Speaking as a big fan of Assassin’s Creed, it really, REALLY needs some time off. Of the nine main console releases only three of them are really good, “Unity” messed up as many things as it fixed, and the interesting counterpoint “Rogue”‘s story offered was quickly dropped in favour of business as usual. I’ve been hoping for Victorian London for quite a while now, but not the way the series is currently being developed. Pulling back for a minute: AC Syndicate does have good points, and I’ll be elaborating on them shortly, but I need to preface the review by saying that even I’m starting to get sick of yearly Assassin’s Creed. Right, on with the review. SPOILERS ahead.
After gradually moving away from Historical accuracy (was of course has been skewed since the start), Syndicate takes a sudden left turn and drops you into a Victorian London that’s been taken over by the cast of “Gangs of New York”. Two twin Assassins Jacob and Evie Frye decide to ditch their responsibilites so they can hop on a train to Lahndahn Tahn and take down the law and order-centric society the Templars have built by creating organised crime. Brilliant. This may seem like I’m oversimplifying things, or approaching the story with a Templar bias, but the game seems to agree with my position- Jacob kills several high ranking Templars and as a result brings England literally to the brink of complete and utter ruin. Evie has to go around fixing everything so the entire country doesn’t collapse. That’s pretty much it, story wise. Jacob kills a load of people that run London, Evie sleuths around trying to find a magic cape, they have a falling out then at the end their goals collide when they murder the head Templar who happened to be using the magic cape. Also Queen Victoria turns up because of course she does. Other historical figures include Sergeant Frederick Abberline who is now a Sherlock Holmes-esque fan of disguises, Charles Dickens, who just wants to investigate ghosts, and Karl Marx, whose presence has made a load of whiny white men on the internet lose their minds and cry all over twitter. I quite liked how the game showed the Assassins to be a clumsy instrument of destruction but it’s all neatly wrapped up in the end. Also the game had an absolute belter of a villain- a man who ran a theatre, was willing to burn children and was madly in love with Jacob, but he’s barely in it. Wasted opportunity. Jacob and Evie themselves aren’t too bad at all. Jacob is much less the complete lunatic the initial footage made him look and is more a brash, well-meaning thug, and Evie is pretty much just the token sensible team mate. It’s nice to have another female protagonist though, especially after how badly Unity handled Elise, and both Twins are miles ahead of pretentious arsehole Arno. On the future side of things it’s now completely inconsequential and trivial, which is ironic considering they’ve gone back to having an actual story and not just having a faceless Ubisoft employee QA testing the new AC game. All the future elements are cutscenes seen through the eyes of drones and look really, really similar to the cutscenes in “Advanced Warfare” in terms of graphics. Main difference is these ones are all a complete waste of time.
Gameplay wise it’s a marked improvement over Unity, though it still has its share of problems. Firstly let me point out that while I only encountered two or three bad glitches, other sources have encountered an unplayable, buggy mess. The stealth is still solid, the combat is much quicker and leaner compared to Unity’s “Block, then wail on them with a blunt sword” fighting system, and they fixed that ridiculous bollocks with the hidden blade. Now you can finish off a target with any weapon, or just shoot them with a Colt Single Action Army, which wasn’t around at the time the game is set but its presence is still welcome. The actual assassination missions are as open as they were in Unity but are easily solved by sprinting in and battering your target into submission. London itself feels a bit similar to Unity’s Paris, but somehow less lively- it feels quite open and sparse. Weirdly, as depictions of Victorian London go, this one actually feels less convincing than “The Order 1886”, which had more focus on detail and tone and didn’t spread itself too thin. It does have its moments though- you can cross the Thames by freerunning across loads of boats and barges (some of which have cargo to steal and ne’er do wells to stab), but the new grappling hook launcher thing trivialises movement, and the new kidnapping element makes no sense. Basically you hold an enemy’s arm behind their back and walk them past all their mates, walking slowly to prevent the sound ring around you alerting enemies. This is fine in theory, but falls down when you consider that the enemies only react to sound, and completely ignore the sight of a person they’ll all attack on sight literally strong-arming their friends. Also this might seem like a nitpick, but the sewers are completely the same as the ones in Unity, despite the fact they made a big deal of exploring the Parisian sewers last time around.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate feels like a holding pattern. It’s enjoyable, sure, but what’s enjoyable here was enjoyable in other games. It has no leap forward for gameplay (AC4) or story (Rogue), and the interesting elements it does have don’t make it stand-out. It’s a damn sight better than Unity, but as I said at the start of the review- it really needs to take some time off. Give it a few years to work on a new engine and refine the mechanics, drop the future nonsense and set it in Feudal Japan.
By James Lambert