The latest chapter in the Assassin’s Creed saga doesn’t offer anything spectacularly new but it can be tons of fun.
Throughout its history, from its metamorphosis as a unique AAA stealth title with flawed concepts to a smash hit, annual franchise with growing pains every odd year, Assassin’s Creed has managed the difficult task of remaining relevant in sales. This is despite its gameplay struggling to remain relevant in the changing tides of open world gameplay – a genre which has been treated to simple yet revolutionary quests and world design as seen in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or the immense scale and stealth concepts of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. Last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Unity seemed to cement the franchise as being incapable of truly evolving, much less containing all of its epic content into a single stable release.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. In many ways, it tries to introduce interesting little wrinkles while maintaining the core Assassin’s Creed formula. That being said, above all else, it tries to be a fun game, running wild with its choice of era, the creativity of its assassinations and in the sheer number of activities that can be pursued in the open world. It’s the same old song and dance but at least the song is imminently listenable, hummable even.
"From the outset, both Jacob and Evie the most likeable protagonists the series has seen in years. Evie’s calm and cool demeanour belies a razor-sharp focus to the Brotherhood’s ethics. This contrasts strongly with Jacob’s carefree and brazen yet noble character."
Following Unity, Syndicate places you in the shoes of the Helix user from before. To cut to the chase, you’re once again searching for clues in the past relating to a Piece of Eden, thus pointing to its location in the present. The historical tale which serves as the backdrop for these clues isn’t your typical war between the Templars and Assassins. The Frye Twins, Jacob and Evie, have learned under the Brotherhood of Assassins but have their own reasons for travelling to London which has fallen under the control of the Crawford Starrick. Evie seeks the Piece of Eden while Jacob is more concerned with liberating London and the working masses from the Templars’ rule.
From the outset, both Jacob and Evie are the most likeable protagonists the series has seen in years. Evie’s calm and cool demeanour belies a razor-sharp focus to the Brotherhood’s ethics. This contrasts strongly with Jacob’s carefree and brazen yet noble character. Like siblings, they have their disagreements but ultimately come together when it’s important. Other interesting figures abound, including Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale and Alexander Graham Bell, and it’s honestly a relief that they’re far more interesting than you’d initially think.
It’s somewhat odd that most of the assassination missions star Jacob, since he’s more of the brawler type compared to Evie’s stealthiness. Nonetheless, you’ll still be able to switch between both characters in most of the open world missions. As for the story, it’s fairly good when focusing on the conflicts between Evie and Jacob but eventually peters out to another McGuffin hunt and supernatural conspiracy.
"These quests won’t exactly best The Witcher 3 any time soon but they’re better than what we’ve seen in previous years, especially when the game lets you flex your creative muscles with assassinations."
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate does take a while to get going but has a number of open world activities to partake in. The missions this time around are far more enjoyable, even if the basic structure isn’t too different from what we’ve seen from the franchise. You’ll still be tailing enemies, engaging in multi-man brawls and hunting down targets. The difference this time is that Syndicate tries to make these enjoyable, whether you’re investigating high ranking officials or haunted houses. The gang wars are interesting, despite being intricately simple. Liberate different areas of a town, battle and defeat the rival gang in the area and claim it for yourself. Nothing more, nothing less but it’s still an enjoyable diversion from the usual missions.
To Ubisoft’s credit, there’s a unique feeling that London is actually changing with your actions and that you’re genuinely fighting the good fight as you whittle down the various icons and markers on your map. These quests won’t exactly best The Witcher 3 any time soon but they’re better than what we’ve seen in previous years, especially when the game lets you flex your creative muscles with assassinations.
That being said, this is still Assassin’s Creed. The movement system isn’t perfect and while the parkour works most times, there will be other times that you fumble and fail miserably at jumps. Combat could use a significant make-over – even if I don’t want it to be exactly like Batman Arkham Knight’s Free Flow Combat, there has to be something that Ubisoft can do to overhaul the formula. At least the executions and multiple takedowns look cool, and in terms of movement, the grappling hook is one of the better new additions. You won’t be traversing the landscape at light-speed but it presents a great way to navigate the open roads of London – which facilitate horse carriage jacking and racing – and reach rooftops faster.
"The focus has primarily been on the single-player campaign and it shows, even with the disappointing ending, but I’m still left wanting more and waiting to see what the franchise can accomplish by learning from the genre’s current leaders."
Much as it seems like “been there, done that” with the core formula of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, it’s hard to ignore the amazing detail of Industrial Revolution-era London. I wasn’t prepared for a beautiful landscape overflowing with greens and neither should you be. This London is a dark, grimy place and its landmarks are intricately captured (even if it’s not quite 1:1 in scale to the real city). The atmosphere is palpable, even with the odd animation glitch and clipping issue, it helps to set Assassin’s Creed Syndicate apart.
Those expecting a different kind of Assassin’s Creed experience may feel slightly disappointed. There’s also the fact that for all of the new things it does, Syndicate still feels much “safer” in terms of its mechanics and gameplay features as opposed to, say, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Then again, this is a different era with a completely different context. Ubisoft makes the gameplay work within this context and manages to throw in enough content to keep you busy for a good long while. It’s kind of funny that competitive and co-op multiplayer are nowhere to be seen. The focus has primarily been on the single-player campaign and it shows, even with the disappointing ending, but I’m still left wanting more and waiting to see what the franchise can accomplish by learning from the genre’s current leaders.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate isn’t an awful game by any means, so strike those fears from your mind. It looks good, runs great, presents tons of enjoyable gameplay and will keep you mostly enthralled throughout. It has its quirks and imperfections and may not necessarily be worth experiencing immediately. However, if you’ve been craving a more than decent action adventure and don’t mind visiting the soot-stained underworld that Assassin’s Creed Syndicate revels in, there’s a lot to like.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One.
Performance and visuals are pretty good, especially when it comes to London's representation. Good array of activities and side-missions to keep you busy. Great degree of freedom in assassinations. The Frye twins make for great characters. New gameplay features like carriage driving and grappling are well implemented.
Doesn't really change up the Assassin's Creed formula in any significant way. No competitive or co-op multiplayer wouldn't be an issue if the story didn't disappoint at the end. As usual, the ending is annoying. Some graphical glitches every now and then. Movement system, particularly when climbing, can still be inconsistent.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate is a solid and good-looking, if decidedly traditional, release in the series' annual cycle. It's worth a look but if you have an enormous backlog, then don't worry - the Frye twins can wait.