‘Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’ Review
Platforms PC/Xbox One/PlayStation 4
Developer Ubisoft Quebec Publisher Ubisoft
Genre Action Adventure, Stealth Platform Played PlayStation 4
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (for the most part) throws realistic accuracy to the side in order to focus on delivering a fun adventure. The focus on fun gameplay is something the franchise has lacked since Edward Kenway’s pirate escapades and the Ezio saga.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate follows the story of Jacob and Evie Frye, sibling Assassin’s who lived during Victorian London in 1868. Both characters travel to London to overthrow Crawford Starrick, a Templar Grand Master who is ruling London for the Templar Order. Throughout the lengthy campaign Jacob aims to unite the people under one gang in order to fight Starrick’s order and diminish his power, while Evie searches for a piece of Eden in order to keep it out of Starrick’s hands.
Though both stories intertwine throughout the adventure, they tackle different aspects of Starrick’s rule and offer a great variety of missions, no matter which Assassin you control.
I did enjoy the overall story of Syndicate, but I couldn’t help but feel that both our Assassin’s and main villain were underdeveloped. Evie and Jacob are never given enough time to truly showcase their personality, aside from the one dimensional cut outs that are first produced. Jacob is reckless, cocky and arrogant, while Evie has a leveled head and wants to do right by her late father; but aside from that Syndicate doesn’t expand on either individual. This becomes a problem late in the game when forced conflict and love interests appear out of left field, with neither key plot point making much sense or feeling earned, aside from attempting to add more weight to the situation. Starrick suffers from the same issue, though his small scenes between missions are weird (in a good way), unique and definitely walk along the morally grey thread of the Templar Order that Rogue explored. However, he’s never given much time to become the memorable villain he had every chance to be.
Aside from London, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate also has a small focus on the current day storyline, probably the smallest amount the series has ever seen. Personally I’m glad these moments were made so short and played out in cinematic scenes. As a long running Assassin’s Creed fan, even I’ve found myself confused by the current day story. Fortunately the focus is small, but even then these scenes feel confusing and pointless.
As I mentioned before, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a lot of fun. This is because the missions within the Syndicate story are so varied and unique. Sure there are still a few annoying tailing missions, but for the most part the missions on offer were so fun I found it hard to stop playing. The high point of these are the new Black Box missions, which are slightly similar to the open-ended missions found in Unity. These missions feel like something out of the Hitman series, where the player is shown possible ways to complete their assassination, but ultimately it’s up to the player. Depending on your player style you can go in guns blazing, take the stealth option, or work a little harder to access Unique Kill opportunities. I won’t spoil these, but working hard to access these moments is certainly worth your time as they provide some of the most amazing and memorable kills the franchise has ever seen.
Side missions also provide a great deal of unique and fun missions. A majority of side activities are requests from historical figures, which will have you exploring the supernatural with Charles Dickens, helping the working man with Karl Marx, or eliminating hallucinogenic flowers with Charles Darwin. These missions were always a great palette cleanse from the main story and my only gripe would be that I wish there were even more on offer. Aside from the historical missions players can also clear out Gang Strongholds, kidnap wanted individuals, or my personal favourite, liberate child labour factories. The Child Liberation activities are bite sized stealth missions that take place in large warehouses, as you clear each floor and save the children being forced to work in horrid conditions. I loved these stealth missions and clearing an entirely facility without alerting a single guard is a satisfying victory.
Both Evie and Jacob possess unique skills and can be freely switched between when exploring the city of London. Jacob is a lethal force up close with his fists and at a distance with his expertise in firearms. While Evie is also brutal up close, her focus is on stealth. Both Frye twins can also be upgraded with unique skills, weapons and outfits. The customisation process is similar to Unity and I still love being able to differentiate the look of each Assassin, with dozens of schematics to unlock, collect and craft.
The siblings can also call upon their gang to help them out during missions and open world exploration. Up to five members of your gang can accompany you at one time (once upgraded) and can be a huge help when clearing out Starrick’s London presence. Clearing side activities will loosen his grip on each borough and ultimately culminate with a final showdown with the leader of that section of London. These final battles are epic encounters between the opposition and your gang, while you tackle the gang leader one on one. These battles with gang leaders put your combat skills to the test, but they can be completely avoided if you can take them out at an earlier stage. Before being challenged to a gang war, the gang leader will taunt you and try to take you out early; but this is also your chance to cut them down before the final fight. Act fast enough and you can kill these gang leaders before the final fight, making these encounters a lot easier. Having the option to cut down the leader as they provoke you is an excellent alternative, one some may not even realise exists.
Fighting enemies is a vicious visual treat in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, as both Evie and Jacob will shatter, snap and break bones with brutal finishing moves. Both siblings are influenced by the time period, with hand to hand combat the main focus. Sure weapons do exist, but nothing is more lethal than a closed fist. Players are given small windows to counter their opponents, while also stunning foes who are blocking your attacks. Learning to juggle counters, stuns and attacks is a vicious ballet and the spectacle made battles extremely fun. Unlike past iterations in the series I never once found myself throwing a smoke bomb in order to quickly take out my opponents, this is mainly because the combat is just so satisfying. Pulling off a brutal four person finisher, full of broken bones and incredibly vicious attacks left me in awe, truly realising that this combat offering is one of the best in the series.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s version of 1868 London looks beautiful. The unique architecture of the era makes London feel like a unique setting compared to previous entries in the series. Iconic landmarks like Big Ben and Buckingham Palace are a visual spectacle, towering above the surrounding streets. The diversity of wealth is well presented, as you make your way through the story you encounter richer areas, which allowed me to understand the financial issues that plagued London during this time. London is also one of the few locations in the series that actually feels alive, unlike Unity‘s Paris which felt oddly empty. I’m also happy to say that aside from a few weird civilian glitches, Syndicate barely has any technical problems; which is great news for those who suffered through the glitches Unity was plagued with at launch.
Compared to other Assassin’s Creed locations, London is unique due to the emphasis on wider roads, which has been implemented to allow horse and cart travel. Due to the wide nature of streets, the new Rope Launcher has also been introduced. This new item allows players to traverse across large gaps and reach towering buildings in a blink of an eye, which is certainly a first for the series. The Rope Launcher adds a new dimension to traversal and certainly made exploring the city a more fluid and fast process. As for the horse and cart features in Syndicate, these need to be taken with a grain of salt. The vehicles are responsive enough, but it’s certainly far from a realistic benchmark of travel in the Victorian Era. Horses can slam through the environment with little damage and your cart can also ram others off the road. The horse and cart implementation sums up my original Syndicate summary – fun over realism. Though this is far from accurate, the horse and cart travel method works to provide a fun means of fast travel.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a refreshing entry in the franchise. Though it doesn’t rival the best entries in the series, it can certainly hold its head high in comparison. Syndicate may suffer from some underdeveloped characters and some of the latter key plot points feel oddly out of place, but the missions along the way help provide a largely fun experience overall.
Some may find the lack of realism a turn off, but when gameplay aspects such as combat, traversal and mission variety are this fun – it’s easy to turn the other cheek.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate may not be the best in the series, but it’s been a long time since this franchise has been able to provide me with so much fun along the way.
Fun and varied main story missions.
Historical Figure and Child Liberation activities.
Satisfying and vicious combat.
Key plot moments feel forced.
Pointless current day scenes.