Assassin’s Creed has become the Ubisoft equivalent of Fifa, with copies being churned out year after year with very short development cycles. As such, there hasn’t been much room for innovation in gameplay and despite the fact that I’ll be the first to tell you that the zipline is a godsend to the series, and it’s made the monotony of climbing vantage points into a 2 second job, it’s not a new idea. The zipline was first introduced in Revelations, albeit in a different capacity to the new one, and was arguably more useful as you could actually walk the tightrope in Constantinople. Aside from that, there’s really nothing new to Syndicate except a couple of gadgets you’ll probably never use and being able to swap characters on the fly. Thankfully. the switch mechanic was done well though, so I’ll forgive a little bit there.
In Syndicate, the player has the ability to swap between Jacob and Evie outside of their character missions. This allows you to choose exactly how you want to handle a situation, be it through brute force with Jacob or stealth and finesse with Evie. When I first heard about this, I was skeptical, because with the skill trees being what they are, you could probably skill however you wanted and be just as happy, but not only does that hold you back from character exclusive skills, it just feels plain wrong. It’s established very early what kind of characters the Frye twins are with Evie being a very prim and proper, efficient assassin in contrast to Jacob’s ‘lets have fun and blow stuff up’ approach.
Their personalities compliment their fighting style wonderfully, and once you fit them into their roles you can see a distinct difference in how they’re played, which changes your experience. Want to get this job done smoothly? Take Evie! Need to take out your aggression on a big ol’ horde of baddies? Jacob’s ready and willing! It’s totally up to you which approach you want to take. Literally the only thing I found annoying in this mechanic were the secondary objectives. On several occasions I’ve had Jacob going undetected and Evie setting up bloodthirsty battles, and it makes no sense. You gave your characters clearly defined strength, I’m happy about that, now just run with that idea and stop making Jacob sneak around when clearly he just wants to blow stuff up!
On that note, there has always been one point which has let the series down ever since its introduction. For a completionist such as myself, secondary objectives are not only a fun added challenge, but a requirement for finishing a mission. As such every time I see the words ‘Take no damage’ or ‘Go undetected’, I physically cringe because I know exactly what’s coming; over an hour of mindless repetition, all because 1 stray bullet or 1 sideways glance from a guard has ruined all my hard work and I have to reload . Even the most naive of game designer should know that repetition is the death of fun, so why is it after 5+ games with this objective Ubisoft is still adding such punishing secondary objectives? Especially when, with the environments and AI becoming so extensive, the loading times go through the roof even on the console. Seriously, if I have to sit through one more 3 minute loading screen because Evie’s finger was spotted through a crack in a door, I’m giving up and just letting Jacob burn the place down!
Admittedly, I would feel a little bit bad about burning the place down, though, because true to Syndicates predecessors, the environment is absolutely gorgeous. Honestly, if there’s one thing Ubisoft has never failed on with this series, it’s bringing a sense of the city they’ve created to the player in such a way that you could use the games as a walking tour of the time period… albeit a rather bloody one.
While the entire city isn’t perfectly accurate, as a friend of mine in the horse guard was quick to point out, it’s a damn good shot! Every building has been sculpted with meticulous detail, which makes it so sad that even the most dedicated players would probably only notice half the work that’s gone into the city. The dev’s over at Ubisoft have put in a serious effort to deliver a city that not only looks and feel realistic, but also one that feels alive, and honestly I’d say it’s paid off!
What’s more, Syndicate‘s London is more than just a pretty face. While some might say the story of the game is short, I’ve actually found that it’s not that noticeable because there’s so much to do outside of that. I’ve spent a large chunk of my time between missions playing around with the sidequests, and not only have I leveled up more, giving a much needed point to the sidequests that previous installments were somewhat lacking in, but I’ve also managed to double my play time, and I’m not even finished the entire city yet. What’s more, if unlocking areas seems repetitive to you, they’ve also packed in more historical cameos than celebrities in ‘Bad Blood’. You can run around doing missions for Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Dickens and (currently only for PS4 owners) a young Arthur Conan Doyle, each giving you their own unique missions for when you need a break from the usual grind.
So, with so much on offer, there’s only one question left to solve; Is Assassin’s Creed Syndicate worth buying? I’m gonna be honest – I’d more or less abandoned hope on the series before Syndicate. After the massive PR failure that was Unity, I fully expected this series to die a quiet death in the background of gaming history, while we all lamented the glory days of Ezio Auditore. However, for me, Syndicate has breathed new life into the series, showing that while the old formula still exists, the game can still be fun. They may not be adding many new gameplay mechanics, but what Ubisoft is losing there they seem to be making up for in terms of what those mechanics are used for. Time and effort is being spent on level design, and side quests to keep the game fresh and give the game some variety to the old ‘Climb wall, stab guard’ strategy we’ve all grown used to.
If nothing else, Syndicate is a step in the right direction for the future of the Assassin’s Creed series.