The Assassin's Creed games are notoriously "hit or miss." Not terribly surprising when the publisher/developer, Ubisoft, also has a reputation, especially recently, for tossing in a turd or two amongst their AAA giants every year. While you have to give Ubi props for trying something new every once in awhile, sometimes you have to wonder what the hell they were thinking. Assassin's Creed is very much a big part of the foundation for Ubisoft: not only is AC a recognizable and profitable series, but it has influenced many other games. Every time I play a WB game, like Arkham or Mordor, I can't help but see the similarities to AC and AC2. However, this standard bearer has traveled a perilous road: the first game was okay, the second game was very good, Ezio's costume party games were fairly well received, AC3 sucked ass, Black Flag was epic (and I mean fucking epic), and Unity sucked AC3's ass. If we do the math and calculate the odds, Syndicate should be a kick ass game.
The setting has moved from Revolutionary France to early industrialized England: the Thames is alive with trading, the industrious children are hard at work losing appendages in complex machinery and grifting the locals, and the Frye twins, Jacob and Evie, have moved their two-headed Assassin endeavor to London.
The twins, however, are not of one mind in regards to their visions of furthering the cause and reaching the goals of the Assassins. Jacob favors eradicating the local Templars, all the way up to the the Grand Master Charles Starrick, who is the hot-headed and shadowy leader of industrialized London and controls a large portion of the organized criminal activity. Evie wants to track down a powerful artifact to gain a supernatural edge against the Templars. In this game, you will play as both Fryes.
Much of the game is centered around Jacob’s method of hacking his way through the Templar list: defeating the organized criminal aspect of the Templar empire through gang warfare. The player will perform side missions (Templar hunts, criminal arrests, save the children, or mass murder of the opposition within a fortified area) to gain control of turf and convert former gang members to Assassin control. Once enough turf has been taken, control for a district is decided in a gang battle that includes the gang leader of their respective district. Jacob is more fighter than ninja, and his skill tree offers some fighting options unattainable to his sister.
Evie follows a more familiar AC quest path in her acquisition of the Magic Shroud of Whatever: collaboration with a seasoned intelligence specialist, stealth /pilfering, field reconnaissance, and one-on-one fights against Templar adversaries. Since Evie is more the traditional ninja-type Assassin, she gets a couple of bonus stealth options in her skill tree not available to the brutish Jacob.
Syndicate suffers from far less Animus intrusion than its predecessors, which has greatly improved game immersion. I’ve always felt that pulling the player out of the action to deal with the modern day, yawn-inducing banality of working out in a warehouse or interacting with office couriers was the greatest sin a developer could inflict upon the player...even the mighty AC IV didn’t sidestep this annoying hurdle. During my 34+ hours of Syndicate gameplay I have spent very little time outside the Animus...and it’s the best thing ever to happen in an Assassin’s Creed game.
Another thing that AC does well is taking full advantage of the period setting. Characters like Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, and Karl Marx offer additional and unique side, and often character specific, missions for both Jacob and Evie. Fast travel is still available, if you’re traveling to a synced viewpoint, but surface road travel can be expedited by horse and carriage. Horses are nothing new to AC, but they have been in short supply the last couple of games. Carriages also provide an opportunity for some vehicular battle carnage, like a primal version of Driver.
Proper firearms have also made their way into the game: no more flintlocks or cap and ball bullshit for these twin Assassins. Powerful six-shooters are a welcome, and noisy, addition to the game and greatly improve the aforementioned vehicular combat. Cane swords, the kukri, and the usual arsenal of Assassin equipment are still being used, as well as voltaic bombs and grappling devices. Ubi has also kept the downward parkour from Unity, which beats the shit out of aiming for a haystack or taking damage every time the player needs to get to ground level in a hurry.
You Knew it Was Coming...
A more appropriate title for this AC game would be Assassin’s Creed: Repetition. After the first couple of hours of gameplay, Syndicate settles into a cycle of turf acquisition with very little side quest variation. You’ll be repeatedly saving the same underage factory workers, tracking down Templars using eagle vision, infiltrating the same three story shack, knocking the same couple of criminals out and stuffing them in a carriage, and finishing off the district with an identical gang battle. Advancement of the actual story line occurs at a snail’s pace due to the prevalence and emphasis placed on turf acquisition.
If you were hoping for some good news on the multiplayer side of Syndicate then you are shit out of luck, amigo: Syndicate is a single player only experience. Although Syndicate is considerably less glitchy than its French predecessor, some Unity bugs are still present, including the infamous no face bug. The grappling hook seemed like a nice addition to the AC arsenal, but although it made ascending buildings faster, it did take some of the fun out of it.
While Syndicate has made some very positive strides forward, it has taken a few steps back as far as storytelling, multiplayer, and QC. The game is fun and immersive, but gets repetitive after 30-45 minutes. You shouldn’t be wondering what else you could be playing a half hour into an Assassin’s Creed play session: AC sessions should be marathons, not shorties.