Michael Leparc On November 10, 2015 at 3:45 pm

assassins-creed-syndicate-logoLast year, Assassin’s Creed took it right on the chin. Score one for the Templars, in fact. Unity was dogged by criticism even before release for its lack of a playable female character (Liberation’s protagonist, Aveline, not counting for much apparently) and various comments that didn’t play well in the media. Once it was out on the shelves, the flaws and bugs were so numerous that everyone couldn’t help but pile negativity onto the game thanks to the atmosphere that built up around it. While Syndicate isn’t quite a full redemption of the franchise on the level that I felt Black Flag was, it definitely answers a lot of the criticism of the past couple years and it also refines the classic gameplay just enough to warrant a look if you haven’t burnt yourself out on the series yet, or might even be a nice introduction to the franchise as it currently stands.

As usual, this Assassin’s Creed takes place at another crossroads in history (while creeping ever closer to the present): Victorian era London, a time where England’s empire was at its height, the sun never setting on it and all that. This heightens the stakes of the centuries battle between Assassins and Templars over the coveted and powerful Pieces of Eden, as whoever rules the British Empire will seize control of vast swathes of the world, or so the opening cutscene emphasizes to us. Unfortunately we already kind of know that this historical battle amounts to a bit of a stalemate since the story keeps cutting back to the present day struggle between the two sides, kind of undercutting some of the urgency of the playable bits. At this point, it seems like there’s no longer a purpose to the present day narrative other than to keep giving us an excuse to dive into the past, which is a shame.

The real meat of the game is in the dynamic between the two main protagonists, the Frye twins, Evie and Jacob. Evie is mostly motivated to find the Piece of Eden, while Jacob is more fired up to retake London by force from the Templars (led by Starrick and his Blighters gang), as well as set up his own gang called the Rooks. Also indicative of their differences is their playstyles. Evie plays more like a traditional assassin from previous games, a bit more specialized at sneaking around and taking out her opponents without much commotion. Jacob meanwhile is more brash and confrontational and welcomes all out brawls, which take on more of an Arkham style flavor in this edition with telegraphed indications of when to counter or break an opponent’s defenses by pressing the right button. You can switch between these two at any time, except for specific story missions, and the nice part is they will both level up no matter who you play as. But while they both earn skill points at the same rate, they can spend them on completely different parts of their skill tree, giving you more breadth to specialize each of them.

Other new bits of gameplay include the ability to drive horse carriages through the streets of London, making it quicker to get around town. You can also ram your carriage to destroy those of your enemies so it also has a bit of a combat element to it at times. Evie and Jacob also get a new assassin gadget to play with, a grappling hook which allows them to climb buildings or shoot across from high point to high point without resorting to so much parkour. You can of course assassinate people while flying along your impromptu zip lines. Again, it’s something kind of borrowed from Batman but doesn’t feel too out of place here fortunately. Of course it wouldn’t be Assassin’s Creed without recruits and little side things to upgrade, so as you conquer territory throughout London you will be able to bring some of your Rooks along for good measure, and you can upgrade their skills and unlock other perks like having their own carriages so they can whisk you out of harm’s way. That said, there’s nothing too ground breaking here unlike the vast naval battles of Black Flag. You still have the same old assassinations, the same old chase sequences, and various collectibles. If you’ve tired of the same conventions, there’s not much fresh air here.

It’s nice to see that the graphical glitches that were rampant in Unity were totally slain in this version of the engine. Draw distances and framerate are solid on the PS4 and you can’t help but want to synchronize every viewpoint as a result. Cutscenes look good as well. The music didn’t really catch my attention throughout the game unlike previous versions, but the voice acting continues to be stellar and draws you into the story.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate gets things right that Unity got wrong. It addresses almost every bit of criticism of last year’s edition on point. The only thing it really fails to do is give a compelling reason to play it beyond any other of the less maligned games in the series that came out before it, as the plot away from the historical set pieces continues to meander about for its own sake. That’s a shame for those of us who might be fatigued from years of participation in this shadow war, but for fans that still can’t get enough, at least they won’t be throwing their controllers in frustration (except perhaps during the final boss!).


Divvying the game up between two characters helps, and little tweaks here and there keep it fun, but nothing too crazy innovative here, just refinement of the formula.


The city looks wonderful and the game runs great.


Not much going on in the background from what I recall, but the voice acting is solid.


Doesn’t really stand out from everything else out there, or anything that came before it. Evie is a great character though!

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