Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a game saddled with the unfortunate challenge of regaining the trust of the franchise’s fans after last year’s truly dreadful Unity. Whilst this year’s attempt may actually function properly it still disappoints largely due to its stale gameplay mechanics and repetitive mission design.
Set this time in Victorian London, we follow the twins Evie and Jacob Frye on their quest to take down the entertainingly over the top villain Crawford Starrick and his motley crew of nasty Templar friends. Jacob is a rather irritating fellow, forever causing problems for the more grounded Evie to later fix. For the most part, Syndicate makes the smart decision to ignore the present-day Assassin’s story in favour of giving us more of what people actually play these games for. That is until the ending where it tries really hard to make you care again about a story that lost its lustre after Brotherhood.
By now most of you will know how an Assassin’s Creed game plays. You spend your time scaling towers to reach map revealing viewpoints, hunting for largely pointless collectables and carrying out menial and repetitive tasks for a host of historical characters. This time the experience is more streamlined with the world being split up into different boroughs, all with their own recommended level requirement so progression and exploration feel a tad more restrictive. However, I grew to like this change as it allows the player to focus on one area at a time without ever feeling lost or overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of content.
I found myself avoiding confrontation whenever possible not because it was necessary for the success of a mission but because I found it so very boring after a relatively short amount of time.
Traversal through this massive city is aided by the inclusion of a grapple hook. Unfortunately, it never has the ease of use or sense of kinetic energy that the Batman Arkham games equivalent has. This being a third person action game involving hand to hand combat it, of course, uses the Arkham system. However, combat is highly repetitive and incredibly simplistic. You’ll find yourself brainlessly countering, attacking and occasionally breaking an enemy’s defensive stance until you get a typically long-winded kill animation as only the slightest of rewards. I found myself avoiding confrontation whenever possible not because it was necessary for the success of a mission but because I found it so very boring after a relatively short amount of time.
The assassination missions are a highlight even if they feel very simplistic with little scope or reason to actually experiment with killing the target in different ways. These assassinations lack the replay value of the best Hitman missions and come off as another barebones idea that really should have been a main focus in a game with the word assassin in the title.
The ability to build up a gang feels like a slightly more fleshed out version of the assassin recruitment mechanic in the old Ezio games. Your gang has its own upgrade tree with many of the skills being quite useful such as the ability to call for a carriage filled with five of your gang members that can aid you in combat. The Rooks as they’re known often struggle with pathfinding when they’re called upon and occasionally they will fail to engage with enemies thanks in part to their love of staring at walls or running around aimlessly.
Taking over districts by completing a host of side missions such as Templar hunts and child liberations will unlock a gang war where you get the chance to take on the head of that district. These rinse and repeat boss fights are sadly unmemorable and the repeated cut scene you get for completing every district makes your victory feel insubstantial.
The change in playstyle between the two Frye twins is minimal with only a handful of kill animations and end game skills differentiating the two. That being said I still found the two character system to be a welcome inclusion albeit one that needs to be built upon if featured in future games. Some of the brother/Sister dynamic between the two is rather enjoyable even if they’re hardly the most developed or memorable of characters. Syndicate is thankfully lighter in tone than past games with many of the historical figure side missions and side characters feeling quite silly (in a good way). It’s nice to see an established series drop most pretence of seriousness and have fun with its characters and story.
Ubisoft has given us the bare minimum in terms of innovation and gameplay improvements.
Control issues have always plagued this series, but thankfully Syndicate makes small changes to parkour and movement that allow things to flow better. However, I still found my character failing to do what I wanted a few too many times. Free aim is annoying with its sticky auto lock and the aforementioned grapple hook is very pernickety about where your character has to be looking or standing for it to work. The parkour down mechanic returns and is still very useful and the inclusion of horse-drawn carts makes getting from A to B much quicker and more enjoyable.
Micro transactions are still here and whilst they’re far less obtrusive than in previous years their presence still isn’t justified in a fully priced title such as this. The lack of multiplayer or co-op has apparently been down to Ubisoft wanting to focus fully on the main campaign, although if that is the case it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference.
Overall, I can’t help but feel that Ubisoft has given us the bare minimum in terms of innovation and gameplay improvements with Syndicate. Assassin’s Creed remains a series in desperate need of a complete overhaul and shuffling forward every year trying to catch up with the competition should no longer be considered good enough.