Let’s face it, annualized franchises have become an issue. As our very own Malik Forté recently pointed out in an episode of Nerdist Play, sticking to strict release windows around the holiday season every year has a tendency to result in sloppy products. Though Activision seems to have adjusted by implementing their three studio trade off, Ubisoft has been hit or miss when it comes to the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Sure, the swash-buckling Black Flag was a hit, but Unity, well..Unity was quite frankly, a mess. Understandably, fans of the series have grown tired of not knowing what to expect, and have given up.
As a result, the newest entry, Syndicate, saw the worst UK launch in the history of Assassin’s Creed (aside from Rogue), which is a shame because the game is the most gorgeous and the slickest in the series. In a sense, it feels like a charming return to form–albeit with tighter controls, new features, and twin protagonists. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect; the final boss fight is terrible and you’ll still face some of the issues that plagued previous games, such. But, it’s the best it’s felt in a long time.
The franchise has consistently nailed the historical locations that serve as the Assassin Brotherhood’s parkour playground. For history and architecture buffs alike, this has always been one of the highlights. Despite being one of many titles to tackle Victorian-era London this year, Syndicate stands out as having one of the most realistic takes. There’s one mission in particular, which takes place at the Tower of London under the cover of night, that was hands down one of my favorite moments. Perching atop one of the buildings and peering down at the guards marching in and out of the light of the street lamps, I was able to fully appreciate how dead-on and beautiful the lighting and the graphics are. I also spent quite a bit of time exploring Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Scotland Yard, just to name a few. It was hard not to marvel at the developer’s attention to detail. When combined with gorgeous graphics and a sweeping soundtrack, the world of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate feels alive.
Sporting the largest map in the franchise, there were often an overwhelming amount of things to do in Syndicate, which actually isn’t a bad thing this time around. Most of the character-related side missions were interesting, and tied into the game’s overarching goal to liberate London. After buddying up with Charles Dickens (something I’ve always wanted to say), I became a member of London’s famous Ghost Club, and investigated cultists, a hypnotist, and other horrors that folks like Dickens believed were haunting the great city at that time. Frederick Abberline–the Chief Inspector for the London Metropolitan Police and lead investigator in Jack the Ripper case–also made an appearance, appropriately asking for assistance with bounty hunts. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to famous faces. So, if you’ve always dreamed of carrying out missions for Queen Victoria, Charles Darwin, or Alexander Graham Bell, you’re going to have a ball.
It was hard not to marvel at the developer’s
attention to detail.
With that being said, the game also features the repetitive side missions you’re used to seeing in an Assassin’s Creed game. Completing all conquest activities in a borough will start a gang war, and rid the area of Templar influence. While the gang war feature itself is far from exciting, and starting one feels like a chore, the types of missions you’ll be going on make sense as far as the story is concerned. It’s a slow burn, but seeing location after location conquered by the Frye twins feels like you’re really making a difference in the corrupt city. I particularly enjoyed freeing children from factories and finding the best way to strategically infiltrate and conquer a gang stronghold. There are also several income activities like fight clubs, boat raids, cargo heists, and carriage races that are all a fun way to earn some money on the side.
Though the map is 30% larger than the one in Unity, the tight climbing controls, all-new rope launcher and option to instantly hijack a horse-drawn carriages, makes traversing the city a delight. At first I was worried that wielding a Batman-esque grappling hook would feel like cheating, and would only limit my reason to scale buildings–always one of the highlights of the franchise–but it turns out that it helps rather than hinders. One of the things that always annoyed me about AC was seeing another rooftop in the distance and not being able to reach it unless I climbed down or did a leap of faith. Thankfully, the rope-launcher fixes the issue by allowing you to reach nearby locations without touching the ground. Admittedly, it doesn’t work as smoothly as Batman’s, and is pretty slow, but it was useful when things got too hot and I needed to leave enemies in the dust. The carriages were also slow, but often an effective way to cover a lot of ground. Plus ramming into enemy carriages, or fighting on top of them, was a lot of fun.
