Reviews// Assassin's Creed: Syndicate

Posted 9 Dec 2015 12:45 by
It feels like a long time since I could say this without sarcasm, but I am genuinely excited about the Assassin’s Creed franchise again! After last year’s debacle with Unity I was unsure of Syndicate, which I think is a feeling long term fans share.

Syndicate takes place in Victorian London, right in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. It's a London that is firmly under Templar control, every aspect of society is controlled and managed by ruthless taskmasters. The horrible thing is that... it worked – the engine of progress made steady advances that pushed Britain in to a period of power so prevalent that She held sway over one of the largest Empires the globe had ever seen.

This power came at a price though: children were worked to death for very little pay, the adults were not much better off unless they came from the aristocracy. To the common man it appeared like Old Money ruled from upon high, but really it was agents of the Templar Order that held all but the highest of offices.

In to this come the twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye. Jacob is ambitious but tries to sidestep the Creed, Evie is a master assassin in her own right and adheres to the Creed like glue, even if she is the more sarcastic of the two siblings. Together they determine to free the city and take down the Order’s Grandmaster. Jacob goes after the leadership, ignoring the consequences in order to get the kill, Evie hunts down the Piece of Eden the templars are trying to find, as well as cleaning up Jacobs messes.

The main story and the way it lays out missions feels like a combination of the best of the franchise. Every sequence leads up to an assassination, the preceding missions are preparation or solid lead-ins to give the assassination meaning for the story.

Gone are the more obnoxious forms of trailing a target – it is still there but less restrictive in allowing you room to move and be stealthy. In older games you had to be painfully close to a target, lest you suffered the dreaded desynchronisation that meant a mission restarted. Now you can hang back a little bit and follow from the rooftops, and as long as you keep the target in sight you’re golden. Strangely, if you can get to a target in a carriage you can hang on to the back without being spotted and get a free ride to the appropriate destination. Lovely.

The ‘Black Box’ assassinations have been streamlined in that they offer one unique kill, one stealth option and one NPC to gain assistance from. You won’t be spending most of the mission trying to find the best combination of options to get that unique kill (though they're well worth pursuing), instead you’ll be using the environments to their best advantage to get that special cutscene assassination. Or, you can just go in guns out and blade bare. But like I said, the unique kills are worth going after, they either give a bit of back-story to the target or feature nicely done cutscenes.

London herself is a wonderful character, full of period-precise districts that are littered with the usual extras commonplace to Ubisoft games. The main difference here is that all the collectibles are tied to tangible rewards like gear, colour options for gear, rare crafting components and my personal favourites – the Helix Glitches. These are scattered throughout London and collecting them unlocks audio logs that reveal modern day story details of how the templars are doing in their dastardly endeavours. As you take down targets, the feel in the city changes from the highly noticeable lack of blighters in Rook-controlled burroughs to the more subtle differences, like the songs you’ll hear being sung in the taverns that paint your latest victim in a not too complimentary light.

Speaking of songs, the soundtrack is one of the best yet. It pulls nicely from the older games - especially the main theme, which has echoes of the theme used primarily in Assassin’s Creed 2, but it adds the stately grace of music associated with the period. Austin Wintory has quickly grown to be one of the most respected composers working in videogames and he captures the feel of the franchise and period with cheeky aplomb. There is an abundance of scratchy fiddle-playing that adds character to suit the murky cobbled streets of London during the 19th century. The only soundtrack that had fit the period better was Black Flag's excellent use of sea shanties, but I do hope that wherever the franchise goes next they manage to keep going with the excellent music.

E3 2015
E3 2015
Visually, Syndicate is on par with Unity, which despite its problems was an undeniably beautiful game. There has been a slight step back from the realism portrayed in that much-maligned entry, though. Syndicate has a slightly exaggerated art style, especially with its NPC design. This has served two purposes – the first is that it makes identifying enemy types easier; the second is that it reduces the burden of detail necessary for realism, meaning the game performs much more smoothly. London feels massive and it is - each burrough is visually different from the slummish nature of Lambeth to the opulent grandeur of Kensington.

The added bonus for us brits is that any of us who have either lived in or even spent some time in the capital will suddenly get this feeling of déjà vu whilst sauntering through the streets, and then you come around a corner and there is a landmark you recognise and suddenly everything in the game feels more real. It is a wonderful feeling, even though the pubs in-game have been standardised I’m pretty sure I’ve drank overpriced beer in a few of them.

E3 2015
E3 2015
Before I give a conclusion I am going to add a tip for those playing the game – when you are a high enough level to tackle the Thames region, head to the most eastern part of the map on the river. There's something there that it's possible to miss and it is arguably one of the best bits of the game.

So, in summary, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is possibly one of the best in the series to date. As a city-bound entry it is almost as good as Ezio’s best and is one of the best-looking urban open world games around. The controls are still Assassin’s Creedian in their foibles, but if you’ve come this far you know how to deal with those issues, and the addition of the grapple gun makes traversal a pure joy. The twins are a delight, the gameplay is smooth, the story is enjoyable and the meta/modern day stuff is... as good as it gets in the latter games. At least, it picks up the threads left hanging in Black Flag and points to a possibility that I can’t discuss here for fear of spoilers.

[Author’s Note – The review is considerably late due to me receiving a PC copy of the game, on my PC it has performed wonderfully and is visually marginally better than the console edition, this is mostly down to particle effects and lighting, I still recommend using a gamepad though, unless you’re already comfortable with Assassin’s established keyboard and mouse controls. The majority of this review was written using impressions garnered from the PlayStation 4 version of the game.]

+ Evie and Jacob are outstanding lead characters
+ Refined gameplay and controls make traversal a joy again
+ London is a gorgeous, grimy character all Her own.
+ Excellent limericks about the victims sung in the taverns
+ Aleck Bell: you’ll understand when you get to him.

- Controls can still catapult you to your death.
- Some may find the ending flat, I personally liked it though.

SPOnG Score: 9/10

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