Assassin’s Creed is the game everyone can expect to be released once a year even if it doesn’t work properly as Unity proved. I can safely say that this year’s iteration, Syndicate, doesn’t have the disappearing faces or the stuttering frames that dropped into single digits that affected last year’s game. Instead, we have an incredibly fun game that shows Assassin’s Creed isn’t done reinventing itself…sort of.
If you’ve played an Assassin’s Creed game before then you know about 80% of Syndicate before you even boot the game up. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. When games have a series as long as Assassin’s Creed. It makes sense to make changes with each game and then keep all the best ones for the next sequel. For instance, Unity did many things wrong, but its quick parkour functionality of getting down buildings with a press of one button was a great idea. That remains the case with Syndicate. You hold one button to scale up, and one button to fly down. While many things remain the same, there are naturally many differences.
Syndicate is set in London during the industrial revolution. This makes it the most modern day Assassin’s Creed yet. And while there are some modern day moments, all the gameplay sticks to the past. You play as two twins: Jacob and Evie Frye. Jacob acts first and thinks later, and he wants to see immediate results in saving London from the Templars. Evie is more thoughtful and looks at the big picture. She worries more about helping the Assassin Order in the long run than the immediate population.
These two different personalities push the story forward taking on missions that suit their individual idealism. The story isn’t anything special and it lost almost all my interest by the end, but the Frye twins may be the best protagonists since Ezio. Their bickering and sarcastic remarks seemed realistic and were actually enjoyable. I felt a connection with the two of them. Sure Jacob would get on my nerves by doing idiotic things, but when the time came he always did the right thing.
In the beginning, the story had some promise, but as it moved along it became a predictable bore. There was supposedly a big moment between Jacob and Evie that I almost missed completely because of how quickly it came and went without any real weight. I never felt the urgency they kept implying throughout the whole game, and sometimes it was hard to see how one event would lead into the next.
Along those lines, I hated the main villain. Not in the way the game wanted me to. I thought he was boring and didn’t seem like a threat in any way. I didn’t understand how he came to rule anything. He didn’t seem intelligent, powerful, or even a good leader. I was confused as to why he simply wasn’t assassinated in the very beginning. But even if the main story isn’t anything too impressive the rest of Syndicate is.
London is brilliantly designed and I am always impressed with the level designs of Assassin’s Creed. The architecture of the buildings, the wardrobes of the NPCs, the packed streets filled with carriages, and the Thames made the world feel big and interesting. London feels alive with people on the streets, buildings to go in, and many gorgeous sights to see. People have come to expect Assassin’s Creed to look beautiful and it certainly continues to do so.
To help with the beautiful scenery is the equally memorizing soundtrack. Assassin’s Creed has always had a good score to push the gameplay, but this time it really stands out as amazing. Austin Wintory, best known for the Journey soundtrack, scored Syndicate and it’s really something else. He uses various stringed instruments to really give the feeling of an 1800’s era city. A simple violin melody can carry as much weight as a whole orchestra.
I would often sit on top of a tall building and let the music play gently as I gazed upon the scenery. No, I’m not being dramatic, I really did that multiple times. The atmosphere and environment in Syndicate are close to perfection. You can really get lost in it all and feel like you’re back in time. After all, that’s what you want a video game to do.
The most important factor that makes Syndicate an enjoyable iteration of the series is its simple, but fantastic combat. Assassin’s Creed has always struggled on the combat section because it tries to focus on stealth above all else. Unity pushed this concept hard by making the combat tough. You could be overrun easily and because of this you wanted to try and sneak as much as possible.
Syndicate does the opposite. It’s very easy, which may put some off, but you can still get overrun if you aren’t careful. One button attacks, one button breaks defense, and one button counters. It’s simple, easy to learn, and fun to perform. After you master the basics you can add in other factors like the gunshot combo which makes for devastating damage.
It is simple but addicting. It’s fun to brawl. There were times I wanted to sneak and never be caught, but many other times I ran into a pack of enemies without fear. This gives more individualism to the person playing the game. Instead of being forced to use stealth the entire time with combat being the plan B. Syndicate almost encourages open brawls in the streets.
This is really pushed by the ability to raise your own gang. We’ve seen in past games a sort of mini development simulation where you can spend money to increase your hideout which in turns gives you more rewards. In Syndicate, the rewards range from things like better carriages in the streets, discounts in stores, and many features to aid you in leading a gang.
As your gang increases more and more members will walk the streets. You can get up to five members to follow you around. They help you fight and you can even command them to attack a certain person. This makes for great distractions so you can sneak around without being detected. Or, as I said before, it’s just as much fun to go charging head first into battle with your gang members right on your heels.
