London is your new playground.
There is no denying that the Assassin’s Creed franchise has been in a bit of a funk over the last few years. They killed off their present timeline protagonist, and along with it most of the associated storyline elements. Maybe this was due to people disliking those moments or the outcry of less present time, more past. Last year’s release of Unity, the first next generation consoles debut, was less than stellar, and I remember fondly enjoying the experiencing at moments but wondering just how rushed the game was with its lack of refinement, glitches, and instability. This has put quite a damper on people’s expectations with Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and I don’t blame them.
One story, two Siblings
The latest story takes place in London, 1868 and has players controlling the twin Frye siblings, Jacob and Evie. In hopes of leaving their current situation, they head towards London and discover it’s mostly controlled by Templars. The intro moments are great as they don’t give players the open world element right from the start, and instead get a chance to use both siblings in a more guided scenario, showcasing the new ability of stealth. Yes, an Assassins Creed game finally has a dedicated stealth button and not only does it work well, they allow players the ability to sneak around when they want to and not at predetermined moments.
Platforms: PS4, XB1, PC
Price I’d Pay: $49.99
How long to beat: 20+ hours
The storyline at play also mirrors the two different characters in that they both have different wants. Jacob thinks taking over the city via gang and controlling the land is a way to take over with power. Evie seems to want to focus on the piece of Eden that’s been rumored in the city. Both have their reasoning, banter, and debates on why they are both aiming for different goals. Jacob doesn’t seem to believe in the stories of Eden and their ancestors. Evie is following in her father’s footsteps for the truth. It makes a fantastic dynamic in the storyline and will keep players invested till the end.
Familiar, Streamlined, and Different
The majority of game players know exactly how AC games play out, being a yearly franchise now. Those wondering if Assassin’s Creed’s core gameplay has changed in any significant way will be disappointed to know it doesn’t do anything that totally revamps the mechanics. So the folks that were never into Assassin’s Creed will most likely find themselves shrugging this one-off like the others. For fans of the franchise disappointed with the last entry, they will find that Syndicate mixes in some refinements, streamlines some aspects, and adds in just a few things that really give it a similar yet different feel. I’ll cover the major differences and improvements as to save time from reading what’s already known.
For example, fighting is now done via three different weapons, a blade, a staff, and knuckles. These are the core weapons the two character will user throughout the game. Fighting is much closer and more personal than ever before, and the system for fighting reflects it. Players must attack in different directions depending on the enemies approaching, but now have to worry about countering and also defensive stunning. If an enemy is blocking, players will have to juggle between a stun attack to lower their defense, a potential counter attack from another, then back to the stunned enemy. Eventually able to leave enemies stunned in a standing, dazed effect, get one stunned and a cinematic kill can occur, get two, three, or four at once and it’s reflected in the kill cinematic as well, leading to some downright brutal and satisfying finishers.
Exploration has always been a major aspect for the franchise, and players will be leaping across buildings and running down alleyways just the same as before, but now there are two pretty huge differences at play. The first is the zip line tool. Having the ability to shoot up to the top of buildings for easy escapes or fast traversal really adds a unique and fresh feel to the climbing. It gets better though, as players can also shoot from one tall point of a building off to another far off building and just slide or push themselves on the zip line. I would be lying if I said I didn’t scream out “wheeeeeee” half the time sliding down to the street on one these. The other major addition is vehicles. Yep, now players can hijack horse carriages, ram chasing pursuers, fight on top of carriages and leap over to others, making for some fun chase sequences and races. Of course, the game is still fairly littered with collectibles, music boxes that leads to an ominous secret, and the other side events like rescuing kids or fighting street gangs. The simplest, yet most pleasing addition for me is that the home base is on a moving train, always changing positions on the over world map, which leads way to new missions from the train , the daily income vault, and access to gang abilities.
Not only do players get to use two characters, but they also have independent skill trees, so if Jacob wants to be more of a melee brawler and Evie more in tune with stealth as a priority, it can be done. Lots of main missions force the players to use particular characters as associated by their icon for the missions, though I don’t think catering specifically to one path or another can get anyone stuck from progressing, if not just make some missions a bit harder than another’s. This, along with perks to unlock via repeated moves, gang skills to learn, weapons to craft and upgrade, and most players will find themselves very busy in between missions.
Missions have seen a huge upgrade in quality as well. There are fewer trailing missions, and even when one was included it offered a nice moment of taking out shooters before they could kill a target. Fail the mission, and it would restart at a checkpoint before that section of the mission began, minimizing frustration of having to do entire missions over like in some of the previous games. The variation just keeps coming too. One mission has players looking for spiritual spooks or haunted items, another has Jacob sneaking into a distillery and sabotaging the equipment, or another involving a getaway on a horse carriage featuring brawling and shooting all together. Missions feel exciting, fulfilling, and while some might still fell a bit typical or drawn out, there is far more hits than there are misses this time.
Graphically it shines, bringing London to its overcast light and muggy, foggy nights. Visually stunning at times, the time of day is reflected in real-time again, but I think the lighting might have taken a hit because of it. It still looks good at moments, but I think Unity has a slight upper hand. The entire cast is voiced really well, especially the main protagonists, as they had me smiling and chuckling the entire time. Seeing both male and female siblings in the spotlight was a great story telling dynamic, and I’m sad to think that might disappear in the next game. The OST is both dark and brooding, and yet charming and classical at moments. It fits the timeline well, and it’s one of the main reasons I’ve always enjoyed the franchise; nothing has changed here in that respect.
Open world games always had bugs, weird moments of spawning NPCs, odd textures at times, and strange AI moments. Assassin’s Creed is no stranger to these, yet the state at which Syndicate launched is extremely solid, if not to say it still has its moments of jank and slowdown. The framerate takes a hit when too many people are viewable or sometimes depending on what geometry is on the screen. This isn’t always prevalent, and it’s definitely not all the time. Unity dreamed it could have run this good at launch. The fact it only has two small updates on day one showcases, what I feel, that they pushed to get the game running as best as possible on release and with last year’s launch they pretty much had to or else hope might have been completely lost on the franchise from fans.
I was not excited for this latest Assassin’s Creed, and that says something as I’ve been a fan of the series since the first one. I’ve played them all, and feel they offer different elements that speak to me as a videogame player, some more than others. It’s been a long, turbulent road, and Unity’s messed up release did some damage to my hype, expectations, and the franchise itself. Suffice to say when the game showed up for review, I didn’t know what to think. I was worried, not sure how things would go, and honestly didn’t expect to love it as much as I do, and here I am gloating about my time with it. Syndicate isn’t the best Assassin’s Creed game, but it’s one of the better entries, featuring new abilities, tighter focus, and bringing the fun and variation back into the gameplay when I had just expected to be worn out with the franchise. It’s still Assassin’s Creed to its core, and won’t bring in any new people or those that completely have tired from the franchise. Yet I can proudly say Syndicate sits right behind Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood, and Black Flag as my favorites out of the franchise.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.