Assassin’s Creed seems to be a series that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be set in the future or the past, and ultimately decided on both. In the earlier games, you played as run-away Assassin “Desmond Miles”, who accessed his ancestry through the fictional device called “The Animus”; a device designed to access your ancestors’ memories, and relive their life.
In later games, you are an unnamed character, accessing Abstergo’s Animus program for “entertainment research” while secretly helping the Assassin’s on the side. The over-all endgame is a large, complex story that seems to have less and less relevance in the later games.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is no exception here, with the out-of-Animus moments being cut down to just a couple of cutscenes. The in-Animus portion (about 98% of the game, in this case) is a full world, explorable and detailed. Beautiful, polished, and addictive are three words that would describe this game, and if you’re a fan of the series, you will recognize some of the content from earlier games, and an exciting sneak peek of what might be to come.
The first part of Syndicate goes by rather unnoticed. It feels very average, compared with the rest of the game, and may require a bit of time for the player to get invested, however, once you’ve played enough of the main story line to acquire all of the basic upgrades, you’ll find yourself in a gorgeous Victorian Era London. By far the most detailed world within the Assassin’s Creed franchise, this map is littered with collectibles and side activities to ensure there is always something to do between missions. Once you’re used to swapping between Jacob and Evie, you may also find yourself with a favourite. I enjoyed playing as Evie whenever I wasn’t playing Jacob-centric missions, simply because she felt much more like an Assassin, whereas Jacob often feels like a skilled thug.
The difference between Jacob and Evie is surprisingly pronounced. While you can level both of them with almost identical skills (minus a few exclusive abilities each has), you will still find yourself favouring Jacob for combat and gang wars, whereas stealth and discretion are best left to Evie. Jacob is more resilient and can pack a wallop, while Evie can silently scale a building and dispatch enemies with but a whisper. Both characters feel polished when played to suit their strengths, and can win you the mission with vastly different tactics and means of achieving their goals. Having said this, the controls for each character are identical, as well as equipment and weapons. This really shows how well Ubisoft created these characters, because despite the near zero difference between weapons, skills and abilities, they both felt so different to play, without either character lacking in satisfying game-play.
The controls are tight and responsive, with a few changes in the way climbing and free running are handled. Similar to Assassin’s Creed: Unity, you will (on the Xbox One version) hold the Right Trigger to run. By itself, your character will maintain a forward run, vaulting low obstacles and sliding under raised ones, but without gaining or losing too much altitude. Holding B at the same time will make your character climb directly down whenever possible, and holding A instead will make them climb higher. It’s a great mechanic once you’re used to it, as it means you won’t accidently launch off a building or climb an obstacle you were trying to run by. The combat also feels tighter, with excellent response to the reflex fighting style that is common in modern games. The combos are satisfyingly brutal with memorable finishers for both characters and each weapon.
One thing you may find annoying is how your character can only have one melee weapon as well as the hidden blade.
I used the Kukri for both characters, because I found it most effective to my play style (lethal and aggressive), however, it meant I was ignoring the Knuckle weapons and Cane Swords for the majority of the game. It made sense from a storytelling perspective, but it may become a nuisance to those who want to experience the game with each weapon, which were all well balanced and designed, and would be a shame to miss out on.
However, it won’t be too annoying to those happy to stick with one weapon most of the time. The weapons themselves are within the menu system of the game, and are a little annoying to access. The menu has a lot of information for you, and the way it is laid out is logical, but with so many options to go through it can begin to feel like a chore having to go through everything from skills, to weapons, to crafting. There are a few quick options in each screen to make things easier but over-all it felt a little overwhelming. The style and visuals were nice, with a mostly white and red theme, but sometimes images were stretched weirdly and looked unprofessional.
Most of the graphics, apart from that, were outstanding however, especially when the world hits night time. The dimly glowing lights that shine on the wet cobblestone roads of cold old London is nothing short of breathtaking. Windows reflect light beautifully, shadowing feels real and accurate and going in and out of light or dark areas really feels like you’re there, experiencing it with the character. There were few frame rate drops on the Xbox One version, with a decent amount of distance rendering that loads quick enough as you draw near. A few screen tearing moments in cutscenes killed the immersion but wasn’t so frequent as to ruin the game entirely.
One of my favourite things in Syndicate is the train hideout. The twin Assassins hold up on a train that loops the entire map and wherever it is at any point, you can fast travel to it to access missions, income, upgrades and more. There is no loading between the world and the train (unless you fast travel there), and it really makes the game immersive.
Another thing I really enjoyed was the horse and cart. At any time, you can steal or hijack a horse and cart and wreak havoc in the streets. You get points for wanton destruction and you could free run from your carriage to another in the event of a chase. The driving mechanic was smooth and so ingrained in the game that it felt like an evolution from previous Assassin’s Creed games, and not a jarring feature.
But my all time favourite part of the game was (mild spoiler) travelling forward to one of the twin’s descendants to World War I, where you play as an Assassin helping Winston Churchill accomplish a small selection of tasks. This part of the game really felt like a full DLC expansion, and I love that it was in the main game (end of spoiler).
One thing I didn’t enjoy was the sheer number of collectibles. With so many missions and side quests, it felt a little cheap to have so many collectibles to find as well. While most of those collectibles were visible on any part of the map that you’ve scoped out, there are just so many that it too can feel overwhelming.
There were also a lot of AI fails which killed immersion. Sometimes enemies will stop chasing or fighting you and seemingly forget your existence, and once or twice, when killing an enemy, they will reset and stand back up, but still be lootable and effectively dead.
On the whole though, Syndicate is incredibly fun to play, addictive and beautiful. Ubisoft seem to be improving with each game they make in the series, and hopefully that rings true for future installments.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a beautifully created game in the series. It plays well, is a whole lot of fun and can be very addictive. There are a few glitches and issues here and there, but less than previous games in the franchise and not enough to completely ruin the immersion. Syndicate is a great game, especially if you’re a fan of Victorian Era London.
You wish you were as cool and popular as Ted.