came as long-over­due recog­ni­tion that a se­ries which is in al­most con­stant pro­duc­tion across Ubisoft’s re­mark­able net­work of global stu­dios was never go­ing to change un­less the pub­lisher let up the pace a lit­tle. Mean­while, a sim­i­larly long-awaited hands-on with The Divi­sion yielded what seemed like a con­scious move away from Ubisoft’s in­creas­ingly well­worn tem­plate for open-world games.

How­ever, Far Cry Primal sug­gests oth­er­wise – that rather than rep­re­sent­ing a break from Ubisoft’s house style, th­ese games are sim­ply the first sig­nals of its evo­lu­tion. Primal’s open­ing hours see you travel to farflung lands to res­cue a se­ries of Winja spe­cial­ists – a renowned hunter, a fear­some war­rior, a weapons ex­pert, and so on – and bring them back to your vil­lage. Once set up in their new digs they pro­vide more mis­sions and a new skill tree; their huts are up­graded with ma­te­ri­als found out in the world, which re­wards more mis­sions, skills and tools.

This is al­most iden­ti­cal to the be­gin­ning of The Divi­sion, where you head out into a virus-stricken New York to res­cue three spe­cial­ists in med­i­cal, tech and se­cu­rity, to serve as heads of depart­ment in your base of op­er­a­tions, dol­ing out mis­sions and un­lock­ing skills in ex­change for progress. It’s a fine idea: it pushes the player far across the map from the off, and gives them more con­trol over what they do and the or­der in which they do it. And at the mo­ment it feels novel, but Ubisoft’s great­est or­gan­i­sa­tional trick – the way its global stu­dio net­work col­lab­o­rates and shares knowl­edge – means that we’ll likely be sick to the back teeth of it in a few years.

So is As­sas­sin’s Creed tak­ing a gap year and head­ing off to Egypt to find it­self? Or is the break sim­ply to en­sure that it can get in lock step with the lat­est draft of Ubisoft’s com­pany-wide de­sign doc­u­ment? The ru­mour mill leans to­wards the for­mer – cer­tainly, Ubisoft’s most suc­cess­ful se­ries should be defin­ing the com­pany’s style guide rather than fol­low­ing it. But Ubisoft’s re­cent his­tory – of graph­i­cal down­grades and bro­ken prom­ises, of buggy launches and weary­ing re-use of game­play sys­tems – means that it’s a dif­fi­cult com­pany to trust at the mo­ment.

Yet the in­vestor call on which Ubisoft con­firmed the ab­sence from store shelves of As­sas­sin’s Creed also yielded an in­trigu­ing hint that more sub­stan­tial change is hap­pen­ing be­hind the scenes. It seems the com­pany in­creas­ingly sees its fu­ture in mul­ti­player games rather than colos­sal sin­gle­player ac­tion-ad­ven­tures. Per­haps that’s just cor­po­rate blus­ter, sweet­en­ing the pill of a slightly lack­lus­tre fis­cal per­for­mance while smartly build­ing ex­cite­ment for the im­mi­nent launch of The Divi­sion. But if it’s true, then the com­pany must surely re­alise that its ex­ist­ing style guide for open-world games has an ur­gent ap­point­ment with the shred­der.

But that for­ward-look­ing an­nounce­ment also puts the old, fray­ing tem­plate into a kin­der con­text. All Ubisoft wants is for play­ers to keep on play­ing, to keep the disc in their ma­chines and out of the pre­owned sec­tion, and it has long been ac­cepted that an end­less mul­ti­player game is the most ef­fec­tive way of achiev­ing that aim. But it also ex­plains why it builds its sin­gle­player games the way it does: plas­ter the map with icons, tell the player they’re only at 20 per cent com­ple­tion de­spite the fact that they just pol­ished off the cam­paign, en­sure that they are never far from a sign that they still have un­fin­ished busi­ness to at­tend to, and maybe you can keep the game off their trade-in pile for a lit­tle while longer. In this light, Far Cry Primal feels oddly like a farewell: one fi­nal out­ing for a game­play for­mula on the brink of ex­tinc­tion, a trip back in time to bury some­thing whose time has been and gone.

Bon­fires dot the land­scape and of­fer fast travel and ac­cess to your stash once you’ve cleared out the sur­round­ing threat and claimed the flame for the Winja. It’s yet an­other im­ple­men­ta­tion of Ubisoft’s long-run­ning view­point/ra­dio

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