Assassins Creed Syndicate Review

In a recent news article I was very harsh on Assassins Creed Syndicate and I’d like to start by explaining why, and why I’ve decided to give it another go. The AC (Assassins Creed) series has been a staple of my gaming collection ever since Altair first scaled those beautifully rendered towers back in 2008. As the game has developed it’s opened up new historical settings such as Renaissance Italy or Colonial North America. It delivers wonderful settings and has always managed to look good. After the insanely good Black Flag came out I expected a massive ramp up for the eighth generation. What we got was AC Unity in a murky and moody French Revolution era Paris. The game had failed to build on the previous outing, and when Syndicate landed I felt it had continued to fail. It almost coincided with the release of Fallout 4 as well meaning it quickly slipped down my game pile.

My problem with it was a lack of progress from the previous incarnations and I slated it as such a few weeks ago. Since then I decided to give it another chance, but to mark it as a standalone game. I often talk about being a gamer who wants to cut through a lot of the hype and just tell you if a game is any good or not, and to judge AC Syndicate by the standards of previous efforts is wrong. If Hitman can simply deliver a better looking Blood Money to critical acclaim then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t review AC Syndicate as a standalone title.

Jacob scopes out a gang stronghold

The plot is very much in line with the rest of the series, although for the first time we get to play as both of the protagonists, the Frye Twins Jacob and Evie. They’ve come to London as Assassins to rid in of the Templar scourge. They’re going to do this by completing missions, building their gang of Rooks and scaling all the recognisable landmarks our Victorian Age capital city has to offer. It’s fairly generic in that respect and even second time through I failed to really connect with the lead characters. I play 90% of the time as Jacob mainly because Evies self righteous know it all attitude gets right on my wick.

One salient point I overlooked when first playing the game was the wonderfully constructed evil that is Crawford Starrick, the ‘baddie’ if you will. Not since Far Cry 3 and the deliciously evil Vaas have we seen a villain than carries as much charisma and menace. The cut scene featuring him are woefully few and far between, but with his handlebar moustache and passive aggressive dialogue he creates the perfect Victorian villain for you to topple.

The wonderfully evil Crawford Starrick enjoying a nice cup of rosie.

Gameplay has actually improved from Unity if not evolved. Parkour is much easier and London is a joy to travels around, whether its on foot, via carriage or using your rope dart to swing high above the bustling streets. I’ve often lamented the controls of an AC game but finally they seem to head in the right direction. Carriages aren’t my preferred method of getting about though, especially not when you’re encouraged to charge your horse into lampposts and other carriages as if it were a weapon. There’s also something desperately sad about seeing a horse killed in the midst of a violent battle.

There’s plenty to do in London aside from the main quests. In the course of the game you get to interact with Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin and even Ripper detective Frank Abberline. There’s DLC featuring Jack The Ripper himself, and if that’s not enough a side quest featuring the hunt for the elusive Spring Heeled Jack as well. One thing Ubisoft really do well is attention to historical detail and once again they’ve managed to weave lots of Victorian culture into their game. If you’re not helping out figures from history then you’re probably off taking over the different boroughs of London, and when that bores you there’s that tantalising main quest to get stuck into. Only last night I discovered a side mission set in World War 1 London as well which I’ve barely explored. It’s big, but those side missions don’t demand that you complete them if you don’t want to. If you want to wade through the story and be done with it there’s still lots of depth and enjoyment to be had.

Fighting is tough at first and checking the levels of enemies is vitally important. It’s not quite as skilfully handled as something like Batman Arkham City, but there is a little more to it that button mashing and hoping for the best. Evie and Jacob have a different skillset and therefore you may look to approach battles differently depending on who you’re using. Unlike Unity I found it much easier to stealth around a location picking enemies off one by one instead of running away when there was too many to take out simply by fronting them. Whatever your approach once you get up to around level five combat becomes much more of a viable option.

Only 1 of 75 fancy moves performed? Does my crowbar not count as fancy?

There’s a skills and levelling system in place but if you get to level nine you’ll obtain all the skills anyway, so choice is based more on how you get there rather than what you choose. It works well though as it’s simplified to a degree and really understandable. Some excellent games such as The Witcher 3 could do with a bit of simplifying and AC gets it right.

Okay so it doesn’t really offer anything new to the franchise and plays very much like the excellent AC Brotherhood from five years ago. Graphically it uses the PS4 to it’s potential and my previous description of a ‘garish’ London may have been a little harsh on the bright and bold depiction we’ve been given. Maybe I’d hoped for Unity’s gloom and doom to be transferred across to London but either way the job they have done is extremely good. The landmarks are all there in full glory, and the streets literally bulge with NPCs going about their daily business. Unlike French based Unity it doesn’t sound odd that they’ve all got cockney accents either!

In short it’s playable and you can pick it up and put it down in short bursts. There’s no fifteen hour introduction to play through and settle into, there’s no massive back story to try and familiarise yourself with before anything makes senses and there’s no pretence that this is anything other than another AC game. Ubisoft know if they’re going to breath new life into the franchise then they’re going to have to rethink what they do which is why they’ve taken a year out, but as a standalone game I think Syndicate is definitely worth your time, especially if you can now pick it up pre-owned for around £20.



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