REVIEW – Stepping into the shoes of both Jacob and Evie Frye – two sibling assassins and gang leaders in a Victorian London – I was busy murdering Templars while annihilating their organization and destroying their schemes to control the city. I also had the occasion to spread Marxism, Darwinism, drive carriages and zipping between tall buildings with a grapple gun in hand. That’s all fine and dandy, but are we still talking about assassins? And most importantly: is this game in after so many reiterations of this long-winded series still fun?
Year after year we are always back to take part in the never-ending battle of the Assassins and the Templars in different time periods of the Assassin’s Creed series. And as the series goes on, the games feels less and less original. Every significant aspect is so well-known to the fans of the series, that was once a breath-taking idea in the original games, became a mundane, boring but „necessary” accessory to every AC title.
The developer’s most difficult task is to try to incorporate fresh ideas while still guarding what makes the essence of the whole series. And then there’s the present-day element, which is like a burden now to the entire series and which convoluted like hell and the forced multiplayer which is always quickly forgotten a month after every game’s release.
Wisely, Ubisoft Quebec left out the multiplayer entirely from Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and they also made some notable changes to make the usual climbing, sneaking and assassinating more. For better or worse…
Brother and sister
One of the most notable changes of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the use of not one, but two playable characters: Evie and Jacob Frye. The two siblings are different in nature: Evie takes his Assassin heritage very seriously (the sibling’s father was also an Assassin), and she wants to find the remaining pieces of Eden. On the other hand, her brother, Jacob is more hot-headed and takes on a different, more direct and more brutal approach to help the city and decimate the Templar order.
Both are very likable, sympathetic and well-shaped characters with a sibling rivalry between them which makes the story (otherwise a bit too simplistic) a lot more interesting.
While we can switch between the two in the open world, the game is still forcing your hand during the missions where it lets you control either Evie or Jacob – it’s was necessary due to the way how the story was written. It’s OK, but my only gripe is that too many missions are linked to Jacob, and I also wish some co-op mode would be present in the game, where I someone else could control either Jacob or Evie.
I was also a bit disappointed how similar Jacob and Evie are to control. They each own their own skill trees; the problem is that those are almost identical, except to some superior abilities, like Evie becoming entirely invisible while stationary (World of Warcraft’s rogues, anyone?) or Jacob having some more killer combos.
“Smack my bitch up?!” My bitch smacked them up!
That doesn’t change the basic gameplay to be honest. With either Evie or Jacob, I still smacked a lot of Templars the very same way. The combat is both simpler and easier than it was in Unity and it feels a bit of a downgrade to me. Yes, like in older AC titles, you can just mash buttons and kill everybody, and if things go wrong, you just hit „medicine”, and you are magically healed.
On higher levels that’s even more like that: in fact you can almost feel like an unkillable Terminator. Yes, I understand that some people didn’t like Unity’s more complex combat system, which was harder to muster, but to me it was realistic, and I learned to control it, so I am not that happy that’s too easy once again.
If you are not the blazing guns and hack’n’slash type of assassin, then you will be pleased to know that sneaking and approaching your targets stealthily is a lot more refined here. While still not on the level of a Splinter Cell or Metal Gear game, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate gives you the option to play smarter and use your head.
Pity that the AI wasn’t upgraded as well: in fact it’s a bit worse, that in some of the last episodes of the series. After the great AI of Metal Gear Solid V, brain-dead soldiers forgetting your presence or not caring about their fellow soldiers killing each other, I was more than underwhelmed about this aspect of the game in Syndicate.
“You know, fish, chips, cup o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary-fucking-Poppins. London!”
On the other hand, the presentation of this bustling, heavily industrialized 1886 London is almost flawless. Yes, it has its clipping issues, and other graphical bugs, but the city is so well presented, that you might forgive the usual flaws. There’s also a big difference between different parts of the city. The heavily industrialized sectors with busy and dirty factory buildings and child labor working in it (yes, we have to free those children), the muddied miserable slums, the different commerce ships going on the Tames, the quarters for the rich people, the majestic royal buildings, the beautiful parks – they all look and feel distinctive.
The streets are also larger and thanks to that we ride carriages on them. Carriages have a distinct and funny GTA-feeling to them – with real horses instead of horsepower. Like in Grand Theft Auto, we can steal any of them, anytime – the only difference that the “police” (or: Scotland Yard, which is present in the game) doesn’t really care about your mischief.
Driving those carriages is also severely lacking in the realism department: every one of them feels the same, and the horses don’t behave realistically either. Since we are talking about an Assassin’s Creed game, realism, however, doesn’t matter that much, and after a bit of a learning curve, I very much enjoyed this aspect of the game. There are several very authentic-looking carriages (some of them looking a bit goofy but in a fun way) and just stealing and driving them on the busy streets of the 1868’s London is a new and enjoyable experience in an Assassin’s Creed title.
Same goes for the grapple gun, which gives you a bit of Batman-like power (while still feeling a sufficiently different) and which is perhaps even more fun to use. Since there are big streets all across London, swinging across rooftops makes it an almost essential upgrade, once you will get it from Graham Bell.
Finally, let’s not forget the trains either, which are not only a typical part of the 1868 London but also provides a significant gameplay element. For one, you will own a train yourself, which will be your base of operations. It is continuously circulating on the railway of London, and you can get here anytime, taking missions, speaking to your friends and member of the band and also getting your income. It’s a lot more fun, and creative solution, like the mansions, castles, and other building were after Assassin’s Creed II in every AC. I prefer this to the cafés from Assassin’s Creed Unity.
Charles Dickens might be in the game, but he didn’t write this story…
Stories in Assassin’s Creed series were always a mixed bag. Some heroes, characters and storylines were pretty good (especially in the Ezio-saga) others felt lacking or too shallow – sometimes due to the open world structure. Syndicate has a rather remarkable setting, with two sympathetic heroes and some well-shaped villains, but the story is still about the same Assassin-Templar conflict, artifacts and famous people from the era. Don’t expect some big WTF moment either, like in Assassin’s Creed III.
What we can say about the obligatory modern-day setting, is that it’s weak sauce again – fortunately there are very few of those – rather dull – cut-scenes. It’s funny how after so many episodes how Ubisoft is still struggling to provide a coherent and interesting modern-day storyline.
Still, the basic story in Syndicate is rather good, even if it’s a bit convoluted. The ending is also pretty stupid and somewhat ruins the whole game a bit.
This trip was worth it
On a whole, I was pleasantly surprised with Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Yes, it also has its share of technical and other problems, yes, it doesn’t invent the Assassin wheel either, and yes, the series could have a rest of a few years, to perhaps come back stronger. Haters gonna hate, lovers gonna love – to me, this episode – even with its shortcomings – was one of the best of the series.
+ London looks awesome
+ Carriages, grapple gun and other new stuff
+ The story and the new characters are fine
– The stupid ending
– Many things are more of the same
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Genre: open world, action-adventure, historical
Relase date: 2015.10.23