After what seems like a huge detour in the series on the oceans, and failing to hit the spot with Unity, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate finally gets to where it wants to be, by rediscovering what made the early Assassin’s Creed games so great, and adding a few new elements to keep up with the times. There’s been odd glimpses of quality in previous titles, but it’s been a long time since we’ve had excellent characters, a playground worthy of our time, an exciting story, and addictive gameplay all baked together to make a delicious, vicious meal of gaming goodness. I’m sure Ezio would approve.
Speaking of Ezio, I’m sure this is the first time since he left the series that Ubisoft have finally got their concept of having a lovable rogue as the main character bang on in Jacob Frye, a cheeky chappie who acts first thinks later, and who is balanced off by his twin sister Evie, the more sensible and smarter of the duo, but every bit as brutal if necessary. You can choose who to play as for the most part in Victorian London, which is beautifully detailed from the slums to the Houses of Parliament. Some missions require using one or the other, depending whether you are searching for a Piece of Eden as Evie, or hunting Templars as Jacob, who has a habit of killing people with far-reaching consequences that he fails to recognise, and so naturally Evie has to sort out his mess as the moral-driven one of the pair. This inter-play between light and dark means we can enjoy Jacob, whom we would most likely dislike if he was a sole protagonist, and we see that beneath the camaraderie he is very thankful for having a sister who understands him, as he does really mean no harm. If Attention Deficit Disorder was around in those times Jacob would surely have a diagnosis.
Ubi must take feedback seriously because whilst plentiful opportunities for co-op missions they have neglected to include co-op or any form of multiplayer in this instalment. The main missions are varied, from blowing up cargo on trains to escorting the Prime Minister’s wife, and can be completed in multiple ways. There are barely any tailing missions some of you will be pleased to read. Some missions are nigh on impossible to complete all optional objectives for in one go and I’m sure it was a conscious choice, so if you are going for 100% sync in all missions you will have to replay some, but rather than being a chore it is very welcome and adds replay value. The style of being stealthy or combative extends to the characters skills tree, where Evie has some stealth skills Jacob doesn’t have, such as being invisible whilst still, and vice versa for Jacob and combat skills. I prefer playing stealthily so used Evie mainly, and there is a slight difference in the pair. Sequence finale missions usually take on some Hitman-esque elements whereby you can infiltrate your environment and get close to your target in multiple ways, with unique kill and stealth opportunities by using particular characters who don’t arouse suspicion in order to perform your duties. These missions are especially worth playing again in order to see the different methods of assassinating available. There is also a World War One simulation where you play as another Frye family member which is a nice deviation from the main story.
Many missions use the given transportation of horse and carriage, or trains, and are a lot of fun. The missions I disliked the most were kidnap missions, especially if one of the optional objectives is to not kill anyone, as bundling your target into a carriage can be troublesome as it is the same button to let go of the target, so after spending time thinking how to approach the mission and executing it to perfection, you can mess it up at the final moment through no real fault of your own. The kidnap missions extend into the side missions, which you need to complete to conquer all London boroughs, along with child liberation missions where you rescue child slaves, Templar hunts which are really simple, and gang strongholds where you kill all the Blighters who work for Crawford Starrick, who basically runs London and is who you are working towards killing. Getting around London if you forgo transportation means utilising the new rope launcher, which functions as a grapple and zip-line. Climbing is mostly made redundant then, and whilst the rope launcher takes some getting used to, is quite necessary given the layout of London with gaps between buildings. It occasionally gets annoying because you don’t have complete control over where the launcher goes, but it is so fast that even if it takes you where you don’t want to go it is easily rectified. Zip-lining up Big Ben is as fun as you would expect, and as a Brit did give me a wry smile. Using B to climb down buildings takes some getting used to for veterans, and plenty of times I wanted to jump and take fall damage but couldn’t as the game wouldn’t let me.
You can craft many items in Syndicate that increase your attack, stealth, and so forth, and you get your supplies from robbing cargo or opening chests in London. I found it beneficial at the start to get your income trickling in and get yourself some good weapons so combat is easier. Once upgrades are acquired you can carry about 10 bombs, 30 bullets, and 20 knives, so you are not having to get replenishments every 5 minutes, and can cause massive havoc if that’s your sort of thing. Collectible wise there is over 700 items of which you need around 150 for achievement purposes. Whilst it is nice to explore London, it is still a bit overkill, but if you tie collecting them to conquering the boroughs there shouldn’t be too much running about post-game. There are microtransactions to speed up levelling and increase income but thankfully it isn’t that visible and so you can just ignore them. The rest of the achievements are standard Creed fare, which is a missed opportunity really, as there is plenty to do in London and the achievements could be far more fun.
The graphics are mostly excellent and the faces of characters are some of the best I’ve seen, especially the eyes and shape of faces, reminiscent of LA Noire. There are various characters from the history books such as Charles Dickens, who you meet along your travels and are brought to life in London. The landmarks look elegant and stylish yet London is sometimes grey as it is in real life. The lighting is particularly special, especially when getting out of buildings. There is the occasional glitch but nothing game-breaking. The game did crash completely 3 times in the 40 hours I’ve put in so far and the loading times are ridiculously poor so there is room for improvement, and I can’t help feel that given another few weeks or months to polish it rather than get it out for Christmas, it could’ve been perfect. Music has always been the series strongpoint and the score in this one is no different, from slapstick tunes to orchestral melodies that imply stealth it all is superb.
Overall Syndicate is an example of perseverance at its finest. I bet Ubisoft are sick of hearing people hark back to the days of Ezio, so it must feel like an achievement for them that after 4-5 years they have finally given us a game which we have been asking for and ticks the boxes I mentioned at the start. With a great story and memorable characters it’s the best entry for me since Brotherhood. Perhaps that’s in part because I’m English so I’m invested more in this one than the American titles, but nevertheless what is undeniable is that after Unity it is a long overdue return to form for one of the games industries annual giants. Let us just hope that it doesn’t take another few years before another one of this calibre is released.