The Assassin’s Creed series is getting a bit long in the tooth. It was long in the tooth when Assassin’s Creed III launched but had a stay of execution when the excellent pirate simulator and occasional assassination game Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag was released.
Since then we’ve seen Assassin’s Creed Rogue launch, Black Flag get remade and Assassin’s Creed Unity was launched as a massive bug-fest. The series is creaking. The big question now is: Can Assassin’s Creed Syndicate inject any sort of life into an ageing series that is about as expected as an annual Call of Duty release (more on that later)? If you’re looking for the short answer it’s ‘yes’. With a couple of caveats.
The Centre Of The World
Syndicate takes players on a journey to London during the time of the industrial revolution. Carriages, child labour, the steam engine, the birth of industry, gangs, civilisation, colonial attitudes – it’s a heady time to be in the centre of the world fighting against the Templar forces, led by unflappable (mostly) industrialist Crawford Starrick. Everyone is out for a new Piece of Eden, the Shroud, a relic of an ancient age with supernatural abilities. Except for protagonist Jacob Frye, one of the twins that players will take control of. Jacob’s mostly keen on taking over London’s gangs, blowing stuff up and having a bit of a laugh. His sister Evie Frye, on the other hand…
Players are out to take down Starrick but first they’ll have to remove his proxies, in the traditional ‘execute em as stylishly as possible’ manner. And they’ll do this by taking control of Jacob and Evie, characters with the same basic skill sets but slightly different focuses. They can both assassinate, brawl, use the new rope launcher, sneak and hide but Evie is more at home in the shadows, unlocking extra abilities to assist. Jacob is the damage-sponge, so if you’re going for the stupid, kick-in-the-front door approach you’ll select him.
Players can switch freely between the pair in the open world but some missions will require that you play as one or the other. Other, side, missions won’t mind if you side with the boys or the girls. Whatever you do, you will earn XP points which can be spent to unlock new skills. Greater knife damage, more health, stronger coaches, the ability to retaliate with a handgun, the choices are yours to make. Unlocking points with one character unlocks the same points for the other. It’s all very fair. Even if some of those skills seem to have been ripped whole and breathing from other games.
Assassin’s Creed: Saint’s Row
Seriously, I saw bits of Shadow of Mordor, Batman: Arkham Knight, and even the Saint’s Row series (the gang recruitment and the ‘call for backup’ unlock in the latter case) here. But Ubisoft have refined what they’ve borrowed, from other games and the company’s own franchises, enough that it feels tightly put together and… right. Combat has been made more arcade, almost, with a combo-meter being very important thing time around. And getting around takes some getting used to too: You can free run across, up, or down, with different button combinations. Effective for vertical movement when it works, frustrating when you revert to the control method you’ve been using since 2008.
The rope launcher makes getting around the vast London environment a breeze, though you need it. London’s big and loading to fast travel points takes a while. Better to steal a coach or zip-line between the rooftops. And you’re going to want to explore because taking over sections of London, by capturing bounties, assassinating Templars, freeing kids from workhouses and thumping gang hideouts into the ground is how you get ahead. This is strictly optional but doing these side missions makes your main task simpler, because you’ll be facing less opposition during important missions. Always a plan.
Ubi Can Still Tell A Story
All the changes in the world can’t change the fact that Assassin’s Creed has been around for a while. The gameplay tweaks are nice but you’re mostly going to stick around for the story. Jacob and Evie’s time in London with Mr Green, the various historical figures like Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens (there are more), the twins’ separate-but-connected storylines are enough to keep you on the couch until you’ve finished. Even if that means you’re rushing some objectives so you can see what happens next.
The historical missions are a pleasure too, little self-contained stories that are entertaining in themselves. Plus, it’s hard to fault a game where your secret base is a train moving around London, you can get into fist-fights and steal cargo for fun and profit. It’s the little things, you know?
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a great entry. It’s not revolutionary but there are enough changes to keep things fresh for fans. If you’re getting tired of the Assassin versus Templar war, this might help change that but you’ll still find things getting repetitive as you go. Some of the smaller side objectives will be passed up but there are equipment unlocks and crafting plans that you can secure fairly early on that makes playing though a simpler task. And you’re going to want to finish. The story will hold your attention until the end at least.