Since the first Assassin’s Creed title released in 2007, the series has gone through its fair share of peaks and troughs, in terms of critical response. Where the first game introduced a number of new mechanics, it is widely agreed that the second game refined them into an enjoyable game. From Assassin’s Creed II onwards, the series has seen game-play mechanics and plot-points accrue – with varying levels of success.
After a generally lukewarm reception for its predecessor, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has a lot of work to do to revamp the series for the current generation of consoles. Similar to ACII then, can it refine Unity’s various elements into a more enjoyable whole?
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• Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
• Publisher: Ubisoft
• Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
• Also Available On: Xbox One, PC
• Release Date: Available Now
Syndicate brings the Assassin’s Creed mythology to Victorian London, a city that has been under Templar control for a century. Assassin siblings Jacob and Evie Frye make their way to the city in the naive hope of liberating it once and for all. Once again, a Piece of Eden may be located in London – so the race is on to find it before the Templars do.
For the first time in the series, Syndicate allows you to play as two Assassin protagonists. Jacob is the brash, aggressive one of the pair, quick to anger and quicker still to leap into a fight. Evie is the more reserved of the two, keeping her mission as her top priority. One element of the Assassin’s Creed games that has rarely faltered is the voice-acting and once again, it is on-point here. The back-and-forth dialogue between the siblings feels natural and authentic throughout. Each has a distinct personality and it comes across in not just what they say but what they don’t.
In terms of game-play, the split narrative also allows the developers to offer players variety in terms of their approach to the game. Jacob, like his personality, is more inclined towards combat and direct confrontation. Evie, on the other hand, is suitable for infiltration and stealth. I favoured using her primarily for this reason. However, while their skills can be upgraded using experience earned in missions, it was disappointing to see their trees were almost identical, with the only differences held until the end of the progression.
Like the previous games in the series, the game’s campaign is split into memory sequences – each focussed on a particular chapter in the story. The main mission structure varies slightly throughout but nowhere near enough. The core assassination missions give you two, possibly three ways to complete them but they feel more like checking lists than granting you true freedom. While the overall story felt short, the sheer amount of side activities certainly adds to the longevity of the game – whether you feel inclined to cover them or not is less clear.
You will meet a number of allies in the game who request your help in taking back London from the Templars. These missions tend to be split into kidnap missions, liberation tasks within factories or taking out Blighter gang strongholds. The Blighters are the game’s core enemies and come in a limited variety of types – brutes, snipers and regular grunts. Defeating the tasks in a city’s borough opens up a gang fight with the Blighter leader in the area. Completing these fights grants control of the area and makes your life easier later on when you have to complete story missions there due to the chances of interference being lower.
As well as upgrading your abilities, there are countless weapon and tool upgrades available to collect or craft. There are also collectibles like chests, letters, pressed flowers and bottles littered throughout London for the obsessives out there. Like almost every collectible in any game ever, finding these feels like more of a chore than fun – especially when the movement mechanics in the game often don’t play ball.
From the first game in the series, Ubisoft have struggled to nail their game-play mechanics. Adding new ways of getting from A to B may help slightly but when they are placed on top of already faulty movement mechanics, it is still a source of annoyance. I have used the grapple hook, the game’s new traversal tool, repeatedly and it is a good addition – unfortunately, I still got stuck in geometry far too many times and jumped to one spot instead of the one I meant to.
Combat is also not without its quirks. During some of the game’s gang fights, a gang leader can start a spate of attacks requiring you to dodge them. Despite hitting the correct command, the game didn’t register them, no matter what I tried. Eventually I gave up trying to defend and simply waited until it went back to the regular fight and healed.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate does an admirable job in moving the series forward. The storyline is being cleared up a bit, the game-play is getting more refined (despite some lingering issues) and the environments are incredible to just explore.
The last question for Ubisoft now is: where next?