In fall 2012, Ubisoft published Far Cry 3, the sequel to 2008’s adventure shooter Far Cry 2, with a new protagonist and a new setting. Thanks to a mix of critical acclaim and excellent word of mouth among players, Far Cry 3 ended up shipping over 10 million units in the space of a year – far outstripping its predecessor. Though the game received some counter-criticism with regards to the strength of its story, what mattered was that everyone was talking about it.
Ubisoft’s response was to shorten the release cycle of the Far Cry games from four years to two, with a standalone expansion called Far Cry: Blood Dragon released in April 2013, followed by Far Cry 4 in fall 2014. Far Cry Primal, the next entry in the series, is set for release next week, just one year and three months after the previous game hit shelves. As counter-intuitive as it might sound, fans of the Far Cry series might be better off praying that Far Cry Primal does poorly both with critics and in sales – if only to save the franchise from becoming annualized. After all, we’ve seen this pattern before.
In 2007, Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed. The game’s creative director, Patrice Désilets, had been “given a mandate” by the publisher to “go out and redefine the action/adventure genre for the next generation of platforms” – something that he was considered well-equipped to do after the success of his previous game, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Assassin’s Creed was, in fact, originally conceived as a Prince of Persia game). Sure enough, Assassin’s Creed sold well with mixed but generally positive reviews, and a sequel quickly entered development, with Désilets once again at the helm.
No one, perhaps not even Ubisoft, could have predicted the success of Assassin’s Creed II. Even today its status as the best game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise remains largely uncontested, and it is also one of the defining games of the previous console generation. Picking up where Assassin’s Creed left off, Assassin’s Creed II followed modern protagonist Desmond Miles as he was rescued by the Assassin faction and introduced, via the Animus, to a brand new ancestor: the swaggering, passionate, good-natured Italian playboy Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Memorably voiced by Roger Craig Smith, Ezio was instantly likeable and his home town of Renaissance Florence was beautifully realized. Little wonder, then, that critics and gamers alike fell in love with Assassin’s Creed II.
This was the last time that more than a year would pass between installments of Assassin’s Creed games. Désilets left Ubisoft during the development of the next game, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and reviews and word of mouth began to take a downturn following the release of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations – the third and last game to feature Ezio, who by this time was middle-aged and verging on elderly.
“I find it strange we’ve decided yearly is too often,” Assassin’s Creed III‘s creative director Alex Hutchinson said, with regards to growing complaints about Assassin’s Creed‘s annualization. “If Radiohead put out an album every month, I’d buy it. It’s about the quality.” A few months after he said this, Assassin’s Creed III received some of the harshest criticisms since the series began, and many fans weren’t convinced that the games’ perceivable dip in momentum and the fact that a new one was being churned out every year were unconnected issues.