It’s hard to be an annual series when it seems like each year’s new game is worse than last year’s. This was never more the case than it was last year with Assassin’s Creed Unity, the bug ridden mess of a game that was barely playable let alone enjoyable. That makes Syndicate, this year’s entry in the series, a pleasant surprise as it is one of the finest releases yet in the series, showing there is still plenty of gas in the tank for this franchise. That is, if you can look past the same glaring gameplay issues that have plagued the series since its inception.
Syndicate plays it generally safe in regards to gameplay, relying more on its past than innovating or, ya know, fixing the long standing problems. Traversal is made easier with the addition of the grappling hook and climbing seems a bit smoother. As was the case in Unity, holding the right trigger and pressing X/A or O/B (depending on your platform of choice) will make you travel up or down respectively. Normally, this works well and takes out some of the guess work. Other times you’ll run into a low wall on the edge of a building trying to climb it, only to find that the game wants you to go down to climb it. There is also some awkwardness when trying to make precision movements, often leading to your character jumping off a carriage you are trying to hijack, forcing you to restart a mission for the fourth time because Evie won’t do her job….just as an example. For an order all about precision and swiftness, our two heroes get stuck a lot more often than they should. Despite that, traversing the sprawling city is a joy. The rooftops are welcoming and the streets are full hijackable carriages and thugs to cut down in their prime.
Combat is generally good thanks to the departure from the old ABC’s of Assassin’s Creed, “Always Be Countering.” You, of course, can still counter, but relying on it to win a fight is not a viable strategy. Managing a group, weakening them to the point where you can execute a gruesome multi-finisher while returning fire on would be gunmen, that’s how you win fights. The satisfaction of mastering the game’s combat is countered only by it’s confusing reliance on level restricting the map without properly doing so. You can go anywhere at anytime, but the game will warn you when you are, “underleveled,” meaning that you don’t have the equipment or skills recommended to succeed. High level enemies essentially resist low level gear with individual enemies requiring hundreds of hits to kill. With some players no doubt attracted to the early challenge, this could have been much better managed. Of course careful stealth makes all of these missions accessible at any level, though outright combat is tedious or near impossible. If you’d prefer the stealthy approach, Syndicate is very welcoming to your style of choice. You have a variety of options to strike from the shadows, or to draw your prey into them. Eagle vision is your best friend, alerting you to the locations of all nearby enemies and important information about them. Also present is a white ring around your character which gives you a high or low notification of potentially dange close enemies.
Each of the two main characters share experience, equipment, and skills, but how you allocate those skills can be different for each. Evie is stealthier and more assassin like while jacob is a brawler focused on taking down a lot of bad guys as quickly as possible. They each become more than proficient in each regard, but there are a handful of unique skills for each that really set the tone for their playstyle late in the game. Outside of story missions, which are locked to a specific twin, having the right character for the job is the difference between getting the job done quick and clean or slow and sloppy.
Story and Modes:
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate takes of back to the basics with a single player only entry, no co-op, no competitive multiplayer, just a generally well crafted story with a surprisingly strong cast. Not since the days of Ezio has a main character, let alone two, been so enjoyable to listen to. The twins Jacob and Evie Frye are rebellious and lack the kind of attitude you’d expect from an assassin. Jacob is a smart ass who likes to make work fun rather than play it by the book while Evie is quite the opposite, quoting their dead father’s words of wisdom at Jacob while taking the less direct approach. Believing they were wasting their time training to be proper assassins while London was rotting, the two decide to strike out on their own to save the city by building a gang, blowing up buildings, and killing a lot of people in well treaded locations. You know, everyday assassin stuff. The story follows a fairly standard sequence for this type of game, but is enjoyable enough that you’ll be satisfied upon its completion. The variety of the missions themselves is nice in the main story, but clearing the city can become tedious by completing the same type of objectives in the same type of location more than a few times.
Visuals and Sound:
Syndicates visuals are a bit of a mixed bag. The game looks stunning and the city comes to life, if you aren’t paying especially close attention. Visual bugs are still plenty present including invisible characters in cutscenes, random NPC’s expanding, and some weird lighting issues. Worst of all, the frames can chug when simply running through the streets. While in combat things stay surprisingly solid, but don’t be surprised to see some noticeable and frequent drops when running to your next mission. On the other hand, the soundtrack, composed by Austin Wintory, is superb. From the down trodden, sad songs of the slums to the pompous and pretentious sounds of the wealthy sections, each track fits perfectly with what’s going on and where you are. Also stellar is the voice acting, not a cringeworthy actor around. Thanks to some quality writing, each character is well defined and is plenty likable, even if they follow some familiar tropes.
Though we now find ourselves in London, we are still playing that all too familiar Assassin’s Creed formula. However, though the game does have its share of issues, it is the most refreshingly true to form entry since Brotherhood. Assassin’s Creed has been consistently shooting itself in the foot over and over again since its heyday and if I have to heap praise on the fact that it doesn’t in hopes I’ll ever want to play another entry this good, then by god I’ll heap til my arms fall off. I wish every new entry were as refreshing and competent as this one.
Though it doesn’t have co-op, multiplayer, or vast open seas, Syndicate is a mighty fine game in and of itself. The story is lengthy and even if you grow bored of the lack of side mission variety, it is simple enough to still complete them all. In fact, Syndicate might be one of the easier games to 100% in the series, meaning some of you who aren’t normally completionists may be compelled to spend a little more time in the beautiful city of London. The bugs currently present will hopefully be cleaned up in the coming weeks, but none of them ruin the experience like they did in the catastrophic Unity. It is with great pleasure that I recommend Syndicate, and with cautious optimism I look forward to the next entry if it can at least match this quality.