Assassin’s Creed is a franchise that continues to excite me in spite of its numerous flaws and lack of innovation. The concept of conspiracy and the way the series plays with history is what manages to keep me intrigued, and for that reason alone I continue to play the Assassin’s Creed games almost yearly in spite of public reception. One of the only iterations I stayed away from was last year’s abysmal release, AC: Unity, and I must admit because of the way it tarnished the series’ reputation I began my play-through of AC: Syndicate with some trepidation.
AC: Syndicate takes players to the grimy streets of London during the peak of its industrial revolution. Business practices are questionable at best, child labor is rampant, and the atmosphere portrays a kind of tension that is rarely experienced in AC games. The world feels lifelike and is chocked full of people of all ages, sizes, shapes, and creeds. Police run are everywhere, gang members patrol every uncontested corner, and people, for the most part, react believably. I can see why Unity promoted its new engine and dynamic cities as one of its key selling points last year because the implementation of it helps London feel alive with this year’s iteration.
"Syndicate is borrowing liberally from the Arkham series, but for Ubisoft to place a new tool like this into an AC game and have it be the clunky mess is absolutely infuriating."
Mechanically, Syndicate is almost a rebirth of the series. While it remains true to its roots, there are a lot of new elements that add some spice to the tired formula. Things like carriages and stagecoaches, rope launchers, reformations to the overly-simplistic combat, and the ability to bounce between two playable protagonists are all welcome additions; I just wish some of them were better implemented.
Carriages and stagecoaches are probably the highlights of Syndicate. Not only are they a blast to hijack and drive, they offer a new level of high-octane action that was missing from the series. Carriage chases get very intense very quickly, with an interesting ‘slam’ mechanic being one of your best and most viable options to disable any pursuing enemies. If nothing else, carriages at least present a viable option for players that want to explore London from a ground level, rather than the rooftops.
The rope launcher is without a doubt the most disappointing mechanic in the game. It’s no secret that Syndicate is borrowing liberally from the Arkham series, but for Ubisoft to place a new tool like this into an AC game and have it be the clunky mess is absolutely infuriating. There were plenty of times when I would intend to hook onto a ledge and my character would decide to latch onto an entirely different building, breaking my stealth, forcing me to lose my synchronization. I honestly cannot believe how poorly the rope launcher works. Players will honestly be better off just navigating across rooftops the old-fashioned way: climbing.
"The addition of crafting more damaging weapons and armor creates an RPG-lite situation, giving players a certain amount of control over their assassin’s style and appearance."
Speaking of borrowing liberally from the Arkham series, Syndicate took a few pointers from WBs titles and used them to spice up the combat a tad as well. No longer are players waiting to counter-attack thoughtless enemies for an instant kill (though that still does exist), but instead players will find the familiar Arkham formula of combat juggling, looking out for sneak attacks, defenses, and other special types of enemies. It’s still shallow, but it’s certainly goes a long way towards enhancing the combat, turning a wading pool into a deeper, more satisfying albeit familiar overall experience. The addition of crafting more damaging weapons and armor creates an RPG-lite situation, giving players a certain amount of control over their assassin’s style and appearance.
Evie and Jacob Frye are the two characters that players can bounce between. I absolutely loved my time with Evie and she quickly became my go-to assassin whenever I was given an option. Her cunning intellect, stealth-minded approach, and patience make her one of the most likeable assassins that the franchise has ever created. Jacob on the other hand was a headache. His brash attitude came across as nothing more than annoying and his character radiates a sort of pompous buffoonery that made playing him a chore, causing me to audibly sigh several times when I was forced to play him in story missions.
That brings me to another issue: why is Jacob the character players are forced to assume during practically every story mission? There could have been an interesting dynamic explored by Ubisoft offering players the option to set up missions for stealth or ham-fisted bash-the-door-in combat, and it feels like a missed opportunity.
"AC: Syndicate features a lot of hiccups, but it also presents itself as a stepping stone towards a better future for the franchise."
Another disappointing aspect of Syndicate is the fact that after a certain point there are no real noticeable differences between the way Evie and Jacob control. Each has a unique skill tree, but for the most part skills feel too similar, and as players progress I’m sure they’ll find that each tree doesn’t offer much in terms of disparity.
The PC port of AC: Syndicate wasn’t bad. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s still far from perfect. Some basic menu and graphics options still aren’t available, but for the most part this is a stable release that worked with minimal hiccups. I ran into a couple glitches here and there, but there was only one incident where a quest target wouldn’t follow and I had to restart the game. Otherwise, it was a relatively good experience that offered a stable framerate.
Graphically the game is impressive. The title looks beautiful, and London is well-realized capturing the teaming smoke stacks and dirty streets of the industrial revolution. The sounds, voice acting and ambient city noises are portrayed beautifully for the most part, culminating into an amazing sound experience when enjoyed with great speaker system or pair of headphones.
Story-wise AC: Syndicate stumbles noticeably. After a relatively gripping introduction full of explosive set-pieces and Bond-esque espionage the title begins to lose steam fairly quickly and eventually collapses under the weight of Jacob’s poor character direction and an utterly despicable final encounter. It does a good job of staying away from the convoluted modern-day AC story, but still forces it upon the player. It’s not nearly as memorable as some of the other AC titles, and in spite of all its best efforts I’m sure this title will be forgotten by fans as the series continues.
AC: Syndicate features a lot of hiccups, but it also presents itself as a stepping stone towards a better future for the franchise. It’s certainly not the title a lot of fans were anticipating after the Unity debacle, but it’s a step in the right direction. If Ubisoft can perfect some of the new mechanics, I imagine this series will shine again with the next release. In the meantime it’s left to wallow in mediocrity.
Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: PC