- Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PS4, PC
- Unleashed: Out now
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Ubisoft
- Players: 1
- Site: http://assassinscreed.ubi.com/en-gb/games/assassins-creed-syndicate/
- Game disc provided by the publisher
On paper, Syndicate is the best entry in the Assassin’s Creed series yet. It’s clear that Ubisoft have been listening to criticisms, and have made a real effort to improve things – as well as introducing new elements in an effort to make things even better. Unfortunately, the final product is dragged down significantly by an insistence on following market trends and allowing finance to dip its greasy fingers into game design.
It’s not hard to find elements to praise, with story and characters being a good start. The three main assassins, for example, are a white man (of course), a white woman (yes, woman, animated and everything!), and a British-Indian man. Okay, only the white characters are playable and literally every single person walking the streets is white; but one step at a time, eh? Kudos to Ubisoft nonetheless, because the simple act of sprinkling a little variety into the protagonists instantly makes the story (and gameplay, when playing as Evie) feel fresh. The fact that the female character isn’t allowed to make it to the end of the game without falling in love with somebody, less so.
Perhaps as a nod to the Britishness of the characters and setting, the script incorporates some wit both dark and dry – and, importantly, it works. You’ll also be pleased to hear that the modern day nonsense nobody cares about remains relegated to cutscenes, even if they’ll seem to drag on while you stare at them impassively. There aren’t many of them though, and that’s great.
In terms of gameplay, the greatest change has been to above-ground movement. The parkour and context action systems have been improved, though are still far from perfect (at one point the game insisted we perform an air assassination rather than a stealthy ledge kill, instigating a massive fight we’d thus far avoided completely). The star of the show however is far and away the rope launcher. This will latch onto – and whip you towards – roofs and ledges at great distances (and a variety of angles) both vertically and horizontally. Most viewpoints can now be reached from ground level within 10-15 seconds, and rarely if ever will you have to return to ground level when you don’t want to. It’s a fantastic addition. The option of driving a horse and carriage through the streets is welcome too, even if you are told “press A to boost”.
Story assassinations are vaguely Hitmanesque, with a degree of freedom in how you complete the mission (primarily through advantages gained by kidnapping or otherwise enlisting the help of NPCs). Some other story missions are great fun too, with the one where you must try to enter and exit the Bank of England undetected (extremely satisfying if you pull it off) a particular highlight. Complete the story and you unlock a handful of new missions, giving you something to do besides mopping up map icons. Apart from a few minor bugs not everybody will come across, it’s a technically solid game too, unlike Unity. There’s a lot of evidence of a developer determined to avoid the mistakes of the past.
A major blow to the experience is that Ubisoft’s Victorian London is majorly devoid of atmosphere most of the time. A commendable job has been done of replicating and emulating the Victorian architecture, but something is very much not right. This is partly down to everything looking too bright, too clean, and a little too empty. 19th century London was crowded, dirty, and crammed full of evidence of poverty – none of which comes across here. It also really, really doesn’t help that huge swathes of assets have been recycled from Unity. Anybody who’s played that game will find that Syndicate struggles to carve an identity of its own by default.
Far more damning is the corrupted game design. Yet again, we have a game that isn’t as good as it could have been thanks to an unhealthy obsession with levelling up and equipping new trousers; and this is a particularly bad example. Now, Assassin’s Creed assigns you and every enemy in the game a level. The higher the level of even the most basic goon, the more of a chore it will be to fight them. You can sometimes get around this by instakilling via assassination, but that’s not the point; this isn’t always an option. What’s particularly baffling about this decision is that, for the first time in the series, you’re essentially dissuaded from exploring and pursuing side activities. Fancy assaulting that stronghold or hunting that templar? You’re welcome to try, but it probably won’t end well, you low-level loser! You’ll get an on-screen message telling you as much, too. Oh, and just to infuriate you further, the eighth story chapter (of nine) is locked unless/until you’ve completed loads of previously optional activities. At least you’ll stand a chance by then.
Perhaps even worse, crafting upgrades for yourself and your recruitable NPCs often necessitates materials. You can find these in bits and pieces throughout the city, but never in significant amounts. And guess what? You can buy bundles of materials with real-world money! This means there’s sometimes a barrier of time and/or money between you and content your character is otherwise ready to access. This is an F2P mechanic in a full-price retail release, and as such is completely unacceptable.
It’s such a shame. We did get a lot of fun out of Syndicate (eventually), but it was married to an awful lot of frustration. Not to mention the fact that the end game boss fight is rubbish, and so is the ending. With some significant shuffling in terms of game balancing, this would probably be the best Assassin’s Creed out there. As it is, unfortunately, this is the weakest entry for years.