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Assassin's Creed Syndicate review

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Summary

Our Score:

8

Pros

  • Atmospheric London setting
  • Two protagonists and styles of action
  • Impressive visuals
  • Improved controls and combat

Cons

  • Gangland activities grow repetitive
  • Systems becoming over-convoluted
  • Stale elements remain stale

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Available on Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed) and PC

For the first time, the roof-scrambling, hidden blade-wielding series is tackling Victorian London with Assassin's Creed Syndicate.

We'd argue that its a Victorian London more reminiscent of Guy Richie's Sherlock Holmes movies rather than one of Dickens, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.

Syndicate is a tale of dark conspiracies, violent gangs, child labour and heavy industry that succeeds in mixing up the well-established Assassin's Creed formula and introducing a well-needed breath of fresh life.

Not only is Syndicate taking Assassin's Creed to a new location, it's also the first to have two protagonists. The story stars twin assassins called Jacob and Evie Frye.

Evie is calm, stealthy, intelligent and proactive, and might just be the most likeable lead since Ezio.

But, Jacob is the most instantly dislikeable (apart from perhaps Connor Kenway), he's bold, a wannabe bad boy, cocky, arrogant and sure of himself to boot.

Related: 22 breathtaking London landmarks you have to climb in Assassin's Creed Syndicate

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The twin protagonists are reflected in a splitting of objectives and game styles. In Syndicate, Victorian London is the centre of the world and it’s dominated by the Templars on every level. They control industry, run the establishment and even command the London street gangs, all the time searching for the all-powerful pieces of Eden and – worse – for applications for their power. Jacob’s intent is to tackle the Templar’s power at street level, building a new gang, the Rooks, to fight the Templar’s chosen gang, the Blighters, taking them out borough by borough, territory by territory. Evie, meanwhile, is chasing the pieces of Eden. She favours working from the shadows, finding out what the Templars are up to and beating them to the prize.

In actual gameplay terms this gives you two sets of missions, with a string following Evie’s search and her battles against high-ranking Templars, while in the background you’re engaged in gang warfare, both through story-based missions and a repeated set of activities.

As well as clearing strongholds of Blighters, you’ll find yourself kidnapping leading thugs and delivering them to Inspector Abberline of Scotland Yard, or simply murdering others to take them out of the picture. You can weaken the Blighters’ grip by rescuing poor urchins from enforced hard labour, too. Clear a borough of all gang objectives, and you’ll find yourself in a climactic gang-battle with the local Blighter boss. In truth, it’s more like a post-pub scrap than Gangs of New York, but defeat the boss and another borough’s yours.

Related: Assassin's Creed Syndicate Tips and Tricks

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Wisely, Syndicate doesn’t restrict you too much in terms of which twin you use. There are some missions where you have to play as Jacob or Evie – and where the game will actually switch you automatically – but in many cases it’s just a case of how you like to play things. Jacob has health and extra damage on his side, but Evie is faster, stealthier and, in a way, more brutal.

Don’t go in expecting a gangland sim. This is still primarily a game of stealth, rooftop-running, climbing and close-quarters combat, and while you can recruit a couple of Rooks to help you on a mission, there’s no-one else to do the dirty work but you. On the other hand, you do get a cool travelling HQ on a moving train, plus the means to earn cash and upgrade your gang members, making them tougher in combat, giving them new equipment and capabilities or ensuring they’re a bigger presence in handy carriages on the London streets.

Related: Best PS4 Games 2015

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The carriages are a big thing here. Not only can you grab or hijack one to get you from A to B in half the time, but certain missions – and all kidnap missions – involve speeding away from pursuing Blighters with their own wheels to use. This is a lot of fun in short doses, as you weave your way through the horse-drawn traffic, side-swiping or shooting the enemy to wipe them off your tail, with responsive controls and all those great London sights to speed on past.

