Ubisoft had a lot to do this year, after the less than satisfactory arrival of Unity last year Ubisoft had to ensure that Syndicate launched bug free and with a solid game that could bring the franchise back. On the first account of launching bug free Ubisoft kind of failed with many notable bugs appearing across the entire game(none of which are game breaking), but in a more positive light Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is one of the best, if not the best Assassin’s Creed games I have ever played.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate brings us to one of the more fascinating pieces of history that exists outside of the usual turmoil of revolution or war, this time we are brought to London during the height of the Industrial Revolution. London in 1868 is the closest the franchise has come to modern history and it uses this setting well all across the game, at the height of the Industrial Revolution was progress, as well as the drive to get money. The world is littered with factories, as well as rundown buildings which initially seem ugly to begin with but really plays into the game authentic charm showing the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. It is clear that Ubisoft did their research while creating Syndicate and it pays off.
Syndicate places us in the shoes of two characters this time around allowing us to play as twins Evie and Jacob Frye, where Ubisoft has usually failed to create one character that is interesting in past games they have done it with ease in Syndicate. Both Evie and Jacob Frye are memorable as well as unique characters in their own rights, each has their own goals, beliefs and way of approaching things. Jacob plays out as your act first think later character who will cause trouble without a single thought for the consequences as well as get into a fist fight in a moment’s notice, Jacob emphasizes being the brawler who would rather take out an army in a fight then use means of stealth. Evie on the other hand is the exact opposite, she is methodical relying on plans before acting, her strong emphasis on stealth makes her a great character, though she is often weaker when put into a proper brawl.
In combination Evie and Jacob are some of the most memorable characters in recent years as the constant banter as well as evolution over the course of the story. Likewise it is because of these characters that the overall story found in Syndicate is also highly memorable, the story of Syndicate is one of freedom as Evie and Jacob head to London in order to free the city from the grips of gangs and the Templar's who seek to profit from the Industrial Revolution. The story of Syndicate doesn’t force Jacob and Evie to face linear missions where you can play as either character each mission is tailored to a specific character playing into their personalities, Jacob has his mind set on stopping the Templar's, meanwhile Evie spends most of the game chasing after legends with a new piece of Eden that she wants to keep out of the Templar's hands, it was a nice touch that really helps things flow a whole lot better.
One thing I noticed while playing through Syndicate is that while we have two main protagonists this was very much Jacob’s story, Evie may have a few decent missions across the game but her search can only go so far. Jacob take center stage for the meat of the story missions as he faces many varying missions including a handful of Templar assassination missions, Evie does get a couple of these missions across the game but hers are very much few and far between and it would have been nice if she played a bigger role.
Even if the story does take a bigger focus on Jacob more of my time with this game was probably spent playing as Evie, across London there are a variety of missions such as Templar hunts, gang hideouts and even child liberation that I felt worked better for Evie’s softer touch. There are many of these missions littered around London each playing into the idea of freeing London and each is quite enjoyable in their own rights, but for each taking the stealth approach and planning attacks were key and Evie just felt better for this and like some of these missions were catered for her. As a character as well I tended to prefer playing as Evie while exploring the open world what the game makes us believe of her skills I took to heart favoring her when addressing missions in the open world.
Evie and Jacob are supposed to be very unique characters, and while this does appear in their unique personalities their overall playstyles feel very similar. Evie is supposed to be all about stealth, where Jacob is supposed to be all about combat, across the course of the game both characters have an expansive skill tree filled with abilities to help your characters adapt to varying playstyles. It’s disappointing however just how similar these characters turned out to be, on each characters skill tree they both only have a couple of unique abilities, where Evie has some interesting stealth abilities, Jacob thrives in combat though these can only be unlocked later in the game. Syndicate does offer the chance for creative freedom allowing you the opportunity to build each character the way you see fit, but the characters are not able to unlock enough unique abilities and this really takes me out of the mindset of my characters. When these unique abilities are unlocked characters start to feel unique but by that point I felt it was very much too little too late, I can’t help but feel the game could have used more refinement in this section offering more unique skill trees for both characters.
