In late 2014, I finished Assassin’s Creed: Unity, finding that while it looked good, its issues were so widespread I urged people not to buy it new. Ubisoft, the studio behind the series, seems to have almost addressed nearly every complaint I had in the new game, Syndicate, and bring the series to Victorian-era London. This, quite honestly, is the best Assassin’s Creed since the second back in 2009, thought that’s not to say it’s perfect.
While it follows the same template, Syndicate brings a series of excellent changes. Instead of loads of modern-day faffing and nonsense, we just have the odd interlude. Where main missions continue to underwhelm, we have so many excellent side missions that I spent more time on them than anything else. And best of all, we have a choice of sibling assassins, including the series’ first major female playable character. Evie and Jacob Frye are the Victorian-era children of an assassin, and embrace the title in very different ways – Evie is studious and looking for answers to the pre-civilisation mysteries of the series, while Jacob is “in it for the lolz” and enjoys brawling, murdering and generally being a bastard.
The story is subtly different, giving us one (underwhelming) master-villain in Templar industrialist Crawford Starrick, and you systematically dismantle his empire by taking out other Templar underlings in the game’s main missions (it sounds similar, but the way it’s portrayed feels different). However, in the best addition for a long while, Starrick and the assassins have rival gangs, and you need to take back control of each borough through a series of activities. Some get tiring (specifically hostage-taking), but others – gang wars, liberating child workers and killing gang leaders – are fun in that they give you a clean slate with which to work and improve each time. I found myself straining to complete this before I even got halfway through the main story, and if Ubisoft could tidy up the main missions/make them more interesting, they’d have a truly great game.
Another excellent addition is the grappling hook, which will be only too familiar to those who played Arkham Knight). Evie and Jacob can instantly rappel to the tops of buildings and across to others – no more torturously clambering up huge cathedrals. This excellent new feature is very welcome, but as with every Assassin’s Creed game, there are times (normally when you need it urgently to escape) that you end up not being able to use it! The plot is at times interesting and at others infuriatingly boring – so in other words, just like the last few games – and I enjoyed the period stuff a lot more than the modern-day and Precursor pants, which thankfully seems to be taking less of a dominant role.
Graphically, like Unity the London here is beautiful. Puddles of rain reflect the sun as you run down the streets, soot-covered walls and hovel-like shacks share space with St. Paul’s and the Houses of Parliament, and you genuinely feel a sense of place and history – Syndicate again achieving what the series is so good at, recreating a famous city almost flawlessly. An engaging game world is fun to play in, and that’s the point – I’d often stop to look around and realise just how impressive it all was. The voice acting is, as per usual with Assassin’s Creed, a bit naff, but for the most part the Cockney accents are not too mangled, while the character designs and graphical portrayal are improving with each game – especially with (some) of the historical characters. The music is good when it works, but is dependent on standing still or at least not constantly moving, so it’s very choppy and as a result less memorable than in other games in the series.
If I had complaints, they would be that some of the side missions are buggy to play – the aforementioned hostage-taking one in particular, which requires you to press the same button to take the person hostage (X on the PS4) as you press to put them in a carriage. All that money and time spent, but still the same button used for two consecutive, important actions – I negated the entire point of the exercise and would choose to knock them out immediately! Also, the invigorating addition of multiple assassination options brought in by Unity is a bit naff the second time around – I usually went for the easiest option rather than any that might be seen as interesting, but if this were made more interesting it would regain its novelty and importance.
Also, a lot of the side missions involving famous people are, well, stupid. There’s no other way to say it, but it’s like Ubisoft keeps forgetting how important a lot of their historical characters are, and while some missions are actually connected to history, others are almost embarrassing to play (some of the Dickens and Darwin ones in particular). I was also disappointed that the murder mystery missions (again, a welcome addition in Unity) – much like the Batman series – don’t make us actually work for solving these crimes. It’s pointless making it so that you just hit a button to magically see clues!
Overall, I really enjoyed Syndicate – more than any Assassin’s Creed since the second and its follow-ups. The news that Ubisoft is taking a year off in 2016 to build a new game for 2017 is, however, a good thing too – perhaps some of the persistently annoying issues will be fixed, and it’ll get back to its best. Either that, or we’ll have more glitches and inconceivable issues that a multi-million dollar games company should really iron out before release…!