Assassin’s Creed Syndicate PS4 Review
Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Quebec Genre: Stealth, Action Players: 1
Age Rating: 18+ Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One
As good as it was, Assassin’s Creed: Unity was lacking in polish and suffered from a number of nasty bugs upon its release, and that meant that the world was going to keep a close eye on the next game in the series. Let’s get it out of the way now though, and I’m glad to say that Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a smoother, all round better experience than Unity ever was.
The story is also far more successful than Unity’s confusing mess of a tale. Set in 1868, the game introduces the duo of twin siblings Jacob and Evie Frye, and they play off one another very well. Jacob is the typical cocky and charismatic male, and Evie is the more serious and focused of the two, but they are both very likeable characters and easily amongst Assassin’s Creed’s finest. The duo soon ends up in Victorian London, aiming to free England’s first city from Crawford Starrick and the Templars as well as a vicious gang called the Blighters. Jacob soon starts up his own gang, The Rooks, and they fight alongside you as you attempt to take back the city.
It’s clear that Ubisoft have been attempting to phase out the modern day scenes in recent Assassin’s Creed games, and Syndicate has the least of these so far in the series. This means that you are very rarely taken out of the beautiful late London industrial revolution setting, with famous historical figures such as Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale, Karl Marx, and Charles Darwin cropping up to give you a real sense of time and place over the course of the game.
When the two lead assassins make their way to London against orders and by their own free will, it soon becomes clear that developer Ubisoft Quebec have made the most of the important time period that the game takes place in. It’s an age when industry was hugely important in the country, when horses and carts roamed the cobbled streets, and when smoking chimneys and steam trains signalled a turning point for England. You’ll also come across landmarks such as the Tower of London, Big Ben, the Thames, Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral, which means that the playing environment is unmistakably London and, with it stunning attention to detail, the game never looks anything less than beautiful. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate captures the look perfectly and the Victorian London setting is easily one of the best that the series has ever featured.
The game has two playable characters, allowing you to switch between them at any time in the open world, which is a first for an Assassin’s Creed game, although, for the major missions, you are limited to using a particular character. It’s rather surprising that few of the missions have you switching between the two main characters whilst playing through them, and the main assassination missions in the story oddly has Jacob as the focal character for the majority of the time. It also has to be said that, other than a few skills here and there, Jacob and Evie aren’t distinct enough from one another during gameplay, and this is a bit of a missed opportunity. Those expecting the return of cooperative play will also be disappointed, as Syndicate has entirely done away with any form of a multiplayer component.
Whichever character you play as, the game offers a couple of new ways to get around its new setting besides the typical beautifully animated free-running. You are able to take control of a horse and cart, which is lots of fun, and is nicely structured into some of the missions, but you are also able to travel like this at any time, and there are races involving horses and carts as well. Another way to get around is by making use of the brand new rope launcher that you’ll get your hands on early in the story. The rope launcher allows you to quickly launch yourself from the ground and onto a rooftop. It also allows you to move between rooftops by using it like a zipline, which, in turn, allows you to coolly perform aerial kills while hanging from it. Like the horses and cart, the rope launcher gives you welcome additional movement options over other games in the series.
As fun as using the rope launcher is though, it feels more limited than it should, as it doesn’t always hook on to everything that you want it to and, oddly, you aren’t able to attach to carts, and things like that, which had me shouting at the screen from time to time. Yes, it’s a very enjoyable tool to use and one that makes moving around the environment in an Assassin’s Creed game faster than ever, but it’s also one that feels like it’s a bit of a work in progress. Yes, it will take a bit of time before the rope launcher is as good as Batman’s grappling hook in the Arkham games which, with the amount of grapple options that those games give you, feels a lot less restrictive.
Not only has there been an improvement to the movement system, but, like previous games, the stealth mechanics have also been expanded. Returning is the “last known position” and crouching features from the previous game, and this time the “threat ring” has also been enhanced, with arrows now pointing in the direction of an aware enemy and allowing you to see where the threat is coming from. The threat ring also changes colour based on the awareness of enemies in the current area, from grey to yellow to red. You can now also tag an enemy which is helpful in the way that it allows you to keep tabs on enemy positions, allowing you to even track them through walls and floors, and you can also see what their strength level is and how much of a beating they need to take before they go down.
The constant improvements to the stealth are certainly welcome for the series, although the AI certainly needs some work, as enemies really do come across as clueless from time to time. Taking out a guard just doesn’t create enough chaos, with others merely confused by the situation if they stumble across a body and nowhere near as alert as they should be. This allows you to use a body as bait as the enemies all huddle around, allowing you to pick them off with throwing knives from afar and with them looking at a downed enemy as if they are just taking a quick cat-nap.
As for the combat, the beautifully animated moves are fun to watch time and time again and the fighting is satisfying enough, although Assassin’s Creed still has work to be done in this area, as the combat definitely pales in comparison to better mechanics seen in games such as the Batman Arkham series.
With the plethora of open-world games that are available, it must be said that, whilst most are able to keep your attention for the duration of the game, others can become rather wearisome and end up feeling like a relative that has out-stayed their welcome, resulting in losing your interest at the final hurdle. There is certainly a load of things to do in the Syndicate’s London; you can conquer sections of the city by taking over enemy strongholds, as well as killing and capturing Templars, and saving children from slavery, with things eventually coming to head in a gang war. Interacting with historical figures will also reveal some side stories and missions, and there’s various collectibles to be found within the city streets as well as the typical viewpoints to scale to the top of, amongst other things. True, some of these side tasks can become repetitive, although there are enough different tasks to mix things up somewhat to stop things from becoming completely stale.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate may be a little lacking in certain areas, and over time some of these flaws have become more glaring with each new game, but with its wonderful setting, likeable cast of characters, and various improvements and additions, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is definitely one of the strongest entries in the long running series to date. It’s also a game that was released in a far better state than last year’s overly ambitious Assassin’s Creed: Unity, which should help restore people’s faith in both Ubisoft and the franchise.