When you release a new game every year it becomes increasingly difficult to impress in any way, especially when the gameplay mechanic is so well known, both in terms of the positives and the old hat, but in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Ubisoft has delivered a thrilling and fun adventure. It doesn’t take away the sheer familiarity with the game before taking it out for its first spin, but it does provide a lot of fun, with the romance and mystery of Victorian London to roam around in and some genius missions.
Released on Xbox ONE and PlayStation 4 on the 23rd October 2015, with a subsequent release on PC planned for the 19th November 2015, it’s not the perfect Assassin’s Creed in London entry that it no-doubt could have been with more time, but it does put a smile on your face every time you play it. A big part of this is the location itself with so many identifiable landmarks to saunter beneath, climb over and wreak havoc amongst, which suits the series very well.
The plot for the game is absorbing and entertaining in equal measures with the brother sister protagonist assassins, Jacob and Evie Frye, taking the fight to the Templar controlled capital city. It makes for a complex and action-packed campaign with a lot more comedy than has ever been the case in the series, which fits the foggy city of London Town, with its weird and wonderful characters, to a tee.
At the head of the industrialist hornets nest is Templar Grand Master, Crawford Starrick, who controls great swathes of London from the street urchins and criminal gangs, right the way up to big business and shady politics. He makes for a strong antagonist to go up against, bringing the majority of the intensity behind the game, but he’s also supported in his nefarious plans by a whole host of muscle and brass, all of whom result in a lot for Evie and Jacob to go up against.
If that isn’t enough in the way of solid storyline features, the addition of great characters from the history of Victorian London tips things over the edge. You get to help Charles Darwin blow up a moody medicine factory, fix Alexander Graham Bell’s cable system on top of Big Ben and travel around London helping Charles Dickens debunk ghost stories and it makes for a great escape as a result. Maybe it’s because the characters are so well known, much more so than in many of the other games, but either way it’s a genuine joy to feel like you’re a part of such auspicious history.
There’s as much in the way of clever side story missions as there is the main campaign storyline, providing a whole lot of content to swath through. Every one has great characterisation, a good amount of tongue-in-cheek comedy and high adventure, whether you’re off trying to protect crazy train lady Agnes from a stalker or saving one of your fellow Rook gang members from the klink. It all adds up to some strong storytelling from lead writer Jeffrey Yohalem.
Storyline review: 4.5/5
Despite the fact that the gameplay remains a little well-worn with so many entries in the series so far and only so much scope for innovation with Ubisoft’s short development window, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t deliver the goods. A number of the little issues of old remain, including glitches, camera angle grind and moves occasionally being triggered when you don’t want them to be, but things feel a little tighter than in previous games.
The ascend and descend free running feature makes it very easy to make your way around the city and the addition of a grappling hood is a surprise entry, which also improves your options when it comes to movement, although it does feel out of synch with the technology of the age. However, the big addition for the series is the ability to hijack and drive horse driven carts, wagons, carriages and double decker buses at breakneck speeds all around London. This is all the more fun when you throw in a few chasing enemies into the mix, which results vicious driving battles as you try to run them off the road.
In addition to the updates to motion within the game, Ubisoft has also tweaked the fight engine a little to be more responsive, which makes tackling the mob a lot more fluid. It’s nothing close to being a significant overhaul, but it is a slight step up from Black Flag with more options to control how you respond to attacks, what combos you have at your command and what finishers you blast out with your weapon of choice. You can also leg it quite well if you do end up biting off a bit more than you can chew with the grappling hook, which will whisk you up to the rooftops rapidly, where you can easily escape the clutches of Blighters.
There’s a lot of variety in the missions, which presents a fair amount of welcome variation and unexpected challenges in the game. It feels like its taken some of the more positive elements from Assassin’s Creed III and brought them back into the mix with unique mission mechanics ranging from Gatling gun massacres, super sleuth mysteries and horse and cart chase shootouts. You can go from attacking a sinister factory in one mission to saving numpty Nigel from the clutches of the police in another sand for the most part their constructed with a lot of attention to detail.
There’s also the city gang control side of the gameplay to take into account, which throws in challenges to wrestle districts from the clutches of the Templar controlled Blighter gang. They range from hunting down Templar goons to rescuing child labour from their factory hell holes and destroying gang camps. Once you’ve taken out all of these from a particular borough you then get into a full gang war with the Blighters in charge, leading to a one-on-one fight with the gang leader, which is the equivalent of boss battles, which makes for a decent addition to the game.
Skills and kit upgrades is even more important in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate than previous games as you unlock . This gets slightly convoluted with the fact that Evie and Jacob have separate upgrade progression, but as they both get awarded skills points when the other collects enough Xp to get one, it’s not too taxing and it does allow you to develop them in slightly different ways initially.
One of the biggest criticisms of the game is the fact that the enemy Blighters are always one of four charcters, which means that there’s not really a great deal of difference between them, making you feel like you’re having déjà vu every five minutes or so. It may make it easier to tell which kind of gang member you’re up against, but it does limit the credibility of the experience.
However, what’s undeniable is that Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is an addictive and rewarding game to play with a whole lot of action and intrigue. We’ve been hooked since the game’s release and while we’re very much aware of its shortcomings that doesn’t stop it from keeping us well and truly on the end of its rooftop skimming line.
Gameplay review: 3.8/5
On the graphics front it’s very much a case of how closely you’re looking at things. Everything in your more immediate vicinity looks incredible for the most part with impressive detail, cool environment features and excellent movement and animation, but Ubisoft has employed a hazy, lower granularity graphics treatment for objects in the distance. This means that there’s a cliff edge drop off in draw distance quality and while you don’t get buildings popping up out of nowhere, they can look pretty rubbish if you catch them in the wrong light.
This is most glaring when you Eagle synch high up close to the river Thames, which is often teeming with boats, but they end up looking like toys clanking around in a bath tub with the lower level of detail that’s been given to distant items. The river area is definitely the worst offender when it comes to realism. Even with this graphics power throttling quality, it doesn’t entirely stop the glitches with none player characters appearing and disappearing every now and again. Luckily, it’s not that frequently, so it doesn’t massively affects how impressive the game looks in general.
All of that aside, there’s a lot of stunning visuals to look out for in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and you’ll undoubtedly find yourself distracted every now and again by how beautiful, dark and sinister London looks. It’s a pleasure just to walk up and down the streets or to jump on top of a double-decker coach for an opportunity to watch the world go by. The big landmarks of the city have been painstakingly recreated and it makes for a magical experience to get them as your assassin playground for a while.
Graphics review: 3.9/5
The strength of the storyline and the side plots alone are worth playing the game for, but add to that the more positive aspects of the gameplay and graphics and you’ve got a big adventure ahead of you. Evie and Jacob are great joint lead characters and the rest of the cast of iconic historical characters and miscreants is a pleasure to do business with. If you’re a fan of the series and you haven’t tired completely of the well-worn gameplay concept then Assassin’s Creed Syndicate won’t disappoint and you should probably plan to spend a big chunk of your not so distant future in the heart of Victorian London.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate review: 4/5