You better Adam and Eve it.
The Assassin’s Creed series has been going through a rough patch in recent years. Ubisoft’s last offering, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, was a glitch-ridden mess, so bloated by its faults and inconsistencies that it was rendered unplayable at launch and still twitched like a bag full of clockwork mice following months of extensive patching. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag’s biggest faults arguably lay in the story department, with lead character Edward Kenway spending most of the game running around in some stolen Assassin’s garb while petulantly refusing to associate with the order. Assassin’s Creed 3 had unforgivably bland characters, and a weak narrative, which was made worse by following hot on the heels of the Ezio Auditore games – a tough act to follow for any video game.
Thankfully, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate has responded to these concerns in grandiose fashion. There are few technical problems to speak of other than the odd instance of people clipping through solid objects. Your character now responds properly when climbing walls, and the series’ problem of having almost everything assigned to the same buttons has finally been fixed: there’s no risk of your playable character leaping to their death from a spire when you merely wanted them to climb.
Gone also are the reluctant heroes and respective backstories of previous games that saw gamers playing through large chunks of the protagonists lives before they joined the order. Instead, they’ve been replaced by two leads brimming with enthusiasm right from the start. When the game opens, Jacob and Evie Frye are already associated with the Assassins (thanks to their late father being a member of the order) and operating out of Croydon to destabilise the Templars’ hold on the area. London and the surrounding boroughs have been under Templar control for several years at this point, and the Assassins are making few inroads into shaking them off.
The introductory missions are barely over before the pair decide they’ve had enough of taking down small fry Templars and want to try their hand at liberating London itself, promptly hopping on a train and heading off to do just that. It’s a welcome change of pace – we learn most of what we need to know about the pair’s history through their bickering conversations and family banter – and one that throws you straight into the action without the need for long-winded introductions.
And boy, is there some action. Never before has Assassin’s Creed felt so much like an Uncharted game. The opening sequence sees Jacob jumping onto the roof of a train, fist-fighting enemies along the way before the train derails and plunges off the side of a cliff, prompting a leap of faith that he only just survives. These moments are few and far between but when they turn up, they’re certainly impressive.
There are a number of new gameplay mechanics that add to the series newfound fast pacing, particularly the grapple hook, which can be fired from your arm bracer. It allows you to zip line up buildings and between structures (providing they’re close enough) by simply looking at what you want to grapple onto and pressing the relevant shoulder button when prompted. It’s a familiar mechanic to anyone who’s played the Batman Arkham games, and one that makes getting around the vast city feel so much quicker and fluid.
Being able to play as two characters mixes up the dynamic in a way the series has never experienced before.
Escaping from trouble, be it the local police or a street gang that takes umbrage with you, is now easier than ever. And although it would be tempting to swing around London like some mutton-chop clad Spiderman, the grapple’s range only stretches so far and won’t attach to everything, meaning you can’t rely on it in all circumstances. You can also ‘borrow’ (i.e. steal) a horse and cart to tear around the streets, prompting members of enemy games to chase after you in their carts as they try to ram you off the road. Carts are fully destructible and will fall apart in no time if subjected to a lot of thrashing, so it’s up to you to ram your enemy off the road first in these circumstances.
Being able to play as two characters mixes up the dynamic in a way the series has never experienced before. You start the game playing as Jacob before switching to Evie as they both pursue different paths to help take down a Templar and put a stop to research being conducted on a piece of Eden. Jacob is more of a brawler, adept at fighting and best used for missions that are going to involve a few rounds of fisticuffs while Evie is a more stealthy character who can run and climb faster but move more quietly. You can switch between them at any time and undertake most missions as whichever one you choose – how you upgrade their abilities is entirely up to you. They’re a likeable pair, whose differences compliment their playing styles – Jacob is a man of action, always ready with a wisecrack and keen to take London back from the Templars by force, while Evie takes a more subtle approach. She believes the pieces of Eden are vital to stopping the Templars, a concept Jacob initially scoffs at.
Microtransactions still exist in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, but thankfully they are not shoved down the player’s throats as in Unity. Ubisoft has said that all content in the game is fully accessible without additional payments, and this does genuinely seem to be the case, with the payment system just being there for people who don’t want to spend time hunting down every hidden item to unlock the best equipment. Considering the game has no multiplayer mode, paying to unlock content won’t give players an unfair advantage over another, which makes this system perfectly acceptable. That also applies to the game’s upgrade system, which lets players purchase new skills and improve their character’s attributes, along with the abilities and resources of their gang.
A review copy of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate was provided courtesy of Ubisoft. The game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
I can hardly believe I’m saying this after the glitch-ridden disaster that was Assassin’s Creed: Unity but… well… Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is actually good. Really, really good. It fixes all the mistakes of its predecessor, introduces genuinely interesting characters and, most importantly, is just damn fun to play. Well done, Ubisoft.