I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Assassin’s Creed games. Every so often I will get disillusioned with the franchise and not care much about the next installment, but after a while something always happens to draw me back in. After skipping Unity, I have been lured back by promises of London, Karl Marx, multiple playable characters and a Batman-style grappling hook! Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate feels like a fresh touch to the franchise and while it still suffers from its fair share of issues, is definitely a worthwhile addition to the series.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate takes place at the end of London’s Industrial Revolution. The Assassin’s Brotherhood has been all bus disbanded and the city has been overtaken by the Templars. Enter Jacob and Evie Frye, twin sibling Assassins who realise that they cannot let the city rot from within any longer. Together they set upon freeing the city from the Templars, finding a piece of Eden and securing the future for the citizens of England.
The two twins couldn’t be any more different if they tried to be, Evie is fixated on discovering pieces of Eden while Jacob is frequently questioning the moral ambiguity that is the Assassin’s Creed. It is pretty cool to finally have a character that calls into question the morals and ethics of what are essentially secret murderers, and it is something that I would really like to see explored in future instalments. As with past games, you will frequently find allies (and enemies) from some of history’s greatest figures. The cast of characters this time around includes the likes of Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale and even Karl Marx.
Ok so I’m going to let you all in on a little secret; when it comes to books, television, movies, games etc I am an absolute sucker for witty banter. Two characters quipping and sassing over one another? I could listen to that for days on end. So guess what Syndicate has; yeah the two twins go at each other like… Well like siblings and I loved every minute of it. Not only was their dialogue with each other quick and on point, but it felt real. Like I honestly believed that the Frye twins were real people. Honestly I feel that the twins are some of the best protagonists that the series has ever had and if Ubisoft are looking to have leads stick around for the next few games (a la Brotherhood and Revelations) then I wholeheartedly suggest the Frye Twins.
Ever since Desmond’s sacrifice at the end of Assassin’s Creed III, the series has had more than a fair share of issues with how to present itself, especially in terms of the modern-day sections. Syndicate makes perhaps one of the franchise’s better decisions in pushing all of the modern-day Abstergo stuff to the background. This leaves the whole narrative feeling more fluid and cohesive without the need to stick to the convoluted lore of the previous games.
Aside from just acting like different people, the Frye twins have their own unique skills and abilities that the player can take advantage of depending on what mission they find themselves in. Jacob is a big, physical brawler who can handle just about anybody else in a fight, while his sister is more stealth-oriented, able to sneak up quieter on enemies and take them out without ever being seen.
As the campaign progresses, I found myself relying more on Jacob than Evie due to the narrative pulling me in that direction. I would have liked to see more parity between the two in terms of the spotlight but even with Jacob taking more of the stage than his sister, it doesn’t mean she has been left in the cold. I found Evie more fun to play as and her skills were invaluable during the game’s side missions.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate introduces two new important game mechanics; grappling hooks and carriages. Grappling hooks, as you might have guessed, are used to reach higher places and traverse long gaps between buildings. It’s a cool little tool that leads itself well to certain kills but in the end I felt it didn’t add all that much to my overall experience. Each of the twins can also hijack carriages to tear through the bustling London streets at their will. It almost feels like Syndicate goes a little bit Grand Theft Auto during these sections and while I wasn’t particularly fond of them I can see why others would get a huge kick out of charging down an enemy carriage at full speed.
If there has been one gripe that I have had with the Assassin’s Creed franchise it has been that from game to game, there has felt like close to no real development or improvement in the mechanics. As you might expect, Syndicate suffers from a few of the series’ sins like awkward parkour, slow and repetitive combat and just way too many optional objectives for a sane person would ever be able to complete. For all the good it brought to the franchise with its grappling hooks and diversely skilled dual protagonists, the game is still held back from greatness due to these nagging issues.
Visuals & Audio
I will just come right and say it; I love the world of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. Industrial Revolution-era London is an amazing place to set a game like this. The packed streets, cluttered buildings,my all towers and more all work in unison to create this massive, explorable world that is beyond anything else the series has ever managed to achieve. Even though I still struggle with the game’s parkour system, I still enjoyed moving from rooftop to rooftop, taking everything in as I did so.
Aside from just well-designed landscapes, London actually LOOKS good… Well honestly it looks like an ugly, run-down mess, but that is exactly what you want 1860s London to look like. Buildings are decrepit, and look like they could fall at any moment, the bystanders all look dirty and disheveled, it’s really like looking at a living history book, and I could not get enough.
I will admit that I had my fair share of hesitations going into Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. I was starting to feel that aside from Black Flag, the series was getting dull and repetitive. I am happy to admit that while Syndicate still suffers from more than its fair share of issues, I really do feel like the entire franchise has had new life breathed into it, and I am confident that with a little more time the series can really start to evolve and flourish in ways us players never imagined.
I will say though that the game’s ending really threw me for a loop. After nary a boss fight for the entire game, suddenly we are thrown into an extremely long and drawn out sequence that just borders on the absurd. Not only that, but the entire thing feels so detached both tonally and thematically from the rest of the game and almost comes across as a rushed, shoehorned conclusion in order to quickly wrap up the story. I am sure that with future DLC on the way we will have a bit more of an explanation to this ridiculous conclusion but for now it is just a really bitter taste to leave an otherwise enjoyable albeit imperfect game on.
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