Review: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
One of the most popular Ubisoft licenses since its first episode in 2007, Assassin’s Creed poorly landed on new generation consoles. Don’t get me wrong, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag piracy theme was beautifully portrayed but failed to highlight the assassins, and then came way to Assassin’s Creed Unity. A launch weighed down by numerous technical problems, has generated bad press within the community, and something needed to be done to clean the bad taste in fan’s mouth. The heavy task to put the license back on track was given to Ubisoft Quebec, so let’s see how Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is on the scale of this beloved stealth game.
After leaving France in the late eighteenth century, Assassin’s Creed is now set on the other side of the Channel for another revolution. One of an industrial England and its capital London in 1868, during the Victorian era. The city is as usual owned by the eternal Templars and no Assassin has managed to kick them out until two of them came along: Jacob and Evie.
Since its launch in 2007, the Assassin’s Creed games follow the destiny of a single character. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate ditch this rule after 8 releases (without counting other sideline games), and gives the lead to twin brother and sister Jacob and Evie Frye. A new generation of assassins, you quickly get used to them, as they are already part of the creed, unfortunately their past is not that developed in the game, and I would’ve loved to know how they became assassins. Nevertheless, these two protagonists have their own specific charm and character traits, but mostly are endearing and it’s already a good thing considering the previous stars of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’s Connor and Unity’s Arno.
Other than being two very distinct characters in terms of personality, the gameplay differences are quite obvious, with Evie being more careful and rely better on stealth, while Jacob is the reckless kind preferring to charge in before asking questions. We thus find the previously established Assassin’s Creed Unity combat system, but more action oriented with 3 different weapons at all time including the brass knuckles, sword cane and kukri (Originally a Nepalese large curved knife similar to a machete).
At base, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is full of good ideas in terms of gameplay that correct some of the franchise’s flaws. Some of course are minimal, such as the introduction of a button shortcut to enter a window, or the “discreet” mode, which makes our assassin put his hood on to focus on infiltration but one of the major novelties is the grappling hook. The latter, though unusable during combat, can help you move faster through London, a city whose buildings are taller and wider streets than the previous opus. In the beginning, I was really worried that grappling hook would make parkour elements irrelevant, turning the game into some sort of Batman Arkham clone, but for the good part it makes it more fluid. While the gadget is permissive by nature, you cannot use it when you are about to climb or jump, but it helps travel greater distances while sticking to the lore and adapting to the time.
Like all Assassin’s Creed game, Syndicate is all linked to stealth, and this opus makes infiltration deeper, richer and more interesting overall. This is particularly the case in assassinations thanks to the opportunities you can exploit, introduced the first time in Unity (except that in Paris, they were very underused). This is one pitfall fixed by Syndicate, which offers generally 2-3 opportunities in the assassination missions, such as helping a prisoner, finding a secret passage or steal a master key to open doors. There’s so many different opportunities that enhance the infiltration and exploration elements of the game. They are well staged and reward players, and appear far less linear and scripted through a more inspired level design.
The RPG part of the game is still present, but now streamlined to make the whole thing clearer and less messy. It is still possible to earn money and experience to enhance weapons and armor pieces, as well as the skills of our two characters. Some are specific to an assassin, depending on their personality as I stated previously. For example, Evie will get unique skills based on infiltration, making her almost invisible, while those of Jacob will focus on the fight and brawl. Finally, it is also possible to unlock skills by performing ticking the boxes in a series of challenges (example multiple air assassination), which also push players to diversify their playing.
As a city and setting, London is further evidence of the expertise of Ubisoft teams. Home of the Industrial Revolution and most populated city in the world, you will visit smoldering factories where children work at Westminster Gardens, or sail via the Thames and its maritime traffic. The boats will not be the only means of transport as trains and carriages are also available, and the reproduction work of London by the team is once again one of the highlights of the title, so I really took pleasure in strolling through the city to discover its different neighborhoods. Among the means of transport, only the carriages are driveable, which is one of the major novelties brought by this episode, which allow players to move quickly without the need to abuse “fast travel” and avoid some slow loading times.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate appears far less linear and scripted through a more inspired level design
On the technical side, after the bad buzz from the previous episode, Ubisoft has learned the lesson and took careful care of Syndicate. Of course, some minor bugs remain, but from the roughly 20 hours of play, I didn’t go through something so bad that that required me to restart my console. The game is smooth, there’s some slight screen tear here and there, but the game doesn’t feel like it’s fuming, even in the busiest borough of London. I believe this was achieved by toning down the game in general, running at 900p and 30 frames per second on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4, with less NPCs in comparison to Unity to allow room for the vehicular battles.
As much as I praise the art direction, the many fixes and gameplay changes, I regret the lack of a decent scenario or story in the magnitude of this franchise. It’s still yet another battle between Assassins and Templars – which is fine by me – to allow key characters in the present time to find a new fragment of Eden. The fans will still appreciate the fun references, more or less direct, to previous assassins of the franchise, but although this title is slightly better in comparison to Unity, it’s still slow paced in comparison to Desmond’s story. And it’s been weird throughout the releases, going from learning to like his modern hero which is Desmond, to get to play him in the present time, see him commit an act of bravery to save humanity, reduced to a simple first-person banality in the last three episodes. Now with Syndicate it’s even more disconnected in the timeline, and our experience of the present time battle between Assassins and Templar has been reduced to random cutscenes between memory fragments of your adventure with Jacob and Evie. At least for us in the Middle East, the franchise has been localized for the first time with fully voiced Arabic actors, which fully emphasize on Ubisoft’s investment in the region.
Another downside is that I would have liked the interaction between our heroes a little bit more subtle or smarter. You’ll end up playing more as Jacob in comparison to this sister (though you can switch at any time), and it is a pity that the studio did not propose more missions with interactions between the two characters, like GTA V’s robberies and even a Batman Arkham Knight dual play combat system.
To regain control of the city of London, you will go from neighborhood to neighborhood, toppling different Templars gangs with the help of your own, called the Rooks. Over the time, the more you capture area through short missions, such as freeing children from Templars sweat shops, the more you can unlock upgrades for your gang, and your allies will be increasingly present in the streets and help you out during brawls.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate of course offers its wealth of secondary activities, much better than its predecessor, and quite varied: street fights, carriage races, train or river raid attack and much more, including exclusive PlayStation 4 content. There’s couple of fun activities, a bit more scripted though, but at least will highlight historical figures of the time such as Karl Marx and Charles Darwin.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was reviewed using an Xbox One retail copy of the game purchased by the writer, and a PlayStation 4 Middle East version provided by Ubisoft. The game is also available on PC in both retail and online store releases. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Rich content
• Two assassins for the price of one
• A more punchy fighting system
• Negative Unity items removed or improved
• The atmosphere generated by London
• The grab and transport
• Scenario lacks scale
• Little interaction between our two heroes
• The present time Assassin story is reduced to mere cutscenes