The Industrial revolution has chugged into the world of Assassin’s Creed as the series takes to the Victorian streets of London. With iconic characters like Dickens and Darwin, and famous London landmarks like Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, can Syndicate restore faith in the series that Unity lost?
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Assassin’s Creed, although I’m happy to admit that the series lost me slightly with III and IV. Being a UK resident, the charms of Syndicate’s Victorian London are a huge draw, but can the series deliver a story that ties the present day with the past?
Unfortunately the present day is a series of cutscenes that you watch via a CCTV drone. It makes for a disjointed experience, with Syndicate playing more like a period piece. To its credit, the present day does include a great cliffhanger; I just craved to be able to explore the present day as a ‘Desmond’ character or something similar to Black Flag’s missions. Instead you are a nameless initiate. The Templars are searching Victorian London for a piece of Eden – the Shroud – and the Assassins have turned to you to look over the memories of twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye.
London is under the control of the Templar Grand Master, Crawford Starrick, a man who controls London’s industry and the Blighters gang; nothing goes on without his knowledge. You set about breaking his grip by taking down his lieutenants and freeing the boroughs of the city, although you need only release three of them to progress the story. This direct approach is how Jacob thinks the twins should go about freeing London but Evie wants to go directly after the Shroud – this places a burden on their relationship, and like any good sibling rivalry, the pair argue as they try to assert themselves as the dominant twin.
Evie’s more delicate approach to combat makes her ideal for stealth, and although you can level up both twins with the same skill tree, there are some stealthier skills that are only available to her. Jacob is more ‘hands on’ with fighting skills that are only open to him. While the two play similarly, Jacob handles differently in combat, highlighted during the final fight of the game when you switch back and forth between the two.
If you want to sneak through an area Evie is certainly your lady and during the open area of London you can choose to play as either twin. The campaign gives you no choice in which twin you play as and you can’t use them both to set up simultaneous assassinations or issue commands. Only the last sequence features both of them, and it works really well. It’s a shame then that there weren’t more of these scenarios throughout the game.
To realise Jacob’s vision for London and build a gang, you must assemble the Rooks by freeing London’s boroughs. Each area has several missions that when completed reduces the Blighters’ hold on the borough. Once you’ve completed all the borough missions there’s a gang war – a faceoff with the local gang and their leader, who you can assassinate during an earlier borough mission, doing so makes the final faceoff significantly easier.
The borough missions are similar to those from previous Assassin’s Creed games except for the new kidnapping activity. Plan ahead and you should be able to grab your target, stuff them into a carriage and take them straight to the slammer with little interference from gang members or Bobbies on the beat. If you get busted or fail to restrain your target, things get a little out of hand making kidnapping an annoyance but that mainly comes down to poor planning.
Story missions don’t stray too far from the tried and tested missions of Assassin’s Creed either. It works for other series so why not for Assassin’s Creed? For me, this is what I wanted from Syndicate and with tweaks to the gameplay and the excellent London playground; Syndicate is a worthy title that washes away the average feeling of III and IV, and the bug marred Unity. Navigation is smooth, the cover system works beautifully and there’s now a threat indicator similar to that of the multiplayer of previous Assassins Creed titles. The whole package is far more polished than it has been before.
There’s plenty of opportunities to get around London, from public transport to the new rope launcher, which while not as nimble as Batman’s grapple gun, is perfect for spanning gaps or setting up air assassinations. I felt that this made taking down targets a little too easy and also took away the joy of rooftop Parkour.
Carriages are great fun to get around in, and useful to hide from pursuers. You can even race them, smashing up other carriages or jumping on the roof of your own carriage to shoot or fight while your horses do their best to keep on running through the streets. It makes for some great ‘vehicular’ combat, as do the trains. You can also jump on one of the many boats and steamers that travel up and down the Thames. There’s no chance for any ‘sea battles’, but you can run from one side of the Thames to the other – Frogger eat your heart out!
London looks spectacular, and it’s great to see the combat has had an overhaul that makes it far more fluid than Unity, there may be little depth to the combos, but you can mix up punches with tool attacks and environmental kills – it’s brutal and satisfying if a little lite when compared with the Dark Knight. Target Assassinations have also been tweaked. Now you can choose how you tackle an objective, either directly or by going after side objectives that might present alternative opportunities to assassinating your foe.
The city of London is begging to be explored and conquered. I tried to stick to just the campaign and managed to rack up 25 hours of gameplay but doing so has left vast parts of the game unexplored – from activities and borough missions to additional memories from historical characters, including some special missions from Queen Victoria which are only available after the climax of the campaign. There’s also a third playable character within the additional memories and a trip to World War I, so look out for that!
I absolutely loved my time with Syndicate; I haven’t had this much fun with an Assassin’s Creed title since Brotherhood. The story is playful and has fun with itself; it isn’t too drab in tone, which is strengthened by two extremely likeable characters that bounce off one another with sibling rivalry and a cheeky flair that makes them irresistible not to love.
Sure there’s one or two bugs that any open world game suffers from. Overuse of the same enemy models does make fighting rather bland over the entirety of the game, but this aside, Syndicate is something that Assassin’s Creed fans will adore. I’d wager that even if you felt burned by the previous few entries of the series, then you would find it hard to resist the charms of London and the Frye twins.
Thanks to Ubisoft UK for their support
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