Last year’s Assassin’s Creed instalment, Unity, was hugely damaging for the series and Ubisoft. Game breaking bugs and issues plagued it from the moment it was released and it quickly became a running joke in the gaming community. Simply put, Ubisoft got it badly wrong. Unity was used to try and add so many new features such as online co-op missions and Clubs for players to join together and then compete in challenges whilst features like the popular competitive Multiplayer were removed. Some of the new changes worked great but the failings will be what many remember most.
So with that said, there is huge pressure on this year’s release of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’ to get the series back on track, help restore Ubisoft’s reputation and to give series fans a great experience. Moving to Victorian London, Syndicate tasks this important mission to the twin brother and sister Assassin’s Jacob and Evie Frye, who must free London from the tight grip of the Templars’. Can the Frye’s not only save London but get the series back on form?
Syndicate begins in the present day where Unity left off. The player is contacted by Bishop from the Assassin’s brotherhood and given the mission of reliving the genetic memories of Jacob and Evie Frye in order to locate a piece of Eden that the Twins encountered in 1868 Victorian London at the end of the Industrial Revolution. Much like in the past, the race to find this piece of Eden is also happening in the present day as the Templars’ are also searching for the same artefact.
Syndicate marks the first time in the series that the player will have the control of two main Assassin characters, with story missions requiring either Jacob or Evie to complete them. Outside of the story missions however, the player is free to switch between using either Assassin to complete side missions. Whilst both Jacob and Evie have the same core Assassin skill set, each has a very different style of playing. Jacob is a more brawler focused character, happier to have a good fight then to work in the shadows. He is cocky and rash to take action without considering the aftermath of his actions. Evie is a more methodical Assassin who prefers to take her time to Plan ahead, to cover all bases and focus on stealth over open conflict to take out a target.
The differences in how Jacob and Evie play is also reflected in their skill trees which the player will upgrade for each Assassin during the course of the game. Both will share the same base skills but how and which skills you enhance will shape their use for the game. As you increase their skills you will find certain ones which will be unique to Jacob or to Evie with a focus on stealth for Evie and combat for Jacob. Skill points are obtained by completing both main story missions but also in free roam side missions and completing objectives for your allies.
Story missions are split between Jacob and Evie, as Jacob works to take out the Templar leaders controlling the London boroughs and Evie focusing on working with Henry Green to track down and secure the Piece of Eden. Having the story told by the different viewpoints really highlights the story more and their different personalities are fun to explore.
In free roam the second objective is free London and its people from the control of the Templars’. Jacob decides the best way to do this is to form their own gang called the Rooks. Each borough is gang controlled and led by a Templar leader and each has a difficulty level so the player can gauge if they are ready to challenge it or not , which should prevent players getting caught out in boroughs the Frye’s are not equipped to handle. To clear a borough certain side objectives must be completed. From freeing children in a work house, clearing out a gang hideout to capturing a target and delivering them to the police. By clearing one area of the borough at a time, you will increase your own gang, The Rooks. The Rooks also have an upgrade skill tree that will enhance their ability to fight, provide more resources and to weaken enemy gang skills.
Once the borough has been cleared it will trigger a final gang fight encounter with the enemy gang leader to seize control. The gang leader may also appear following one of the objective missions giving an early opportunity to take them out making the final gang fight much easier but be quick as they will try to escape.
I found Syndicate to have a satisfying amount of gameplay content to work through with main story sequences boosted by the clearing of the boroughs. Your allies will also have task missions along the way and by completing their themed tasks will reward the player by unlocking higher level equipment upgrades or weapons to use. There really is just so much to do that I found myself pausing on the main story missions at Sequence 5 and just worked on clearing all the boroughs. Although the objectives per boroughs are the same, the difference in difficulty and working for rewards keeps the gameplay fresh.
Syndicate is a far more solid play than last year’s Unity but I did make some observations as a fan of the series. It is very clear that Ubisoft hit the emergency break following the reaction and issues with Unity. As a result Syndicate very much feels like the development was all about playing it safe. Many of the elements in gameplay have been taken from previous games and updated for Syndicate. The best of Unity in the updated free running system and weapon and gear upgrades have been kept and refined. Character confessions have returned which have always been a favourite element of the series as have the multi finisher combat kills first used in Assassin’s Creed III.
But quite a lot of the animations have also been reused. The free running is exactly how Arno performed in Unity and how you open chests with a kick is straight from how Edward Kenway opened chests in Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag. The horse and carriage gameplay was first seen in Assassin’s Creed Revelations and is reused naturally here for Victorian London. Ubisoft have stuck to what has worked in the past for the series and so has reduced the risk of gameplay bugs that Unity suffered from. But going forward and as a long term series fan, it would be great to see an AC title with the same solid and grounded gameplay but to feel that it has taken steps forward for the series. Getting that balance wrong with Unity has forced the development of Syndicate to play it safe.
I did have some niggles with gameplay. The horse and carriage element can be very frustrating as the roads will be full of other carriages making any chases or combat feel clumsy and cluttered as you constantly smash into other carriages or street side obstacles. The removal of the co-op from Unity I feel was a mistake as it would have been great fun to do missions withwith both Jacob and Evie working together. But overall Syndicate has far more positives then negatives.
I thoroughly enjoyed playing Syndicate on many levels. As a Londoner born and raised, getting to explore my home city has been amazing from crossing the Thames by jumping across barges to visiting famous London landmarks such as climbing At Paul’s Cathedral. The attention to detail adds so much to the game world as you explore it and with the new traversal element of the rope line launcher to enhance how you move around, players can explore like never before. The combat is more fluid than ever with weapon choice really changing Jacob’s and Evie’s fighting style and is responsive and satisfying.
Jacob and Evie Frye are enticing Assassins to play as and learn about and though I found Evie to be my preferred choice, I loved the freedom to switch between the Twins during free roam. Their relationship and story quickly became a highlight of my experience along with the varied historical characters you meet such as Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens. Syndicate had a lot of boxes to tick to win back those who felt burned by Unity’s problems. I feel it has succeeded and that Ubisoft being more cautious to get things right with Syndicate has shown that lessons have been learned.
With the present day story getting a much needed focus and a game firmly back into being an enjoyable experience with plenty of little nods for series fans, Syndicate has returned Assassin’s Creed to a good place. Ubisoft can build on this going forward, but how brave they will be for the next game will have to be seen.
*A PlayStation 4 version was provided for review. Also available for Xbox One and releasing on PC November