Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is Ubisoft’s latest title in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. They swoop from above and deliver a swift blow to former complaints of low framerate, and general unplayability regarding the company’s previous old-France title: Assassin’s Creed Unity. With Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Ubisoft Quebec creates a title focused solely on single-player and one which most importantly returns back to its origins. Whether this is a step in the right direction is another matter which remains to be seen as we explore this title further.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the first title since Assassin’s Creed III with two playable characters, in this case: Jacob and Evie Frye. Set in Victorian London in 1868 in a gorgeous landscape that serves as a believable backdrop, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate build upon the dynamic of these two protagonists that creates a great storyline design that is engaging. One focuses on stopping the Templars and finding the missing pieces of Eden and the other is more of a rapscallion focused on stopping the injustice present within the Templar controlled city with his bare hands along with his gang “The Rooks.” The storyline itself builds for the sibling characters, though I personally found Evie’s plot arc to be more invigorating than the more straight-forward and gruff Jacob who can come off rather simple in the process. In the end, the combination of these two contrasting characters and their varying views on Assassins lore/ideology creates for a memorable Assassin’s Creed storyline.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s varied and dark Industrial London environment leaves a lot of room for climbing, free-running, stabbing, and interacting with a large open-world with not just one but two characters. You can switch at will between the two characters at any point in the game, and take on different side-missions from each in the process. Most of the missions unfortunately do sway towards Jacob 75-percent of the time, and I would have loved to see a greater balance between the two to really further the storyline and gameplay to another level of interactivity. An aspect that will put some people off is how similar Jacob and Evie play. Neither really stand out as much as I would have liked despite each having their own skill tree and different play styles with Evie being more focused on stealth and Jacob more on the head-on options of traditional Assassin’s Creed protagonist predecessors. Evie can become invisible if she’s still long enough and Jacob has tougher move combination blows, but there is not much depth differential beyond that point to either character as far as combat mechanics are involved.
Victorian Industrial London has tons of things to do. It starts off like a bleak and grey landscape with messy burroughs as ashy smoke rises from different chimneys of this sprawling industrial landscape but it slowly takes on a beautiful identity of its own. You can street race, rob trains, join a fight club, protect the wealthy with escort services, fight other gangs, and find your own strongholds by clutching it from the cold dead hands of a former gang boss. Missions do sadly feel a bit formulaic to past titles but thankfully there are not too many follow missions as part of the gameplay design. Ubisoft Montreal has learned that the world is tired of stalking missions and that definitely makes the game better in terms of giving players a greater choice of approach and attack. In terms of attacking there are new weapons and one thing that I personally love is Jacob Frye’s Cane-Sword that packs a deadly blow with the crow-like moniker at the top of the sword in gold. The Assassin’s Gauntlet also makes a return in a gold/black sleek format and has not seen a big change since past titles. In addition to staple weapons, hallucination darts and throwing knives are also part of the package and can help clear out enemies in missions.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is to Assassin’s Creed Unity what Assassin’s Creed II was to Assassin’s Creed I in some ways. Assassin’s Creed II is a far better game than the original with a dramatic leap of newer features in game design but Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is just somewhat of a better game at least in terms of playability than Assassin’s Creed Unity though not better or worse as a collective whole in terms of introducing newer features or development revolution. For the most part, I will be in the minority when I say this but I actually loved Assassin’s Creed Unity from a personal standpoint only after tons of PC patches of course aided the plaguing framerate issues which are still partly unsolved. Then again, I personally also did not mind playing under 30 frames per second (minimum of 24). Console owners ended up getting stiffed in that regard as patches for the console fared surprisingly worse than PC patches. When a game is released broken, it is obviously very disappointing not just from a journalist standpoint but from the standpoint of someone paying $65 for a video game in this tough economy. The plaguing problems of Assassin’s Creed Unity indicated strong possibility of quality assurance failure because of a lack of budget or worse perhaps a broken game is knowingly shipped out that way in light of corporate stress of meeting deadlines due to financial investors. The case of Assassin’s Creed Unity is a highly intriguing one at the time of its release along with the recent Batman: Arkham Knight PC recall debacle and both pose a strong question of the process: “When does game development take on too much?”
Assassin’s Creed Unity shot for the moon in terms of its beautiful French old-time landscape, hundreds of NPCs everywhere, sheer number of things to do, and lastly 4-person multiplayer cooperative and competitive modes. In comparison, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has a solid single-player campaign and a decent storyline but also has absolutely no multiplayer, comes with a steep drop of the NPC population density count seen in Assassin’s Creed Unity and also less explorable interior buildings. This does in no way mean it looks like a bad game, just that it’s different in terms of its core design and the number of things the engine is set to handle. It’s a tough double-edged sword for gamers; Either we have a game that tries for a lot of revolutionary things similar to the French Revolution or a game that tries for way less but plays significantly better. It’s a situation in which people will question whether or not it was truly a matter of giving everything they had for the single-player campaign as developers or simply a matter of playing it safe to meet deadlines and make money in the process.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate plays impressively well because it has absolutely no framerate issues but at the same time it feels like a slight step in the opposite direction for the franchise and seems to be playing certain things safe. It does not necessarily feel much more intense or bigger in the direct sense compared to Assassin’s Creed Unity or Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag because it sticks to borrowing certain elements from previous game designs. Is this elemental reference of game design to past titles and playing it safe for better or worse? I believe if Ubisoft was adamant their studio could not deliver the sheer expectations of the promises set in Assassin’s Creed Unity in terms of a large open world and 4-player cooperative multiplayer and competitive multiplayer in a playable next-gen title within the yearly timeframe, then it was definitely for the better to start the franchise over this way. True die-hard fans can wish of a time where an Assassin’s Creed title may be able to deliver on all fronts as Assassin’s Creed Unity tried to do and perform exceptionally well. Until that time arrives, we can all traverse together across a bustling city as true Assassins once more in our dreams.