Those who follow the gaming industry, or simply game regularly, are surely aware of the shit storm that resulted after last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Unity released in a buggy and problematic state. The unexpected glitches, errors and general frustrations created a public relations nightmare for Ubisoft, and put a black mark on the company’s record, not to mention the popular series itself.
Although we were lucky and didn’t encounter much in the way of notable issues during our review sessions, others weren’t so lucky and took to message boards to vent their frustrations. This flood of complaints led to a public apology, alongside the removal of the game’s paid, season pass add-on. Free DLC was given to all, but it wasn’t enough for many.
Fast-forward to today, just one calendar year later, and Ubisoft is looking to turn a new page with a new, historically based effort. Titled Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, it migrates to 1886 London, during the Industrial Revolution, and introduces two playable characters instead of just one.
Centred upon twins Jacob and Evie Frye, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is a bit of a new take on the now well-travelled formula. Not only does it give you two different protagonists to control, get to know and level up, but it also places you at the head of an upstart gang called the Rooks. Their goal? To put an end to London’s Templar oppression while searching for the city’s most well hidden secrets, including technologically advanced Pieces of Eden.
Along the way, the Frye twins meet and befriend some incredibly well-known and utterly iconic personalities, all of which were ripped right out of humanity’s history books. You can look forward to helping Alexander Graham Bell as he develops the telephone, aid Charles Darwin in his studies and enjoy the company of author Charles Dickens. These are just a few of the major supporting cast members, and like the others, their side quests help to flesh out the game’s world.
London, itself, is separated into boroughs like your typical city. This allows for the developers to create a progression system which forces you to take over at least three in order to unlock later chapters. You do this by completing takeover missions, the likes of which include kidnapping Templar targets, freeing children from workplace oppression by killing their supervisors, and clearing out gang hideouts. These missions repeat throughout the game world, and are solid but repetitive.
Each burough has its own leader, who will show up and taunt you before goating you into battle. To clear them, one must defeat the leader and also usually partake in a gang fight – something akin to what you’d see in Martin Scorcese’s Gangs of New York. They’re unfortunately rather basic, quick to conclusion and generally mediocre, but they do fit in with the upstart gang creation storyline.
What you should also know is that Jacob is the hard-nosed go-getter, who wants nothing more than to rush into things, kill his targets and stir up shit, whereas Evie is much more methodical and cares more about history than the Templars themselves. Jacob’s carelessness can get him in trouble, and the twins often verbally battle each other due to their opposite personalities. Still, they work rather well together, including during missions where both partake. Usually, though, you’re just using one or the other.
It goes without saying, but Jacob’s missions are usually much more action-packed than Evie’s, although your end goal should be to try to be as stealthy as possible. Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate aids this cause, too, by introducing a rope launcher, which can be used to quickly scale large towers and buildings or create zip lines. This obviously makes getting to synchronization points easier, too, because you can simply fly to their peaks with the press of a shoulder button. What you cannot do, however, is go full Batman with this mechanic, and use it to whisk away captive targets. Those need to go into carriages.
Yes, for the first time ever, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate introduces driveable vehicles, in the form of rickety, horse drawn carriages. They have their moments, too, but ultimately end up being a bit ho-hum. I say this because, although they move well – albeit unrealistically, what with sharper than expected turn radiuses and the like – they can be frustrating to use.
A decent amount of missions will force you to hijack a horse and buggy combo and use it to chase after a fleeing enemy who’s done the same thing. You’re supposed to take these foes out by quick shooting them, or preferably by jumping from your carriage to theirs and kicking them out of the driver’s seat. However, both are easier said than done, and lead to a lot of frustration. This is especially true of the latter option, because jumping from one buggy to another is often a pain in the ass and regularly misfired during my experiences. Other buggies would get in the way most of the time, or I’d end up falling off and having to catch back up.
Adding vehicles into the mix wasn’t a bad idea; it simply needs more time in the oven and better execution. Things need to change to keep this series fresh, because it’s definitely showing repetition and age, and is suffering from sequel fatigue. Or at least, I am.
Don’t get me wrong: I did enjoy playing Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. I just didn’t love it, or find myself pining to play it. It’s a good game, but not a great one, and I frankly expected it to be better. The storyline is interesting, but it doesn’t have enough of a wow factor, and more polish could’ve been added. There’s also little in the way of modern day content, so don’t go in expecting anything of that ilk.
While this sequel looks good and has a lot of pros in its audio/visual department – including a fantastic orchestral score – its overall performance leaves something to be desired. In fact, there were several times where I had to restart checkpoints, because the game had failed to progress properly, either by not concluding a mission as it should’ve or by not allowing me to talk to an important NPC.
One example happens to be a nurse, who was one of my secondary options for completing a mission. By talking to her, I could potentially gain access to an area that would help me sneak up on my target, whereas I could also go for the jugular or take out another secondary target and use him to my advantage. Either way, it wouldn’t let me talk to the nurse, and forced me to hit the restart button.
I need to be honest, though, and state that most of the glitches I experienced occurred after Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate’s first patch and before its second. Not all of them, however, because one progression blocker appeared after I’d updated the game a second time. It’s too bad that these glitches and flaws exist, because it’s obvious that a lot of hard work went into creating a realistic-feeling representation of Industrial Revolution London.
All in all, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is not as good as it could’ve been. It remains a fine, solid and relatively immersive experience, but doesn’t have the hook or wow factor that one would really hope for. Fans of the series should definitely still check it out, though, even if they decide to hold off for a price drop.
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate has an interesting setting, iconic characters and solid gameplay. It is, however, not the game that it could’ve been, due to a missing wow factor and some unfortunate glitches.