Assassin’s Creed, the annual franchise from Ubisoft has had its ups and downs, as does any annual franchise. The 2014 offering, Unity attracted some fairly harsh criticism due to a launch that was riddled with so many flaws that you’d have sworn The Incredible Hulk had gone on a rampage through the code right as it was about to go Gold. Yes it had A LOT of issues but once I looked beyond those I actually had a lot of fun with Unity so coming into 2015 I had high hopes that Ubisoft would take on board the lessons from Unity to make Syndicate an excellent installment in the Assassin’s franchise. After spending plenty of time with Syndicate it’s fair to say that Syndicate is a much needed return to form for the franchise.
Set in 1868 during the Industrial Revolution, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has it’s fair share of firsts. This is the first time an Assassin’s game has been set in London and it’s also the first time that an Assassin’s game has two protagonists that we can actively switch between. Jacob & Evie Frye are twin Assassin’s looking to take back control of London from the Templar’s by infiltrating the dangerous world London’s criminal underworld. It’s a theme that is all too familiar with an Assassin’s game but that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had. There are also some notable cameos on the way including appearances from Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell and even Sergeant Frederick Abberline, the man who investigated the Jack the Ripper murders.
One of the things I love about switching between the twins is that they each have their own unique personalities with Evie being forced to be the more responsible sibling who is in a battle to keep Jacob in line. As you’d expect with differing personalties, each has there own skill set. Evie is the more stealth orientated character with the ability to carry greater amounts of stealth weaponry like throwing knives. Jacob is a fighter, he loves nothing more than getting into a good old fashioned round of fisticuffs; because of that Jacob can take more damage and is able to bring about death in a quicker way as he levels up.
Industrial London makes for a perfect backdrop in a game that does very well at fusing story and side missions together near seamlessly. Open world games that also feature a strong story driven narrative often struggle with pacing. Don’t get me wrong, I love open world games, I just find it strange that you can have a story that should demand urgency yet your character can just wander off and get distracted by the smallest thing. Thankfully Syndicate walks the tightrope very well. Yes there is a wealth of side mission to distract players but for the most part they tend to compliment the main story rather than hinder it and break continuity. I found it much more natural to complete a side mission on my way to a main story mission, this was helped in no small aprt by the fact that the side missions have been thoughtfully placed around the map to compliment the game.
The environment itself is gorgeous to look at, there is a lot to be said for climbing a tall building and then just looking around and admiring the view. Sure the viewing distance may not be as long as some other games out there but what you can see is a stunning representation of London during the Industrial era. Speaking of the environment, I just couldn’t get enough of looking across at a London landmark and then heading on over to it and climbing it. Let’s face it I’m never going to get to climb famous landmarks in real life so I might as well maximise the enjoyment in digital form. Whilst the world features that trademark Assassin’s accessibility, there are times when the movement just seems a little off. Button placement, especially during climbing is not as intuitive as I’d have like and control over movement feels limited rather than freeflowing, especially when using the rope-launcher which should, in theory, allow for more freedom of accessibility.
Aside from the complaints around climbing, the overall feel of the controls is solid. Combat has come a long way from early Assassin’s installments and certainly creates a more fluid, flexible and intuitive experience when engaging in combat. Standard button placement is on offer here with buttons for attack, stun, counter and shoot. The simplicity of the combat system means that it is relatively easy to string together some combinations that end in satisfyingly brutal execution sequences.
Another aspect of the controls is something that is again a first for Assassin’s Creed. The ability to commandeer and drive horse carriages. It may not seem like that big of a deal but it is nice to have an additional method of getting around the city. Yes there are fast travel points but when you have a beautiful world, with the ability to drive around it would seem like a crime to use fast travel rather than take in the beauty of the world around you. There are a few side missions involving the use of carriages as well, such as hijacking them. Once in control of the carriage there is a fair amount of choice in how to use the carriage. Bodies can be stored in them, other carriages can be rammed and there is even hilarity to be found in discovering what it must have been like getting into a full blown chase well before cars were invented!
With enjoyable characters, a stunning backdrop, well placed missions and solid storyline pacing, Syndicate goes a long way to restoring faith in the Assassin’s series. Yes there are a few issues with the controls (mainly when climbimg) but this year Ubisoft have taken on board lessons learnt from Unity and delivered a game that is memorable for all the right reasons. Syndicate is definitely the right prescription for the series and well worth the price of admission.
- Well thought out mission pacing
- Gorgeous representation of Industrial London
- Excellent use of dual characters
- Climbing controls feel limited