Many people are quick to criticise game developers and publishers, especially after a fairly mediocre 2016. While I was compiling the list of my favourite games of the year I started to think about what each publisher had released. I don’t really think any of the big publishers had a great year. EA gave us sequels and more sequels with Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, UFC 2, and Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. The only original game it released on console was Unravel. Now, as good as Titanfall 2 (my second favourite game of the year) was, it’s still just yet another first person shooter sequel. Activision easily had the worst line-up of games this year. The company released a couple of sequels (Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Skylanders Imaginators), a couple of truly abysmal licensed titles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan and Ghostbusters), and yet another repackaging of the underwhelming Destiny. 2K Games had a disappointing year with Battleborn failing to attract an audience and Mafia III having some major technical issues at launch. The Bioshock Collection and XCOM 2 got favourable reviews but haven’t sold particularly well. In fact 2K’s only real “hit” this year was Civilzation VI, which has become the fastest selling entry in the series.
In my eyes, Ubisoft is clearly my favourite publisher of the year. Considering that only one of its games even made it into my honorable mentions list, why am I saying this? Well they brought a franchise to console for the first time, tried to shake up an existing franchise, and gave us a couple of new IPs. They haven’t had a flawless year though, so let’s start with the stuff that either wasn’t impressive or I was simply not interested in. Just Dance is a franchise that doesn’t appeal to me at all; though I can appreciate it reaches an audience that a lot of other games don’t. Just Dance 2017 managed a very respectable 75 on Metacritic from critics and a user score of 80. Grow Up is a sequel to a game I’ve never heard of, so I never had any interest in it. It reviewed pretty well though with a Metacritic score of 74. Another other Ubisoft title that I have no interest in is Eagle Flight (VR doesn’t work for me as I have an astigmatism in my left eye). This also got pretty favourable reviews with it getting a score 72 on Metacritic. If anything its biggest failure this year has been Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection. I welcome the break from new Assassin’s Creed games but more work could have been done on remastering this collection of games featuring Ezio. Clocking in at 72 on Metacritic though, this is far from a disaster. With none of these titles getting below 70%, they can’t be classed as bad games.
Now we’re onto games that I do have an interest in and let’s start with Far Cry Primal. Yes, this is an entry in the Far Cry franchise but they took a risk in changing up the formula. As the name suggests, Far Cry Primal takes us back to the days of early man and does away with machine guns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, and pistols. Instead you will have to survive a rough landscape with just knives, spears, and a bow. What’s more when night-time comes, you will have to brave fierce predators and create fire to be able to see. The controls remind you that you’re playing a Far Cry game, but everything else feels different and new. The game was pretty well received with a Metacritic score of 77.
The only true sequel amongst Ubisoft’s releases this year was Watch Dogs 2. A follow-up to 2014’s open-world action-adventure game was never going to be a surprise as the game sold so well. The first game was a little on the disappointing side, but there was still a lot of fun to be had in it. I have no problem with games having a sequel when they warrant them and they’re not just a shareholder requirement. Watch Dogs was a game that comfortably warranted a sequel and had room for improvement to create a truly memorable title. Watch Dogs 2 isn’t a perfect game, but it is a better game. The seamless multiplayer wasn’t working the last time I played the game but I’ve heard that it does kind of work now. There are more hacking options and a greater variation of missions. I love the ambition on display in the game and like that the hacking sets the game apart from most other open-world games out there.
So, when is a game part of a franchise but not a sequel? Well Ubisoft managed to answer that question when it released TrackMania Turbo earlier in the year. The TrackMania series has been growing a faithful following on PC since 2003. Ubisoft tried to bring the series to consoles with TrackMania Wii and TrackMania DS with partial success. TrackMania Turbo is a proper attempt to bring the game to consoles. Launching on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One this new entry to the series brought the series to the masses. The game had much better visuals and more populated tracks while keeping the gravity-defying racing. The tracks are short but complex and with a quick button press to restart you’ll find yourself retrying levels over and over again to get that perfect run.
The Tom Clancy name has graced successes, like Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, and Ghost Recon. It has also been attached to some more mediocre titles, like H.A.W.X. and Endwar though. The Division has slightly split opinion as to which group it fits into, but in my opinion it is definitely the former. The game hooked me in a way that Destiny utterly failed to. I enjoyed the story, the progression, the way the multiplayer worked, the gameplay, and the scenario. The DLC for the game has been great so far, adding great variation and new challenges. The Dark Zone brings some great gameplay choices and nail biting moments. The fact that you never know whether the other players you come across are going to be friends or foes adds a palpable tension to the gameplay and is one of the best additions I’ve seen in a game for quite a long time.
Activision’s other new game this year was Steep, a completely new IP providing brand new gameplay. Steep is an extreme sports title set in the alps, there are four disciplines to master, skiing, snowboarding, wingsuit flying, and parasailing. During free roam, you can instantly switch between any of the disciplines. Not only are there different sports, there are different ways that you can score points in the game, from exploration to freestyle and many more. The map is a living-breathing world thanks to the always-online nature of Steep. Anyone that you see in the game can be teamed up with. You can also invite friends to join your world or create challenges for them to tackle in their own game. The controls can sometimes be a little sluggish and not as responsive as I would like, but it can give you an adrenaline rush just like you are doing the real thing.
The other thing about Ubisoft is that the first quarter of this new year is looking really impressive as well. There’s another new IP in For Honor, the return of Ghost Recon in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, more comedy from Matt Stone & Trey Parker with South Park: The Fractured But Whole, as well as your chance to be a captain of a Federation spaceship in the VR title Star Trek: Bridge Crew. Ubisoft may not be hitting home runs with every game right now, but all of its releases are of a good quality. Ubisoft’s confidence in launching new IPs and shaking up existing franchises should be applauded, and that is why I think that Ubisoft is the best publisher around at the moment. Now, if only we could get a new Splinter Cell game . . .