Title: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Platform: PC, PS4 (reviewed) and Xbox One
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Release date: October 23rd 2015 (PS4/Xbox One) / November 19th (PC)
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Ubisoft is back with it’s 22nd (!) game (in eight years) of their Assassin’s Creed franchise. Going all the way back to 2007, their first game was a great template for things to come. After a few pitfalls, they came back in 2009 with Assassin’s Creed II; a much more deep and fleshed out experience. Ever since then, games, mostly the ones for home consoles, have been taking a drop quality wise. While the Ezio trilogy (2009, 2010 and 2011) were polished and well-crafted experiences, things have been going downhill with Assassin’s Creed III and last year’s disastrous Unity. So is Syndicate a step up or step down? Well…
Syndicate takes places in 1868, during the tail end of the Industrial Revolution where Jacob and Evie Frye, twin assassins, leave Crawley for London. Upon their arrival, they can clearly see that the Templars has a strong hold on the city. Not to rest on their laurels, our heroic twins infiltrate the seedy criminal underground world in order to overthrow the Templars and reclaim the city.
After a rocky debut on current-gen with Unity last year, Ubisoft doesn’t reinvent the wheel with Syndicate. If it ain’t broke (and I use that term loosely), don’t fix it right? This year’s iteration will still have players sneak around and run around up all across London in order to restore peace and liberate the town from oppressing Templar forces. One major difference this year is that we get to play the game with two protagonists: Evie and Jacob Frye. Both characters have their distinct play style. Evie is more of a stealth-type character while Jacob is more of a confrontational character where he’ll gladly put up the dukes and take on all comers. Players can switch on the fly between characters (unless when on a mission) in order to tackle missions. Despite this welcomed change, both characters essentially feel the same, so don’t expect a lot of major differences; Evie does feel a bit faster in combat situations and Jacob will pack a stronger punch. They also share the same money pouch, but each have their individual set of upgradable skills.
Unfortunately, melee combat is still pretty boring and underwhelming. It’s all flash and no style. Melee is reduce to using three buttons: Attack, break defense and counter. Players can still pretty just mash the attack button and win encounters. Being surrounded by more than 2 enemies will, still, prove frustrating as you’ll end up being backstabbed while attacking the enemy you’re facing. Try to dodge a melee attack at the same time you’re trying to dodge a bullet is pretty much impossible. If you’re surrounded by three or more, just run. With games like the Batman Arkham and Uncharted which feature a much more superior melee mechanic, it’s unfortunate that Ubisoft still hasn’t stepped their game up in the combat department to feature something more substantial and actually enjoyable. It somehow feels worse than when I played the Ezio trilogy years ago.
Completing quests of a given area will “liberate” the area from its Templar hold. Once you’ve completed all of the activities, you’ll be called upon to confront the big boss of the area. And what would be an Assassin’s Creed game without side-quests? This is one of the game’s strong points as it features enjoyable distractions. You can liberate children from slavery, hijack cargos, hunt down and kidnap targets; just to name a few. It can easily distract players from the main story.
As with any Assassin’s Creed, you can also improve and craft your weapons and equipment. To make things quick and efficient, players can upgrade their skills and crew through the game’s menu, avoiding the nuisance of running back to your base. As you complete missions and side-quests given from your contacts and through story progression, you’ll earn money and materials allowing you to improve your gear in order to be at the ready to tackle London’s toughest. One new interesting piece of gear is the addition of the grappling hook. It allows our heroic twins to climb walls at a fast rate avoiding some tedious wall climbing and allowing you to rappel from one building to another. And yes, you can perform flying executions when gliding down. It makes for a quick and easy way to escape when you’ve been discovered and surrounded by enemies. However, beware, as some enemies will appear out of nowhere on the roof you’ve escaped to; making your escape a brief one.
