The first Assassin’s Creed game will be ten years old next Fall. Ubisoft’s historical romp through world history didn’t turn into a yearly franchise until Assassin’s Creed II started the tradition in 2009. The main series has produced nine entries in nine years, and along the way there have been thirteen additional spinoffs on everything from handhelds to mobile phones and tablets. Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty form the yearly one two punch of late October to early November holiday releases, and both have built dedicated fanbases. Unlike Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed has attempted to reinvent itself over the years to varying degrees of success.
The release of Assassin’s Creed Unity last year really hurt the brand. By all intents and purposes, the game was incredibly broken, riddled with micro transactions, and a nonsensical story that failed to expand on the rising complexity of the underlying story arc. So with Ubisoft’s latest installment, the stakes have risen, the pressure mounting, and the teetering fanbase is flirting with taking a leap of faith back into the world, or scaling a building that offers an exit strategy from years of dedication and unanswered truths.
Full disclosure, I had the opportunity to attend Ubisoft’s media event in London for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. I spoke with directors and developers and had a chance to play through two early sequences in the game almost two months before launch. It was already clear that improvements had been made, but there were still some warning signs pointing to a second lackluster release in a row.
With that being said, I will also disclose that I’m not a dedicated fan of the series. I tend to stray away from annual franchises like Assassin’s Creed and the aforementioned Call of Duty for numerous reasons. Still, I have played every new edition to Assassin’s Creed and have completed several of them. The Ezio Trilogy is one of the better story arcs from last generation, and Black Flag was a surprisingly deep and offered refreshing aspects to the increasing staleness present in Assassin’s Creed III.
After wading through the finished version of Syndicate I can say that it is certainly better than Unity. Ubisoft Quebec did a remarkable job depicting 1868 London, from the historical landmarks like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Thames River, and Tower of London, to the narrow roads, all the way down to clothing and music from the period.
Scored by Austin Wintory, the Grammy award winning composer who created the music in the magnificent Journey, the background music blends flawlessly into the pub songs and incidental street tunes. Historical figures like Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Alexander Graham Bell, Florence Nightingale, and Queen Victoria are implemented into Jacob and Evie Frye’s adventure effectively.
This time around, multiplayer was abandoned completely in order to focus all assets to providing an engaging single player experience. A first for the series, Syndicate offers two playable characters: Jacob and Evie Frye. Sometimes it is predetermined whether you play as Jacob or Evie because of story progression, but other times you have the choice and can switch at any time.
Jacob offers a more brash, in-your-face style, while Evie is for those inclined to incorporate allusive sneaking and stealth tactics. The dynamic works well and adds a layer of depth previously not present in the annual franchise.
The game does a commendable job introducing the player to an influential period of time. On the heels of the Industrial Revolution entering the Victorian era, London at the time, was one of the cultural cornerstones in the world. Like us, the Frye twins are experiencing London for the first time, called upon by the Bishop from the Assassin Brotherhood to lead the revolt against the Templars, currently in control of the city, led by Crawford Starrick. Along the way, the Frye twins perform familiar assassination style missions, are involved in chase sequences by carriage, and of course, scale the beautiful buildings to travel from A to B.
The hallmark of the series has always been the parkour style movement, allowing players to take in the landscape from different angles and great heights. All of that is still there, but the inclusion of the Rope Launcher shakes things up a bit. Instead of finding ways to run and jump from one tall building to the next, players receive a tool early in the game that acts as Batman-esque grappling hook. It can latch on to surfaces from lengthy distances and swing Jacob or Evie through the air towards the metal hook.
However, that leads us to the downsides of Syndicate. The Rope Launcher, while nice on paper, takes away some of the main draws of the series, and that wouldn’t be a real problem had it been employed better. The launcher is finicky and inconsistent, and it lacks the satisfying feeling that is found in the Batman franchise and Spiderman’s web-slinging.
Horse drawn carriages are present throughout the streets of London and are used in chase scenes and mission objectives. This could’ve been an intriguing development, but the controls are circa early Grand Theft Auto, and they produce some frustrating moments when you find yourself stuck in a narrow alleyway needing to turn back.
Once again, the present day story plot is missing in Syndicate, and while it isn’t a poorly written tale, Assassin’s Creed has spent years building its intricate plot only to virtually disregard it in recent entries.
Syndicate is definitely not the bug and glitch filled mess that was Unity, but it’s not without its noticeable flaws. The frame rate drops randomly, character models fidget abnormally, and occasionally you find yourself unable to move properly from a ledge without tinkering your position. This is caused by unresponsive input from controller to game engine and occurs sporadically, but sometimes at inopportune times. Cut scenes glitch out to reveal an item floating in midair and are only resolved when the game catches up and sends you a few moments in the future. Above all else, the graphics are underwhelming on Xbox One and the preferred platform which this review was comprised from, Playstation 4. Jagged edges and muddy textures fail to impress when compared to other big budget titles. To its credit, Syndicate, like all other Assassin’s Creed games, is tasked with reimagining a whole city with fervent accuracy, and to expect the game to look as gorgeous as other AAA titles is somewhat unrealistic.
Despite its pestering glitches and minor gameplay failures, Syndicate is solid experience overall. It gets some leeway because the carriages and rope launcher are development experiments and even though they don’t work as well as intended, the core Assassin’s Creed gameplay is abundant. The London setting is one of their best to date, and the addition of multiple playable characters is welcome and noteworthy. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate takes a leap of faith, and for the most part, it lands on its feet.
A PS4 copy of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was provided by Ubisoft for the purpose of this review
Assassin's Creed Syndicate$59.99
- 19th century London is rendered beautifully
- Two playable characters
- Excellent Score
- Satisfying combat
- Fantastic Voice Acting
- Lacks connection with the overarching virtual reality storyline of the series
- Uninspired Rope Launcher
- Formulaic plot
- Carriages control like bumper cars, and not in the good way
- Rampant Bugs and glitches
[…] If you are interested in checking out the latest Assassin’s Creed release Syndicate, you can read our review of the game here. […]