Syndicate uses many famous historical figures across its story with most playing a key part in the events throughout, however unlike previous Assassin’s Creed games all historical figures are allies to your cause. Historical figures met during Syndicate such as Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin all assist Jacob and Evie in one way or another, it was nice to see that these characters were left as they were in history and were not added to the Templar ranks for the sake of it. The only issue I had here is that some of these characters are just there, a small selection of historical figures only appear once and that for the sake of story, where they could have provided a handful of missions from these characters but they just get introduced and vanished which felt like a missed opportunity.
One of my problems from Unity has been fixed in Syndicate, where Unity annoyed me because you had to slowly run across the expansive world map (often resulting in utilizing fast travel points), Syndicates Industrial Revolution London setting offers many fun ways to traverse the map. One of the best additions to this game was the use of horse and carriage, London’s streets were finely tuned for the use of this vehicle option and they work well, whether trying to get to a destination or shaking off some enemies, carriages are a fun option and nothing beats the feelings of racing through the London streets. London is a far bigger setting then Unity’s Paris and these vehicles make the journey across the city a whole lot more enjoyable and really allows the ability to take in the city on the go and in an actually fun way.
The other option is the new grapple gun, this little item has helped to deal with the changing of the world’s landscape, in London you are unable to just leap between rooftops with ease, thankfully this little tool helps to cross rooftops with little problem. Even though some buildings are bigger than others this tool can be used to glide across the London skyline and reach buildings with ease, in fact for a good portion of my time with the game I was happily zip lining myself across rooftops to my destinations. The grapple gun also has many other great uses, one of my favorites was getting avoid the monotonous climb up buildings where I could pull my character up with a click of a button which also came in handy when reaching synchronization points, likewise it was a handy tool for escaping combat and is by far one of my favorite additions to the Assassin’s Creed Universe.
The grapple hook was not the only new tool addition for Syndicate we have also been given throwing knives. On paper these seem pretty dull in comparison to many of the tools seen in past games, but these actually became one of my favorite items really quickly, while using stealth to take out targets these knives came in handy to quickly take out a potentially troublesome foe. The silence of these items helped make stealth easier and they did come in handy on many occasions, in fact I don’t feel I would have done quite as well without them.
With Syndicate combat is not one of my favorite changes, where Black Flag and Unity shined in their close quarters combat Syndicate never quite finds the same refinement. To stay true to the era Ubisoft did away with traditional swords and instead put a focus on concealed weaponry, which meant cane swords as well as brass knuckles. That perfect dance found in past games is absent in this game with the game relying overall on more button mashing affairs, it isn’t that the combat is bad it just grows tiresome really quickly, it is more slow-paced on many occasions with foes taking far longer to take down. This makes some of the missions where you are forced to directly fight less enjoyable then it could be, though it is worth noting that after some time this less efficient combat system did grow on me.
Gangs are one of the game better additions, during the course of the story you slowly build a gang which helps you throughout missions and wander around the open world. These guys are your helpers when trying to save London and they come with many perks, with every bit of money you earn and materials you find it is possible to slowly upgrade your gang as well as benefit London. Your gang called The Rooks are all about helping the people of London and through the Gang Upgrades menu it is possible to buy many upgrades to make your people more useful in fights as well as provide many bonuses to help yourself. It felt good when I purchased an upgrade which helped the firefighters to put out fires, and as I saw my purchases take better effect it became a sought of obsession for me to upgrade my gang to help out.
Where Assassin’s Creed Syndicate fails in some ways, it thrives in many others. The London setting mixed with a beautiful story of Liberation makes Syndicate one of the more memorable games in the franchise, I loved the story of Jacob and Evie and thrived on every twist and turn that came their way. I honestly wish they made combat more fun and offered more notable differences between the game two protagonists, but even still Syndicate is a great game, it redeems the problems found in recent games with ease and offers one of the most enjoyable games I have played in the franchise, let’s just hope Ubisoft follows on from what Syndicate has done and takes it forward in the future.
Reviewed on Playstation 4