Believe it or not, I’m actually a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series and have been so since the very first game, which was in no way amazing, but proved the concept was something worth looking into. I’ve played every game in the main series, bar the infamous Unity for obvious reasons which I doubt anyone can argue against me with. Assassin’s Creed 2 was almost exactly what I wanted to see from the series, and in my eyes the best. However my personal favourite is Black Flag, because it’s only Assassin’s Creed in name and a few plot points, instead opting to be the best Pirates of the Caribbean game ever made.
So you now know where I stand with the series before getting into this review. It’s clear that the yearly releases is putting an unnecessary strain on the series, but Ubisoft have serious amount of resources to get it done. I didn’t mind that they removed ship combat (the best addition to the series), because the setting didn’t require it, and I hoped they would put those additional resources to good use, with a competent story, strong characters and challenging gameplay. But I was disappointed.
For the first time in the series you can play as two characters, the Frye twins, both with conflicting personalities, but have great chemistry together. Jacob is what I’d imagine young Ezio would be like if he was from London and dropped on his head a few too many times as a child. Charismatic, witty and hot tempered, Jacob favours combat, but puts little thought in his actions, leaving his sister Evie all too often cleaning up his mistakes. Evie (who looks like Ellen Page) carefully considers her options, preferring to take the stealthy approach, and is far more dependable to get the job done without causing much trouble afterwards. But with that she takes longer to achieve her goals.
Both of these characters, which you can switch between anytime in the open world, work extremely well together and clearly have spent a lot of time with one another. They are polar opposites who, together, have every aspect covered in a well rounded partnership. The times they’re with each other are some of the best moments in the game as they throw insults back and forth comfortably, like close siblings would, all in good humour. It’s a shame those moments become few and far between as the game progresses.
Other good characters aren’t really there. Inspector Abberline is probably the best after that, because his few moments in the spotlight are hilarious, though his purpose in the story seems to be more for comic relief than anything else.
The big bad, Starrick, is seen at the end of most Sequences (of which there are nine), and while clearly a bad guy, is really hard to take seriously. At one point, angry for something the Frye twins did, he shot a guy for just coming in the door, then immediately afterwards talks about bringing the twins to justice in the eyes of the law. YOU JUST SHOT THAT GUY FOR NOTHING! His cutscenes, which we see despite our characters never being present, only seem to exist so we see him get angrier and angrier as the twins ruin his day, because they don’t exist to progress the story in any meaningful way. And with all his talk about bringing the Frye twins to “justice,” he never actually does anything outside stay in the same room looking grumpy all the time while we kill off his closest allies one by one. And don’t get me started on the big fight with him.
The entirety of the story seems to exist for a single piece of information, and that’s about the shroud and its location for the modern day story. Outside that, the rest is cobbled together into something about the templars taking over London, but you’re like fuck that and start a gang, called The Rooks, to take it back, because freedom… I’d tell you more, but that really is about all I gathered from it. Relevant parts are so disjointed I forgot what was happening, and the plot never clears anything up because past Sequence 4 the only thing you see is angry Starrick and his expertly maintained moustache.
Every other characters purpose is explained in about two or three words. Weren’t paying attention? TOO BAD! Here’s a pile of irrelevant shite and a gag to keep you happy so you don’t bitch about how we forgot to write plot until the night before deadline.
When it comes to the main story missions, the majority of them are extremely easy, and often result in 100% “synchronization,” or whatever they called it this time around, without even trying. Most missions are rewashes of the same objectives (kidnapping, killing one person, killing all the people) or take only a few seconds to do, and the whole thing feels really short. I completed the game in two days, and I spent most of that time paused and away from home.. Even before I could do Sequence 8 I was forced to capture three boroughs (which I’ll explain more about later) clearly put there to delay the ending. However the actual assassination missions have taken steps forward, even if it stumbled a bit.
While still easy, there’s actually some planning involved, though you can just walk in and kill everything too. Around the assassination areas you’ll find unique opportunities to kill other targets or help out someone who’ll give you another way to gain access to your target for an easy kill. But again, they fail to stay interesting due to how little variation there is. Hopefully next time around the take the same idea and build on that.
There’s other missions too, but none of them have anything to do with the main story. Instead these are where the famous faces come in. Here, we’re all chummy with people such as Charles Dickens and Darwin, or Alexander Graham Bell. These are 50/50 for the most part, with some being far more challenging or interesting than those found throughout the rest of the game, while others only there to make it take longer to 100%. The characters have some presence in the story, but never more than just a way for Ubisoft to gloat how many dead people they have involved in things that never happened, with their own little arch’s after the introduction. Dickens missions are by far the best as you become less an assassin, and more London’s 1 ghost buster. Others have some great chase scenes or actually puts you against the clock, and really make me wonder why story related missions all felt like they belonged in the first quarter of the game.