It’s been a while since we’ve been blessed
with a decent Assassin’s Creed story.
While everything we’ve discussed up to this point is great, one of my favorite things about Syndicate is the fact that Ubisoft decided to incorporate two protagonists — Jacob and Evie Frye. I could take this moment to rant about how great it is that they finally added a female protagonist to the main series (which it totally is), but instead would like to applaud the decision to make the duo siblings–twins at that. Despite having the same upbringing, the pair differed in opinion when it came to the importance of their father’s lessons. While Evie focused on her studies, and relished in gaining knowledge, Jacob strayed from his lessons, and instead opted for exploring the mean streets of Crawley. Having different attitudes about the world complemented their relationship by fueling their natural sibling rivalry and giving them different motives when it comes to the story.
It’s been a while since we’ve been blessed with a decent Assassin’s Creed story, so I was happy to see that the events in Syndicate are actually interesting–aside from the crummy ending. Although Crawford Starrick served as the main big bad for both twins, Evie was fixated with finding the piece of Eden that was supposedly hidden somewhere in London, while Jacob focused on forming a gang called the Rooks to challenge the rival Blighters’ control of the area. This is where having two protagonists really complemented the game. Giving the characters different preferences for how to accomplish the main objective allowed the writers to cover a lot of ground, without making the plot feel disjointed. It was a great way to keep AC lore as a common thread, while at the same time, shaking it up with the underground crime network that’s new to Syndicate.
The twins also differ in terms of play-style, but to be perfectly honest, once you’ve upgraded them, they play exactly the same. Evie does have a cool top-tier skill which grants temporary invisibility, and Jacob has a few that support his brawler predisposition, but the rest are unlockable for both. It would have been nice to see more variation, or even separate (s)kill trees, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. So, despite the fact that the reasoning behind why they’re better in their respective skills makes sense, it doesn’t really come across in the gameplay.
Coming up with the best strategy
was all part of the fun.
Luckily however, the stealth and combat mechanics have been improved. The whistle is back, so it’s easier than ever to lure enemies over to the ledge you’re dangling from for a nasty surprise. Kidnapping other characters also plays a big part in the game, and acts similarly to the blend ability present in past titles. While it’s easy enough to kidnap someone and keep guards from noticing, all of the kidnap-related moves are mapped to the same button, which often resulted in accidents and a failed mission or two. The combat still relies heavily on counters, but the weapons are fun to use. I was partial to both the cane sword and the kukri. They were fun to watch in action, and after unlocking and crafting powerful versions of both, I was able to deal a satisfying amount of damage.
Assassinations also worked well. Once a mission was activated, I was able to identify alternative ways to take the target down. For example, during the mission that takes place at Lambeth Asylum, I located the master key, cleared out the area and headed down to the morgue to take the place of a corpse the target planned to run experiments on. Once I was taken to where he was, I successfully carried out the assassination. That is just one of the ways I could have accomplished it, and the same goes for every assassination in the game. Coming up with the best strategy was all part of the fun. Aside from the final assassination, which was exceedingly frustrating,
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate doesn’t necessarily fix all of the issues the Assassin’s Creed franchise has had over the years, but it serves as a return to form of sorts, boasting charming twin protagonists and an interesting story. The stunning graphical overhaul, and Ubisoft’s attention to detail, brings Victorian London to life and is paired nicely with new methods of transportation. While conquest missions can feel like annoyances after a while, character memories such as the Charles Dickens missions shine and keep things fresh. If you’ve been looking for a reason to get back into the series, this is it.
- Visually stunning
- Having two protagonists gives different perspectives on the plot
- Character side missions are interesting
- Conquest missions feel like a chore at times
- Twins didn’t play differently
- Disappointing ending
4 out of 5 burritos
This review was completed using a PS4 copy of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate provided by Ubisoft. The game released for PS4 and Xbox One on October 23, 2015, and is set to release on PC November 19.