Also On: PS4, PC
Honestly, I’m pretty surprised with how much I’ve been enjoying Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. After the mess that was Assassin’s Creed Unity, it’s nice to see that Ubisoft was able to rebound as well as they have here. Syndicate isn’t quite on par with the best the series has to offer, but it’s still a really solid Assassin’s Creed game, with fun protagonists, a decent story, and a great setting to explore. There are aspects that may seem dialed back, the visuals certainly aren’t as sharp as Unity, but sacrificing that for a game that runs and plays well is better than pumping out a game where faces melt off character models and you need to use an app to open treasure chests.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate revolves around twin characters, Jacob and Evie Frye. Taking to heart some of the well-deserved criticism for the lack of female protagonists in prior years, it’s certainly refreshing to have not only a female playable character present in Syndicate, but one that manages to outshine her male counterpart in every way possible. Not that Jacob is particularly bad, but Evie seems a bit more fleshed out and believable than her twin, as much as characters bounding off rooftops while executing enemies at the behest of historical figures like Charles Darwin and Alexander Graham Bell can be.
And while the visuals might not seem as astounding this time around, I still think Syndicate is a pretty solid looking game. Some of that’s due to the excellent world design, with the majority of the game taking place in and around 19th century London. The city areas are fairly dense, with lots of environmental objects to traverse around, including a fairly unique take on the River Thames running across the map. There’s also a decent amount of variety in the building types, along with your standard archetype icons to explore and uncover.
As far as gameplay goes, nobody will mistake this for anything other than an Assassin’s Creed game. You’ll still clamber up tall locations to synchronize viewpoints, you’ll assassinate Templars, you’ll leap from building to building, and occasionally need to stay out of sight. There are some new mechanics introduced here, like the ability to use a grappling hook to quickly climb up buildings, or create makeshift wires to cross larger gaps. This really speeds up the movement considerably, and makes certain missions, like tailing foes, a little less stressful.
Combat is still centered around a Batman-light system, where you’ll string together a series of hits and use the analog stick to move between nearby targets. Both Jacob and Evie have access to a variety of weapons, which continue to unlock as each character levels up. Combat feels fluid enough, but maybe not as interesting as it has been in previous games. You’re limited to simple strikes, counters, and the ability to break guards, and over time fighting enemies gets to be a little stale.
Stealth, however, can be quite enjoyable. Both characters have an active state, and then a stealth state, activated by the press of a face button. While in stealth mode, Jacob and Evie will remain crouched, with a small detection wheel to help you realize when enemies have spotted you. You can activate Eagle Vision mode to helpfully identify and tag nearby foes, and with skill upgrades can enhance Eagle Vision to see through walls and even point out the direction enemies are facing. There’s a lot of missions to complete where you’ll be tasked with clearing out enemies within interior structures, where the stealth portion of the game really shines. You’re never quite forced into stealth, but I certainly found myself preferring the stealth approach simply because it was more interesting than the fisticuffs.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is strictly a single-player experience, so again this is a year where the unique multiplayer component has been removed. This isn’t a surprise if you’ve followed the development, but I’m still a bit disappointed to see MP removed again. That said, the story mode is robust enough to match the previous games, with a fair number of side objectives to complete and various collectibles to gather. It doesn’t go as overboard with this as Unity does, you won’t see nearly as many icons cluttering the map screen this time around, but there’s still enough of that stuff to keep you busy provided you enjoy it.
All in all, I think Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is exactly what the series needed, which is a step back in right direction after the dismal release of Unity. It’s not enough of a step that it’ll win over people that were done with AC prior to Unity, but it’ll certainly generate a bit of much needed goodwill for the series once again. It’s enjoyable to play, has some fun characters and stories to explore, and overall seems to be technically sound. That might not sound amazing, and I suppose it isn’t, but I’ve certainly enjoyed my time spent here.