Assassins Creed is a series which evokes differing emotions depending on who you ask. There are those who are devout lovers of the series who look forward to each new installment while there are others who feel it lacks innovation and have long since given up on it. That being said, Assassins Creed IV Black Flag was demonstrably popular with its swash buckling action, even so far as to get a good score from noted curmudgeons like Ben Croshaw. Assassins Creed Unity, set during the French Civil War, was markedly less popular and the PC release was besieged with problems from the very start.
I played a little bit of Black Flag and enjoyed it, but the last AC game that I sunk any real time into prior to that had been Assassins Creed II. However, trailers and game footage of Syndicate made it look exciting and I picked it up on impulse. I wasn’t planning to do a review but the original writer who had been assigned Syndicate decided to skip town, so I’ve stepped in to fill the breach. So yeah, I’m reviewing a current title for a change! I hope you’re all dressed for the occasion! (Top hats and crotchless corduroy trousers in case you didn’t know)
Syndicate follows the trials and tribulations of orphaned Assassin twins Evie and Jacob Frye. Children to Assassin parents both twins have been enlisted into the seemingly eternal war between The Assassins Order and The Templar Knights. However, as we join our story things aren’t going well for the hooded Assassins. The Templars have conquered London with a combination of gang warfare and good old fashioned hyper capitalism. So bad are things going for the Assassins that they have little to no presence in the centre of London itself and are instead stuck bumming around the outskirts of Croydon. After the first introductory missions, the twins decide they’ve had enough of hanging around Croydon (A stance anyone who has ever had to go to Croydon could sympathize with) and decide to hop on the next train to The Big Smoke and start taking care of bidness.
London is the unabashed star of the entire game in my honest opinion. Ubisoft have created a thoroughly detailed to-scale London sandbox that feels truly alive. Just taking a walk through a nearby park I saw a game of cricket going on between 11 or so NPC’s. Climbing into a near by alleyway I found a young child doing some keepy uppies while other kids scampered around playing games. The Thames River is chock full of all sorts of boats and ships, the roads are bustling with carts and every nook and cranny of the city has something going on. London in this game is a genuine achievement and a development salvo that this game deserves plentiful plaudits for. The musical score is simply sensational to boot and suits the 1860’s London setting to a tee. I really can’t say enough great things about London in this game. You can tell that lots of time and research have gone into crafting this world.
As Evie and Jacob, you have to complete missions and liberate the boroughs of London section by section. There are also set story missions that advance the narrative in a more linear fashion. I went for a good few hours just doing missions in Lambeth Borough and then did a large chuck of Thames Borough before finally heading back to the story. It’s not as if the story missions are dull either, I just got into a grove and didn’t want to stop until I’d cleared the map. Each borough is headed by a brutal gang leader whom you eventually do battle with after all the missions in that borough are cleared. On top of this there are also side quests that aren’t linked to gang territory or the main story. One such series of side quests involves you investigating ghosts with Charles Dickens. It’s a bit silly but does make for a nice change of pace.
Free running makes its return and scampering across the London roof tops can be fun but sometimes it can be a chore when you have to traverse half the map because the game arbitrarily decides to start you in the wrong part of the city for a mission. You can fast travel to vantage points but that involves sitting through a lengthy loading screen. The loading times in general are rather ponderous. It’s understandable that you’d have to sit through a long load screen whenever you first start the game as the whole city has to be generated. It’s the same in GTA V. However, you also have to sit through a long load screen when waiting for a mission to restart. This got especially annoying for me when I kept getting killed against one of the gang leaders and had to sit there waiting for the game to start up again on numerous occasions.
Free running is as it always was, except that there are now designated buttons from free running down and free running upwards. Most of the terrain at hand is assailable and when you get a good run together it can feel exhilarating. Accuracy of jumps can sometimes still be a problem and occasionally the camera can get stuck in an awkward position as you try to clamber up or down assorted buildings. The addition of a grapple hook is most appreciated and gives the game an almost Arkham feel at times, although it’s much more fluid in the Batman games. It can still be overly clunky to get around and there’s nothing more frustrating that getting stuck on a piece of scenery /running up a wall you don’t want to while the person you’re supposed to be chasing shuffles off into the distance.
There is always an option for stealth in most missions and I did enjoy meticulously picking off a targets amassed array of heavies until it was just the two of us left. There was a particular mission where I had to kill a target on a boat and I had immense fun hiding out of sight and dragging minions overboard as the assassination target got increasingly more perplexed at the goings on. This for me is Syndicate at its most enjoyable and I must admit to favouring the stealth option most times over fighting off 5-6 enemies at once in a melee. It can certainly be fun to fend off large groups of enemies all at once and as you advance further in the game you can increase both Evie’s and Jacob’s stats so that they become increasingly more proficient at taking apart large groups of lackeys.
The combat is hardly perfect, the timing for counters in particularly feels a bit off, but it can be enjoyable and doesn’t hamper things too much. Overall the gameplay is reasonably tight but not amazing either. It’s serviceable and doesn’t take away too much from the experience. For those put off by the previous games lack of innovation in this field, this game is hardly going to change your mind. That being said, innovation for merely innovations sake rarely leads to a good playing experience. Innovation needs to be warranted and I’m not overly sure that it’s as necessary to this series as others seem to think. It would be nice if the game was slightly more fluid both in combat and moving around, but I don’t think it’s ruined by being in its current state.
I enjoyed Assassins Creed Syndicate on the whole. I certainly wouldn’t refer to it as a bad game at all. It’s not going to trouble my “game of the year” list or anything, but it certainly has a lot going for it. I enjoyed that you could plot your own path through the game and really liked the “Liberate London” elements. London itself is majestic and a genuine triumph. Evie and Jacob aren’t the most exciting pair of characters and Jacob’s quips can feel forced. Evie is the more dedicated to the cause of the two and they try to use that to build tension between them, but it’s kind of lost when Jacob is equally as good at the assassinating aspect of the job as she is.
I know it’s seen as a wussy statement to say that a game is “missing that special something” but I think it’s apt when discussing Syndicate. It has its good points and the less positive points are hardly crippling, but it just doesn’t have that extra oomph that makes it any more than a good outing in the series. There are certainly some sensational elements at work here and for that reason I’m going to clock it in at 80%, which is a very good score before people start squawking. Yes, I’m fully aware that I over rated FIFA 16 (Even then only by 5%) so don’t come at me Assassins Creed fan base. It’s pretty much in line with everyone else, so don’t lose your collective minds.
Thanks for reading.