On top of all this stuff you’ll find your duo meeting up with some of the greats of Victorian society and innovation, including Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin and Alexander Graham Bell. Admittedly, Darwin is oddly spry for a distinguished elderly scientist, and his appearances aren’t the only time I felt like I might be playing a Horrible Histories Victorian game. Syndicate scores surprisingly well for period atmosphere and detail, from its penny dreadfuls to some surprisingly well-researched speech, but the accents can be dodgy or overblown, while bystanders still seem oddly oblivious to your activities, as if there’s nothing more natural for the average factory worker than a hooded woman prowling around the catwalks, leaping down to stick a blade in your supervisor’s throat.

Related: Xbox One vs PS4

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Meanwhile, there are all the usual chest to discover and collectibles to grab, plus numerous gang-related side missions and ad-hoc street missions to complete. PS4 players even get a set of murder mysteries to solve, interviewing suspects and using Eagle Vision on the crime scenes to work out who’s responsible for the evil deed. There’s not much more to these but they’re still entertaining, even if it’s a bit rich to be slaughtering Blighters by the dozen one minute, then accusing someone else of murder the next.

Syndicate is a big, meaty, Assassin’s Creed game, harking back to the glory days of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. London is huge – a larger open world than Unity’s Paris – and crammed with stuff to do. What’s more, the main systems have never been slicker. Combat is fast-paced and challenging, with a lot of emphasis on counters, but you can use the upgrade system to make your life easier, and the game cleverly tags opponents and missions so that you can gauge whether you’ve levelled-up enough to take them on. The core climbing and parkour stuff is cleaner than it was in Unity, too. While you’ll still find yourself accidentally clinging to a building when you’re meant to be dashing towards a timed objective – a perennial problem for assassins – it doesn’t happen quite as much.

Related: Best Xbox One Games 2015

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It’s a beautiful game, as well. I’m not sure Victorian London is always as pretty or lovingly detailed as Unity’s Paris was, while population density seems to have gone down, yet the game manages to capture both the industrial squalor at one end of the social scale and the pomp and grandeur at the other, and it’s hard not to love a game that lets you clamber up Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Hawksmoor’s churches, then drive a carriage without due care across the Thames. Atmospheric rain effects and a genuinely striking chamber music sidetrack only up the effect.

Yet while I like Syndicate – and like it a lot – I’m not 100% convinced. Partly it’s a structural thing: the game is at its best when it clamps onto the storyline and Evie’s quest, but to get to the next stage of the storyline you have to wade through all the gangland stuff, which gets repetitive as time goes on. There has always been a lot of busywork in Assassin’s Creed, but Syndicate makes a real meal of it and a lot of what used to be optional isn’t so optional here. This only draws more attention to the fact that Syndicate is still, at heart, full of the same old stuff you’ve been doing since the original Assassin’s Creed. If you were tired of the core gameplay already, Syndicate’s twists won’t revitalise your interest.

Related: PS4 vs PS3

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It can also be over-convoluted. For example, not only do you have separate skill trees for Jacob and Evie but separate upgrade systems too, plus an additional upgrade system for your gang and a whole scavenging and crafting thing on top of that. Ubisoft is often accused of mistaking systems for content, and Syndicate can feel like a case in point. You want to crack on with the action, but the game wants you to do your homework first.

Overall, the good stuff wins out and, whatever else you can say about Syndicate, it’s nowhere near as glitch as Unity or AC3 was at launch. I have seen the odd visual glitch and some occasional, terrible slowdown, but nothing really embarrassing. I might have just been lucky, but I’ve been playing with retail code and a Day One patch, so I’d hope that’s not the case.

Verdict

Big, beautiful, rich and atmospheric, Syndicate feels like a return to the glory days of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, where systems and story came together to produce something brilliant. The gameplay that was growing stale remains so while all the gangland stuff can bog things down, but Victorian London seems to suit the series and allow it to play to its strengths.

Overall Score

8

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Kulti Vator

August 6, 2015, 10:34 am

Really hope there's some variety in the horse-drawn carriage & train sections of the game - much as Black Flag was one of the best AC titles to date, some of the game mechanics were a real grind (The "Kenway's Fleet" mini-game being one of the worst offenders once the initial novelty factor wore off).

