In the gaming industry, some folks have a hard time moving on from past and previous problems a franchise might have endured, and while looking forward doesn’t mean forgetting about a slight you once experienced, it means forgiving it. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is not Unity, so check any bitterness or cynicism from last year at the door because Syndicate is one of the best we’ve seen from the series in years.
I went into Assassin’s Creed Syndicate quite unsure of whether or not the rope launcher and hand-to-hand combat would rob the series of what has made it so great: making the player feel like a badass. I’m happy to say that not only are these excellent features that greatly embellish upon the overall experience, but I hope they are features we’ll see again in future iterations.
The rope launcher was perhaps my most favorite feature of the game, and it has changed traversal in the series forever. Gone are the days of tediously and monotonously climbing up building after building to synchronize a viewpoint. Now are the days of a single button press to get to the top of a viewpoint to synch. The rope launcher has made assassinations fun, fast and more frequent, as it is shades of the ziplines we saw in Revelations, except now I was able to make my own ziplines on the fly. For over 23 hours of playtime, the rope launcher served as a magnificent accomplice to the vast majority of activities in the game.
Hand-to-hand combat and the de-emphasis of sword-based combat was a major question mark for me going into the review. I came away with a refreshed perspective on what combat can be in an Assassin’s Creed game, and in some respects, I value it more than combat with swords. Not only is this new system rewarding, but it’s challenging. As I went up against more difficult AI, I had to learn their attack and defensive patterns, but once I did, I was able to string together absurdly long strike chains. There is a counter on the lower right-hand part of the screen and it intrinsically makes combat more addicting.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is now home to some of the most brutal and violent kill animations I’ve ever seen in the series. One that sticks out in particular is when Jacob pushes an enemy up against a wall, strikes him several times, then uses part of his cane sword to staple the enemy’s arm to the wall, thrusts the other half through the enemy’s chest and pulls out both blades. I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore.
The progression system for both Evie and Jacob is largely similar with each having specific skills that are exclusive to one another. Early in my playthrough, choosing between which skills to upgrade versus other ones was difficult because I needed to improve in a lot of areas. I enjoyed the conflictedness this brought on me, though it wasn’t enjoyable at the time. As I came close to maxing out each character’s skill, I found those to be less important. Ironically, the earlier, more affordable skills ended up having a great impact on my gameplay experience compared to the final ones. Overall, I enjoyed the benefits I gained from most of the skills, especially the ones that were specific to Evie, as her stealth skills fit better with my play style. For those wondering, I noticed that when I gained a skill playing as Evie, it was awarded separately to Jacob and vice versa.
The best case I can make for Evie and Jacob truly bringing any legitimate gameplay contrast, when playing as one versus the other, is the late game skills that are specific to each of them. So with that, I felt that Ubisoft missed a major opportunity to truly establish meaningful gameplay value when playing as one versus the other. While it may have proven to be too restrictive, I actually feel that having certain stealth abilities taken away when playing as Jacob and certain combat abilities taken away when playing as Evie, would have established greater justification for making players switch back and forth between the two.
From a story standpoint, I absolutely loved the contrast between Evie and Jacob. The two have a fabulous interplay in cinematics, as I found myself laughing at Jacob’s goofball antics on more than a handful of occasions. It was one of the first times in the Assassin’s Creed series that cinematics became more than a simple, contextual justification for an upcoming mission or quest. These two could quite possibly be my favorite assassins of the lot, and furthermore, it was nice to see Ubisoft not take the series as serious. Syndicate proves that the franchise doesn’t have to be all about huff and puff brawn. It instead showed incredible range for the franchise to be different while remaining true to what it ultimately is.
The present day storyline is back in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. It would be weird if it actually went somewhere.
Mission structure is once again intelligently layered with open design and plenty of paths for gamers to take, especially in the black box missions. Ubisoft has absolutely nailed the black box missions. The verticality, layout, alternative objectives and rewarding endings are things I craved more and more. These, and some non-black box missions, forced me to think intelligently about not just infiltration paths for assassinating or kidnapping a target, but they made me think about how I would need to leave those areas. The amount of depth and detail that is in every black box mission is astounding and I couldn’t get enough of them.
The biggest reason why I did not consider Assassin’s Creed Syndicate a five out of five was the fact that the same freakin’ bug that I specifically pointed out to Ubisoft back in September during a preview event was still in the final version of the game. Several characters are missing from a train cutscene early in the game, though the rope launcher hanging from I believe Jacob’s hip (I’d know if I could see him) and a container someone else is holding are clearly visible. It’s mind-boggling that this bug wasn’t fixed. All of this said, the bug doesn’t change how I feel about the game being one of the best in years, it’s just, come on, really?
Taking a look at the supporting cast of characters, I absolutely loved the different personalities that were brought into the fray. From Alexander Graham Bell to Charles Dickens to even Crawford Starrick, the game’s lead bad guy, each of them were delightful additions that each brought welcomed diversity to the mix. Starrick has a musical moment at one point in the game, and it was a defining, encapsulating moment for his character that played out perfectly. This cast is perhaps one of the best ever assembled in an Assassin’s Creed game. On a side note, there is a dog gamers will encounter during a Sequence 7 cutscene, and his name made me laugh out loud (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you).
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has a homosexual character in the game and while I won’t spoil who or the context of it, I was not a fan of how they portrayed this person. It was a typical tip toe illustration of a homosexual individual, and rather than make it upfront that the character was a homosexual, Ubisoft was cagy, cryptic and borderline creepy about it. I think it’s great to see more sexualities illustrated in a massive series like Assassin’s Creed, but if you’re going to have that element in the game, own it, don’t make it weird.
When I spoke with Ubisoft earlier this year, there was talk of the Kenways appearing or having a role in the game, and while they don’t literally appear in the story, I enjoyed how one in particular was interjected into the plot. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s soundtrack, which was composed by Austin Wintory, is a beautiful tapestry and it serves as a magnificent context to many of the events, moments and experiences in the game. From an auditory standpoint, being in combat has never been so wonderful.
When I look at the big picture, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is one of the best installments in years. It does nearly everything perfect, save the bug I mentioned and establishing a bit more gameplay contrast between Evie and Jacob. I think fans of the series will be quite pleased with what they find. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate puts the franchise back on track, proving that it does not need a year off.
- Outstanding Traversal and Combat
- Fascinating characters
- Brilliant Mission Structure
- Lack of Evie and Jacob gameplay contrast
- The train cutscene bug
Ubisoft provided atombash.com with a PS4 and Xbox One copy of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate for the purposes of this review.