Besides the gangs element, the newest addition to gameplay is the grapple hook and the carriages. The grappling hook isn’t nearly as gimmicky as it sounds. Climbing to a synchronization point has never been easier. It’s not as accurate as I would’ve liked, but it made traversing the city much faster.
Driving carriages also made city traversal much faster and more fun as well. Running across rooftops still is a viable option, but hijacking a carriage is a much more efficient method of transportation. You can bash into other carriages or stand on top of one as you fight in a speeding chase. It’s a fun new addition to the series that I hope makes a return in the future.
Aside from the main story missions there are a good amount of side missions to liberate territory from the Templars. They are simple and never really change throughout the game, but I found them more entertaining than the story missions. The story missions were fairly linear in my eyes. They present you with various opportunities to make your assassinations in multiple ways, but it still felt like my hand was being held. I was being guided too much and pushed in a certain direction too strongly. It all felt too scripted with a disguise of freedom.
Maybe I could enter a building from the ceiling or steal keys from a guard, but once I got inside the building I was met with the same situation regardless. It’s why I found the smaller side missions surprisingly more enjoyable. Even if they were simple: kill this person, kidnap this person, and rescue these children. I was given a playing field and told to complete my objective in any way I wanted. Charge in with my gang, sneak around quietly, or maybe a bit of both. It was the freedom I wanted and where I had the most of my fun.
That being said there were many frustrating moments in Syndicate. There were no major bugs like Unity that were consistently annoying, but things would pop up here and there. One time I couldn’t attack and could only stand still as I was beaten mercilessly. Once I died it was fixed and never happened again, but clearly if that happened on a big mission it would be frustrating to say the least.
Your character will do silly things that you never intended for them to do. In the middle of a chase, I climbed countless street lights and jumped to the wrong building numerous times. I would get caught on ledges and it would take precious seconds to convince my character it was okay to let go. These hiccups are nothing new and have existed in every Assassin’s Creed to date, but that only makes it more inexcusable. Whatever number this is in the series should be more than enough time to get around these awkward moments. Fighting the controls is still the most frustrating part of Assassin’s Creed.
There was also an issue with too many actions were all mapped to a single button. In combat one button fires your weapon, reloads your weapon, and also dodges enemy gunshots. You can see how this can cause issues during battle as it isn’t guaranteed to do what you want it to. I also can’t tell you how many times I wanted to interact with a key object, but that also happens to be the same button to pick up a dead body. With a precious few seconds to ignite dynamite, picking up a body instead ruined everything. It was simple annoyances like these that could easily be avoided with a better control scheme.
You also still have your typical chasing missions that are getting more annoying every time you are forced to do them. They don’t excite or inspire. They waste time and are used to simple give a mission more length or lead your character to a new area to fight a group of enemies. Luckily there aren’t many. Sadly. they’ve been replaced by kidnapping missions.
Kidnapping is as easy as pressing one button to hold someone hostage. You then have to lead them out of the hot zone without anyone else noticing. This is sometimes fun in the side missions where you have more freedom. In the story missions, everything is far more scripted and much more annoying. They were the only missions I failed repeatedly and almost always for a dumb reason. One time an enemy just “accidentally” walked into us. I walked in circles avoiding him and he walked behind us in the same circles until he finally spotted us officially. It was clearly too coincidental. He knew where I was the entire time even though I gave him no indication of my location.
Then there are other issues that make it comical. When a target spots you and tries to run. You can tackle them and then they stand completely still. They don’t try to run again. This takes any pressure out of the situation. I would run in and tackle the target who would then stand there patiently as I killed all their guards. After that, I’d take them hostage again, and lead them to where they needed to go. I was completely okay with this strangeness because it made the missions easier i.e. faster.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is exactly what you think it is. It’s Assassin’s Creed. Some things are new, many things aren’t. The city of London is beautiful and the wonderful soundtrack compliments that perfectly. This is the first time I’ve liked a protagonist since Ezio, but the story is definitely one of my least favorites in the series. The combat is the best it’s ever been and I couldn’t get enough of the brutality. The grappling hook and carriage are fun new additions that make traversal faster than ever. There are still many issues that most Assassin’s Creed games face like random glitches, boring repetitive missions, and fighting the controls. That being said, I can definitely proclaim that Syndicate officially ranks in my top three favorite Assassin’s Creed games.
This review is based off a retail copy of the Playstation 4 version of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate developed and distributed by Ubisoft.
- Likeable Protagonists
- Big and Beautiful London
- Fun and Brutal Combat
- Uninteresting Story
- Controls Get in The Way
- Some Repetitive Feeling Missions