Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Review
As you can expect, there tends to be problems in series that release yearly instalments. The short development schedule can result in all kinds of bugs and technical issues, and that’s often made far far worse when a new console generation is inbound. It’s something that occurs quite frequently. A new yearly game on a new console tends to show signs of greatness, but by and large are a step back in terms of gameplay ideas and overall technical performance. This was demonstrated last year with Assassin’s Creed Unity, an ambitious attempt to bring the long running franchise to a new generation of consoles, but which resulted in an addled mess. Thankfully with another year to work with, and plenty of experience on what not to do, Ubisoft’s latest release Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a smooth, mostly well designed, and rather entertaining addition to the franchise, albeit not a revolutionary one.
Syndicate features two memorable playable protagonists: Jacob and Evie Frye, fraternal twins born and raised in the Brotherhood of Assassins. Having grown tired of hiding in the shadows as the Templars rule over the city of London, and by proxy, wield tremendous influence over the British Empire, the siblings decide to do something about it. Jacob, a brash, roguish, man of action much like Edward Kenway or a young Ezio Auditore, decides upon assassinating key targets of the Templar Order, and building up a gang to retake the streets of London. Evie on the other hand, favouring a more subtle approach, prefers to unravel the plans of the Templars and hunt down Pieces of Eden instead. It’s a basic but rather entertaining story, with unintended consequences from Jacob’s recklessness, family drama, a spot of somewhat stilted romance, and a surprising amount of humour. Much of said humour arising from the usual motley assemblage of historical figures such as Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Alexander Graham Bell, Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Darwin, and Queen Victoria, some of whom are rather quirky in this. The latter missions in the game, just when you’d think it would be the most serious and dramatic as things draw to the close, are also some of the funniest due to strangely enough, the wacky antics of the Prime Minster’s wife. Meanwhile, Syndicate is also framed by the overarching modern day story of the ongoing war between the Assassin Brotherhood and the Templar Order, as well as the secrets of the ancient advance precursors. It’s just some brief cutscenes that push along the ongoing story arc before getting back to the main story for those who were hoping for gameplay. Although, rather interestingly, there’s one surprising bit in the game where you can visit a different time period with a different character. Saying more would be spoiling, but it’s an incredibly atmospheric and interesting location, and it also features a lot of exposition about overarching plotline regarding the precursors.
Gameplay-wise, Syndicate is Assassin’s Creed at its purest, with all the positives and negatives that implies. There’s no multiplayer. No internal organisation management system that runs on real time clocks. No companion apps or the like. No wilderness to traverse or seas to sail. It’s your Assassins, enemies to fight, and a great big city to free roam. Although that’s not to say there aren’t changes or improvements. It might be the most smoothly implemented version of Ubisoft’s vision yet. Combat is faster than ever, with smarter enemies with larger numbers and more defences, as well as the most brutal combat animations yet in the series. Stealth is now increasingly refined, with a dedicated stealth mode that puts you into a crouching walk and which automatically, if occasionally inaccurately lets you press up against cover to hide. Free running maintains the same system from Unity, but has been tightened up, and also includes a gadget that is an absolute must for any future releases in the series; the rope launcher. A strange, almost steampunk style grappling hook, the rope launcher allows you to rappel up buildings quickly from the ground, and best of all allows you to rappel between buildings. Until now, one of the most annoying parts of Assassin’s Creed was having to either descend to ground level to cross streets, or run off randomly in different directions in the vague hope of finding some way of crossing major streets and avenues from rooftop, now you can just zip line from building to building, like some kind of Victorian era Batman.
Throw in a wonderfully atmospheric city like Victorian era London with its mixture of affluence and grime, bright lights and foggy weather, and a vast range of side activities and missions like hijackings, carriages races – which unfortunately are terrible and have awful rubberband style racing AI, assassinations, kidnappings, fight clubs, and infiltrations, and this is the core Assassin’s Creed gameplay formula at its finest. The addition of two different playable protagonists, which you can swap at any time is also an excellent feature, which Jacob and Evie having gameplay abilities that enhance their skills in combat and stealth respectively. While most of the story missions focus on Jacob and his crusade against the Templar order, with Evie having fewer missions that largely revolved around hunting artefacts or trying to clean up her brother’s messes, which was disappointing actually, I found myself using her and her super stealth abilities to hunt down enemies and infiltrate strongholds whilst free roaming for the majority of the time. Of special note, and one of the most entertaining aspects of Syndicate, is one that’s currently exclusive to Playstation. The Dreadful Crimes mission pack, a timed exclusive, feature an excellent change of pace as you use your abilities to solve crimes instead, hunting down clues with Eagle Vision, interrogating suspects, and piecing together evidence. It’s the most interesting side activity in an Assassin’s Creed game since getting to command your own war ship..
Of course, the same issues that crop up with the Assassin’s Creed franchise show up here, despite all the refinement. Whilst everything has been improved, the fundamental problems are still apparent. Combat is still too easy despite being faster, tougher, and more visceral than ever. Stealth, despite being vastly improved, is still a little uneven. Free running is still inaccurate at times, with your character randomly doing things that you didn’t intend to do. The mission and side mission structures are still repetitive and rather similar to each other in execution. And I don’t know if you’d call it an Assassin’s Creed tradition at this point, but the final boss confrontation is kind of terrible. Which is a shame, because the big bad in Syndicate Crawford Starrick is a surprisingly likeable villain who seems very human, rather than just some ruthless puppy kicking orphanage burner as far too many Templars in the franchise wind up being. These problems are not something that’s likely to put off a fan of the series considering it’s a recurring issue in the series. Indeed. Some might not even recognise a problem as you come to expect it.
Featuring the most refined core gameplay formula yet, an entertaining and surprisingly light hearted story, two highly likeable protagonists, and an excellent setting to traverse, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a great entry into the series. While it retains some of the common issues regarding precision and repetition in gameplay, and while it lacks any revolutionary changes to the formula it’s still one of the better titles in the franchise, and one that fans of Assassin’s Creed will enjoy.
About: Simon Mawson
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