Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is the latest release in Ubisoft’s previously excellent, recently disappointing, franchise. It comes on the back of a handful of pretty poor releases filled with bugs, ropey storylines and a shift away from what made the original games in the series so good.
As a previously avid fan of the series, I see Syndicate as Ubisoft’s last chance to correct the mistakes of the last three games (Assassin’s Creed III and IV being particular lows) and essentially save what was once a challenging yet enjoyable franchise. While I haven’t yet completed the game, the initial impression from the time I have spent playing the opening few campaign missions and side-stories is below.
Going back to basics
As ever with an Assassin’s Creed game, there is a continued struggle to make new stories fit into the increasingly convoluted backstory. What worked well in the earlier games, no longer makes sense as the series has jumped from the Middle-East to Rome to Revolutionary America (what a stupid decision that was!!) to Revolutionary France. The mythology of the game has become increasingly unwieldy, and it weighed on the last couple of games quite heavily.
Thankfully Ubisoft seems to have realised this, and let the lore take more of a backseat in Syndicate, allowing even those less familiar with the series to take up the game without delving into the archive.
Syndicate is set 1868 Victorian London (NOT during the Industrial Revolution which, according historical consensus, ended sometime up to 1840 (seriously Ubisoft, do some proper research!!)) and follows twin protagonists Jacob and Evie Frye between whom the gamer can switch during the game. I applaud the attempt to bring the two protagonists but the one downside to the split between the two is that while each has their own unique abilities, they are not quite different enough to make the game actually play differently when switching between the twins. That does mean that open play and side-missions are possible with both, but I would’ve liked a little more distinction between the two so that if desired, the gamer could learn two different styles of completing the game.
The main storyline generally focusses on Jacob and his desire to liberate London rather than focussing on the Assassin’s Creed staple of collecting relics and exploring tombs. It makes a really nice change to be able to dedicate time, effort and gaming hours to the main storyline rather than off on whimsical adventures designed purely to further the Assassin’s Creed mythology.
The main open world play is focussed on defeating the Templars. This is done by building up a gang of followers to help overthrow the tyrannical Templars throughout the different boroughs of London. The basics remains consistent with previous games in the series, but the focus on building up a group of followers helps give the side-missions and open-world activities more meaning than in previous games.
There are cameos by a number of famous faces including the two Charles’s – Darwin and Dickens – who each offer new activities and challenges, but unlike in some previous Assassin’s Creed, these do have more of a whimsical nature to them, which helps lighten up the somewhat brooding, dreary depiction of London.
In terms of gameplay, I had the misfortune of having to play this using the abysmally awful PS4 controller so it was less enjoyable than playing on a proper console. Even so, the game was good enough for that not to be too much of a problem.
The general gameplay will be familiar to Assassin’s Creed aficionados – you run, climb and kill your way around the streets of London with the the parkour elements of the game having once again being given a small step forward. Despite this, Syndicate unfortunately still suffers from the same problem that all previous games have – the inexplicable attempt to run up a tree that can’t be run up instead of around it, or jump to the wrong ledge when clearly there was a better one within reach.
There are also two key additions which showed marked improvements over previous iterations. The first is the use of horse and carts. While not exactly revolutionary, I did enjoy the option to go into GTA-mode by commandeering the horse and carts at will, and found it much more fun than the horses and ships used in previous games.
The addition of a grapple gun is also a great move as it allows you to traverse wider distances without the inconvenience of descending to ground level. It can also be used as a quick way to reach the top of taller buildings. Once you get used to it, it makes the whole game seem quicker and more enjoyable and is a long, long way from the incredibly stupid and boring horse travel in Assassin’s Creed III.
Fight mechanics have also taken a small step forward, being slightly more fluid and stylistic than in previous iterations. I was slightly less impressed with group fights which were somewhat tricky to navigate, but I suspect that was more down to having to use a sub-par controller than the game itself. While not quite at the same level of class as Ezio, Jacob and Evie can certainly fight and kill with style.
While we haven’t played the game to completion, it is clear that Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate isn’t perfect. It struggles with things that have blighted previous Assassin’s Creed games – excessively lengthy load times, parkour problems and a bloated, unwieldy, and jumbled mythology. But it seems to have taken a welcome step away from lore and back towards the basics that made the earlier games so much fun.
The general storyline is actually quite well conceived with a focus on London and the characters. The addition of the twin protagonists is a nice move, though more could and should have been done to explore that concept. The parkour elements still need improving, but the gameplay is enjoyable and the grapple hook is a revelation when traversing the city. London looks dull and dreary, which is a good thing, as that is precisely how it is supposed to look. It is, in short, the most enjoyable Assassin’s Creed since Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.