Not to mention the Royal Ship Convoy getting stuck bug that was never fixed, the Legendary Ship battle madness or the oddball multiplayer modes.

In short - a game that takes so much effort & dedication to complete really shouldn't punish you with some of the above bugs, fiendishness and repetition.

Dead Words

August 6, 2015, 11:43 am

I agree that Black Flag was the best game, and it had the best plot (since it wasn't just...vengeance) but yeah a lot of the missions were very repetitive. I just wonder why it took so many games for Ubisoft to figure out that bloated, repetitive gameplay wasn't what people wanted (like 3). What was IV like the sixth game in the series? Well I'm glad Ubisoft gave up on numbers because they clearly don't understand how they work haha.

Bob

October 22, 2015, 12:23 pm

nothing will beat AC2, was the complete game all of AC1 with different ways assassinating, bring back the old days with no guns just me and a blade

L4lefty

October 22, 2015, 7:18 pm

For the first time, I'm going to pass on this AC, for now. The whole franchise is tired, and whilst I might have a punt later on when the price comes down and the inevitable bugs are ironed out, I'm happy to wait and see these days...I just don't trust pre-ordering or day one purchases anymore. I'm done with ship and fix.
So, whilst admittedly I'll perhaps be looking on slightly enviously at friends playing this, Fallout 4 and Just Cause 3...I've learned patience is virtue, no more so than with gaming these days.

Saprotroph

October 27, 2015, 2:02 pm

I've watched hours of Syndicate gameplay and would have to agree with the 8 out of 10 score. My problem with the Assassin Creed games is the parkour. There's just too much of it for my tastes. Less parkour is one of the things that made Black Flag great. If parkour is your cup of tea then this version of Assassin's Creed fits the bill.

And what in the world does "repetitive" mean when it comes to games? All video games are "repetitive". It's just a matter of whether or not one likes a particular repetitiveness. Eating is repetitive and I still love it.

Neverfate

November 7, 2015, 2:07 pm

I think it's a matter of -feeling- repetitive. Sure all games are repetitive and that's what makes them games, but there's a difference in feel between well integrated goals that you naturally flow from one to the next and the grindy stuff that destroys your fridge logic and immersion. It can be especially bad now that some developers add heavy grinds into the game just to tempt you to bypass them with microtransactions.

Edit: This one looks interesting enough for me to look forward to seeing it on a Steam sale. I can't bring myself to shell out for a new AC when it hits shelves though, no matter how good the review.

Neverfate

November 7, 2015, 2:10 pm

I think their trend is to make the game in trilogies after the whole ACII, Brotherhood, Revelations thing worked so well.

R6ex

November 24, 2015, 2:37 pm

Just finished the campaign on PC. Wonderful experience. Had enough of nice cutscenes to tell a decent story. Nice to be able to swtich character most of the time. I loved Elise from ACU, and Evie Frye didn't disappoint either. Did I mention pretty as well? AC series has such strong female characters. Nice to have a happy ending (in contrast to ACU). The ending brought a tear to my eyes. Alas, all good things will come to an end ... a memorable end, though. Will remember Elise & Evie for a long time. :) Some said the game is repetitive. True, if you're bent on conquering all states. I didn't. I simply treated the conquering of states as a means to gain XP to level up. Once I have enough, I just concentrate on the main story. It does not have to be repetitive if you don't want it to. Technically, this PC version is sound. Had a few occasions where the game either hangs or have some glitch. None too bothersome though. Restarted and everything's fine again. This game is much more optimized and bug-free then ACU. Nice to have automatic saving too (while RPGs often require you to do tedious manual saving every now & then). Well, the animation of the fighting action impressed me too. The character models are nice. The crowds are there on the streets, making London a lively city. Was not able to buy Helix & XP points with real money though. Just got an error message. Well, nothing that can't be solved with a bit of grinding. Overall, looking forward to next year's game. :)

Johnny01

November 29, 2015, 8:55 pm

Video test on GTX 970:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

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