Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (2015) REVIEW
Assassin’s Creed Unity was out last year and made my number 1 most disappointing game of 2014. It was unfinished, flawed and had so many issues that completing it without the updates should’ve been an achievement on its own.
Ubisoft took a lot of heat after the release of Unity, and to their credit, they did everything in their power to fix the broken game. Months after release, Unity was a vastly different experience from its initial release, but by that point I had already finished and traded the game in. I made a promise never to purchase another Assassin’s Creed video game for as long as I lived. Day one DLC and micro-transactions were nothing compared to an incomplete release. I had had enough.
Then Assassin’s Creed Syndicate came along.
Leading to the release of Syndicate, I was completely in the dark. I had no reason to care for the game as I had no intention of picking it up. So anything I managed to see or read about I was taking with a grain of salt, because in my mind, ‘how could the series recover?’ Thankfully I changed my mind after watching a play-through on a popular gaming website. This brief 10 minutes of gaming changed my mind and I picked up Syndicate the next day.
Set in London 1868 towards the end of the Industrial Revolution, twins Jacob and Evie Frye arrive in the city to find it controlled by the Templars. Raised as Assassins, the twins must work together to restore order to London and bring down the Templar Grand Master, Crawford Starrick before he gets his hands on a powerful new Piece of Eden. Of course it wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed game if there wasn’t some form of present day story, which has returning characters Rebecca and Shaun infiltrating an Abstergo facility to retrieve the same Piece of Eden from the past timeline.
It should be worth noting that unless you’ve been following the previous Assassin’s Creed video games, what is mentioned above will sound foreign to you. Maybe at some point I’ll have to create a blog post detailing the current day history of Assassin’s Creed, after all, the series as been running annually since 2007.
The story of Syndicate is a welcome return to the form for Ubisoft. Clearly the serious take on Unity wasn’t to everyone’s liking, and even though main character Arno Dorian was a good protagonist, people felt he wasn’t as likeable as past ones like Ezio and Edward. This time though, Ubisoft pulled out all the stops and have given us not one, but two excellent Assassin’s to use. Jacob and his older (by 4 minutes) twin sister Evie Frye. Both are playable during free-roaming around London with no restrictions to where each can go. Missions are locked to a particular twin, but most side events are playable by either. You are able to switch between each on the fly, although the transition isn’t as seamless as a single button press as say, Grand Theft Auto V, but it is still simple enough and gives you options for weapons and clothing.
Jacob and Evie are both wonderful characters. Each a full of, well, character and played brilliantly by Paul Amos and Victoria Atkin respectively. The light quibbles and banter between the two is well done and the way they play off others within the city is so much fun. It is especially good when interacting with historical figures of the time, something Assassin’s Creed always does so well.
Most of the promotional trailers and material shown seemed to focus on Jacob eluding he was the main playable character, and although I never really went out of my way to count how the missions are broken up, I’d say that Evie is very fairly treated for game time. As a matter of fact, I often found her approach of stealth over combat better suited to my style. However that says nothing for how she can handle herself in fights. Evie is capable of dealing with groups of enemies without worry and that is thanks to the excellent combat mechanics.
Taking a page out of the Batman Arkham series, Syndicate uses the rather simple and effective single button attack. Surrounded by enemies, the fighting is fast and brutal with multiple kills possible. Counter is relegated to another button and once mastered, which will take minutes, you’ll be making your way through gangs in no time.
Stealth on the other hand is handled much better than previous instalments, with a single button to go from crouching/stealth to walking around. It never feels forced at all, and only a few points in the game is stealth ever forced upon the player. Most times you can play it your way without detriment to the completion of the missions. And that’s why I like Syndicate more, you never feel pegged down to one style of play.
The city of London is a character all in of itself and since this is nearing the new century, horse carriages and larger buildings were common as well as the pollution from factories all over the place. London of 1868 is bustling with traffic on the streets and the Thames River, and because of the larger playground, Ubisoft has included the ability to hijack and use carriages all over the place. Sadly, horses themselves can’t be ridden on their own, but carriage to carriage fighting is fantastic.
Along with horse carriages to navigate the large city streets, comes the newest tool to aid the Assassins; a grappling hook. Obtained early in the game, with a simple press of the button, Evie and Jacob are able to launch themselves from the streets of London to the building tops in seconds. Parkour is still the main focus of transport, but when buildings are now street levels apart, you can no longer just leap from one to the other. I admit, it was a bit of a sad moment realising I could no longer completely traverse the city with Parkour only, but the grappling makes for a fine addition to your arsenal and makes for some very cool assassinations.
Like all open world games, Syndicate also includes many random city events but everything feels very same-same which doesn’t seem to have changed since years previous. Thankfully missions have changed enough from previous instalments with tailing and escort missions largely absent from the bulk of the game. Exposition is usually given during in-game moments, and sadly it was taking a hit for me because hearing it meant turning the music down. Not sure if I was the only person having this issue, but even with headphones on, the same issue was present. And it upset me, because the music on offer is so suitable for the time and game.
One of the two major issues I had with the game was the end battle. Now, not to spoil anything, but everything was leading up to that final boss fight, and then when you get there it is a largely repetitive battle that is a let down and doesn’t live up to the rest of the game. Everything leading up to it was fun and inspiring, with excellent characters and action sequences, and the end battle feels lazy and boring. The final issue I have is with the present day moments. Since the end of Desmond’s story in part 3 and the first person mode of part 4, Ubisoft hasn’t been able to nail the moments out of the Animus anymore. Much like Unity, Syndicate gives you no control over the modern-day time, and plays with Rebecca and Shaun. It all ties in together at the end, but I can’t help but feel Ubisoft has to make a decision about what they’re going to do with the present day come Assassin’s Creed 2016. I don’t feel the series can continue to mistreat the modern-day when so many people are wanting more from it.
There are so many extra bits of the game to cover, like recruiting gang members in the city and having them fight by your side, the non-complicated map and the fact your base of operations is a train. All details I haven’t covered in the review, but needless to say, each add a new layer to the game.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a true return to form and one of the best in the series in a long time. Jacob and Evie are truly marvellous characters leaving me hoping they return in some form in the future. The 1868 timeline has a great story and the city of London had me free-running around for hours just sight-seeing all the beautiful landmarks. Ubisoft have outdone themselves here, and truly given fans a reason to never doubt them again.