The game also has an RPG-lite mechanic. Completing missions and optional objectives earns XP which can be used to unlock new skills the for twins. Unlocking new skills will also increase your character level. Higher levels will allow you to equip Evie and Jacob with stronger gear. This new mechanic also carries over to your enemies as every enemy you come across will have an icon above their head displaying their level. So as an RPG staple, it is recommended to avoid higher level characters if you don’t want to be “de-synchronized” having to start over. Same thing for areas. As you run through London, you’ll get a notice displaying the recommended level you should be at in order to tackle events in a specific suburbs. Attempting high level areas are pretty much suicide as some enemies, such as Cops, are seemingly impervious to your poisonous darts; unless you’re a stealth god or you upgrade your darts.
The addition of Eagle Vision will make things a bit more interesting and maybe even easier. Activating will lets players identity surrounding enemies, useful environmental items and chests to be discovered. It does make things easier as it allows you to mark your targets, but can also let you plan interesting ways to take out enemies. This skill can also be upgraded; up to the point where you can see enemies through walls.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately depending on how you care about this convoluted AC timeline), the modern-day setting sequences are pretty much annoying and somehow feels like filler. I hope one day Ubisoft ditches the whole modern-day sequences so we can have a full, and interrupted, old school assassin experience.
Presentation wise, the game looks pretty decent. The representation of London is impressive; quite interesting running around every nook and cranny to explore every inch of this virtual rendition of London. Character wise, they still looking a bit iffy; baffling considering the visual quality of games we’ve thus far this gen such as The Order 1886 and Grand Theft Auto V, just to name a few. Almost feels like like Ubisoft focused of their efforts on the city and neglected the rest. I want to avoid making comparisons, but when playing Syndicate I kept having memories of the aforementioned games and thinking “Why can’t Ubi step it up?” Audio wise, the game’s score is easily one of the game’s strongest point; giving out that 1860’s London vibe. It’s soothing and quite pleasant to hear among the NPC banter.
This is where it gets ugly. Unfortunately, despite last year’s Unity disaster, Ubisoft still can’t seem to put their games through Q.A. properly. Maybe because they rush the game out so it makes it out on time every October? Although during my playthrough I haven’t come across anything as catastrophic as the skinless characters from last year’s PS4/Xbox One effort, they are still some nagging issues that also could lead people to believe that Ubisoft Quebec are either filled with amateurs or they never bother fixing glitches. Things like audio out of sync, jamming into walls, A.I. characters with odd behavior/movement, freezing, characters disappearing and re-appearing out of thin air; among other little nuisance. Not to compare oranges with apples, but I just finished replaying Uncharted 1 and 2 from the Uncharted Collection and Syndicate has more glitches than 8 and 6 years old games. Controls also feel loose; some button prompt didn’t register as I was hitting the attack button, my character would stand here and getting his, or her, ass kicked causing frustrating deaths.
You know, I haven’t fully enjoyed an Assassin’s Creed game since the Ezio trilogy. I was pretty much burned out on the franchise after three games back to back, so I pretty much skipped everything since Revelations. However, I can safely say that Syndicate brings a breath of fresh air to the franchise. I found myself sucked back into the franchise. Although I (still) find the modern day sequences annoying and cringe-worthy, it was all worth it when I finally got back in control of the Frye twins. If you can get over the boring combat and odd glitches like mysterious teleportation and odd A.I. character behavior, players will be rewarded with an addictive and enjoyable experience.
Hey Ubisoft, take a pause for cause. Get your act together, take your time and I’m sure you’ll be able to craft something much, much better. You guys can afford to skip one year, right?
- Great protagonists
- Interesting cameos from historical figures
- Grappling hook is a welcomed addition
- Addicitve upgrade system
- Engaging side-quests design
- Melee combat is still boring and uninspired
- Does Ubisoft studios still have a QA department?
- Too much emphasis on shooting
- Annoying modern-day sequences
- Oh dear God the loading
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is rated M for Mature. I mean it’s Assassin’s Creed. You don’t shake hands with fellow characters. You kindly introduce your blade to their insides.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]