Now, lets talk about the setting, which is the selling point to this game. Victorian London is absolutely beautiful aesthetically, and probably the best implementation of any city within the series so far (remember, I didn’t play Unity). It serves as an excellent, and interesting point in time for the story and characters to come to life, and I was hopeful that would be the case when I heard the rumours late last year, but as you can see above I was sorely disappointed.
While not huge, the map is about the right size for the game, but as usual with modern open world games, especially with Ubisoft and Assassin’s Creed, it’s littered with collectibles nobody outside hardcore masochists would bother collecting.
The city is made up of “boroughs”, and to capture one you have to complete all five to eight district “activities” which are, again, overused. Only 4 different activities exist and they are bounty hunt where you kidnap someone, templar hunt where you kill someone, gang stronghold where you kill everyone and child liberation where you kill everyone except the children then press B when near them. Once that’s done you have to chase down and kill the borough leader, which out of the three I’ve done, two bugged out meaning I just had to walk briskly in their direction and stab them. After that you have a sorta gang war activity, which is absolutely pointless. You are asked to kill about 10 people in a brawl between the two gangs, but kills your members get also count meaning you get two or three and the fight is over. It gets really repetitive and as I said you are forced to capture 3 boroughs for the story to progress for no real reason outside an excuse to make you sink more hours into it..
Buildings are tall and streets are wide, which makes the addition of the grappling hook so handy as you zip from place to place. And I have to say, while a little annoying at times, it’s one of the better grappling hooks I’ve seen in a game and feels a lot more realistic than most. It could have done with a way to easily stop climbing as you shoot past your intended hook spot though. As for other gadgets… they removed the majority of them having only hallucinating darts, pistols and throwing knives, as well as two different bombs (neither of which kill anything). There are only 3 types of melee weapons too, which you can only have one of at any time. That’s short blades, canes and knuckle dusters.
Combat has been simplified, making it closer to the batman system, being mostly button mashing X, with the odd dodge and block break as you try and hold a combo. Thing is, Batman’s system is far more complex than just that as it requires timing and watching for attacks from multiple enemies at once. In syndicate all it comes down to is killing each enemy one by one as the others line up to take turns attacking you. There’s an execution system in it too, where you can get multiple enemies to near death then take them all out one fell swoop, but unless every enemy is in the exact spot they need to be it doesn’t work. I’d often have 3 enemies ready to get taken down then only find myself killing them one by one because they weren’t’ standing on their marks for the animation to work, which is ridiculous. On top of that, I don’t think I ever had to face more than 4 people at once, furthering my point of how easy this game is.
There is a levelling system that almost works well, but by the end of the game you will have every perk unlocked outside the 3 that are character specific, and once you get to level 5 you pretty much have all the ones you’d want, only choosing more so level 10 enemies don’t take as long to kill.
Enemies vary little too. You’d think they would be able to model more than 5 different looking enemies, but of course, this is Ubisoft. The same company who’s excuse for not having a female character in Unity was having to redo all the animations… Because women don’t have penises and have boobs therefore everything else must be different… Right? RIIIGHT?
Freerunning has improved significantly in my opinion, and I think that is largely down to the additional control given to you. Climbing is about the same as always though.
Now, onto performance, which is the reason I completely avoided Unity, and I’m glad to say they got this one right for the most part. Now, I have heard that some Nvidia users are having problems, but I can’t speak for them as it ran pretty dam well on my machine. The only time I’ve had a big issues was with one particular gamebreaking bug that caused the game to completely crash unless I raced some old lady back to her house before she shut the hell up. When riding around on the horse drawn carts, performance took quite a dip too, frame stuttering and even freezing now and again. It was really annoying when doing a chase and happened regularly enough, but outside driving I’ve had very few problems. The AI is dumb as hell though.
Syndicate is a prime example of why they need to stop making Assassin’s Creed a yearly release. It seriously needed another year in development because there was no substance to it. Most of the game consisted of doing the same 4 objectives over and over again and the story was an absolute mess. The game started with a lot of potential and had some great set pieces, but quickly lost its footing, crawling to a snails pace and felt more like a chore from sequence 4 onwards. Most of the game felt like filler that I dragged myself through in order to get to the good bits that never came.
Even Assassin’s Creed III, which I didn’t enjoy, had far more intriguing a story, with characters who served purpose, and at least tried to keep interesting throughout the game. Hell, it’s where they introduced ship to ship combat! Syndicate however… It doesn’t add anything. It just exists and that’s that. If it wasn’t for the setting and the Frye twins there would be little about this game worth mentioning, making it, to me at least, the worst game in the main series (again, not counting Unity).
So yeah. If you haven’t got the message yet, I recommend spending your time playing something else. If you haven’t played one of the older games go do that, especially Black Flag if you like pirates. If you are seriously desperate, borrow it off a mate who’s finished or wait until you can get it on the cheap.