Well, it’s happened. I find myself in a position where, for the first time, I feel I must apologize to a game studio. I’m sure this will not be the last time I do it, but for today, Ubisoft you have the honor of being my first.
Some of you may recall an article I wrote a while back where I found myself in a position while playing Assassin’s Creed III where I couldn’t play the game anymore. I never even finished it, and the article I wrote upon this realization was a pretty brutal (yet respectful) takedown of the things I felt were wrong with the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Don’t get me wrong, Assassin’s Creed Black Flag was fun, but after Assassin’s Creed III it seemed more like a death rattle than new life being breathed into what seemed, at the time, to be a tired franchise. Then Unity released, and for me, that looked to be the nail in the coffin for the franchise. I tried numerous times to play through the game, even after the patches and the free content to make up for the horrible launch, but try as I might, finding the game enjoyable simply seemed impossible. In my mind Ubisoft had finally killed the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
This belief caused me to ignore all the hype, the news, reveals, and all other marketing done for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and in a way I’m glad I did, because when I finally sat down to play the game I had no expectations, or if I did, they weren’t good. I fully believed I would insert the disc, play 5 minutes, and then get in my car, and return it to it’s owner.
Except…that’s not what happened.
First of all, let me get this off my chest; Ubi stop it with Shaun and Rebecca, unfortunately, neither one of those characters were ever as engaging as Lucy or Desmond. They’re filler, and even their brief moments in Syndicate feel like filler. Not only that, but believing that Shaun can fight is an extremely high leap of faith that I don’t think even the most skilled assassin could pull off.
Seriously, are there actually people out there that missed these guys?
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at how Ubisoft has made me eat my words with Syndicate. For those of you who were like me and still have your head in the sand when it comes to Assassin’s Creed, Syndicate tells the story of twin siblings, Jacob and Evie Frye, two Assassins, who set their sights on the seemingly insurmountable task of freeing Industrial Revolution era London from the iron fisted grip of it’s Templar ruler Crawford Starrick. Throughout the adventure the Frye twins receive aid from, and help, a various group of historical figures such as Darwin, Karl Marx, Alexander Graham Bell, and more all whom left a definite mark on the time period, as well as start a massive gang uprising in their efforts to liberate Templar controlled London.
The first thing that caught my eye in Syndicate is the one thing that Ubisoft has never been bad at, relatively historically accurate representations of the time period’s architecture and buildings. It’s the same in Syndicate. Industrial Revolution era London and it’s surrounding boroughs are beautifully vibrant at one moment, and equally dismal the next as you move from the affluent areas of the city to the back alleys full of street smart children, and the dregs of London’s underbelly. The city is alive, and at times comes close to immersing you in the sights, sounds, and the bustle of life going on all around you. This is even more prevalent when visiting the Frye twins’ hideout, a locomotive that travels all around the city. Even over the noise of engines and train, players can still hear the sounds of the city surrounding them. From the yells of orphaned children, to the whinny of the horses carting around the city’s population. London is huge, and while the usual wall running and parkour will get you where you need to be in most cases easily, fast travel or hijacking a horse drawn carriage is your best bet to quickly get you to where you need to be.
Syndicate brings a new mechanic to the franchise, and one I felt was definitely the game changer for this title, as I stated, the game tells the story of twins Jacob and Evie Frye, two assassins with drastically different ways of doing things, and the game takes advantage of this by allowing players to switch between the two characters, almost seamlessly, with the exception being if you were mid mission, or in a mission specifically for Jacob or Evie.
Jacob is the bruiser of the brother sister team, and his play style definitely reflects this. The character itself is all the swagger of Ezio with all the ruthless brutality and hand to hand skills of Altair. This strength shows itself in Jacob’s preferred skill tree, finally culminating in a one man wrecking crew at max level. Jacob’s game play is violent and effective, with enemies easily eliminated in a flurry of brass knuckled blows, or vicious potentially dismembering blows courtesy of the many flavors of kukri knives available through quest completion or crafting.
If Jacob is the wrecking ball crashing through your living room wall, Evie is the shadow at your back door. Specializing in stealth, Evie’s focus is definitely one where breaking the least amount of eggs to make an omelet is the best way to get the job done, a stark contrast to Jacob’s melee-centric style. Progression through Evie’s skill tree gives players the ability to expose guards as well as essentially vanish from their field of vision allowing for quick assassinations and a clean getaway. Whereas Jacob’s favored weapon is the brass knuckles, Evie takes a more refined approach, preferring instead the more elegant sword cane which she uses with deadly efficiency of course both siblings can use any of the various weapons found throughout the game with brutal, yet artistic, efficiency. Fighting styles and skills are not the only way in which these two characters differ, their personalities are drastically different as well, with Evie being more soft-spoken and a tactician, whereas Jacob is definitely the bull in the china shop that is London. Seeing the dynamic between these two characters come to life through great voice acting, as well as story, gave me something that I feel had been missing from the Assassin’s Creed franchise, characters that fans could once again get behind and enjoy playing.
Ubisoft’s micro transaction system unfortunately returns in Syndicate but is really not needed. With the ability to complete missions for the various historical figures around the city it was generally easy to level up throughout the course of the story. Where the microtransactions could come in handy is in Syndicate’s crafting system. Throughout the game, either by finding locked chests or completing missions, players are able to pick up schematics for cloaks, upgraded weapons, outfits and armor, some which require specialized materials to craft, which are hid throughout the city, should players not want to spend their time exploring and rather do it the easy way, Ubisoft’s in game currency can be used to purchase crafting packs for a quick re-stock on materials like leather, or silk.
Given the fact that the game takes place throughout all of London, being able to quickly get from one place to another becomes key in the game. Players have the ability to unlock fast travel points throughout the city using the various synchronization points, as well any of the horse drawn carriages driving through the muddy cobblestone streets. If you can’t find an unmanned one, players can also hijack any driven carriage, Grand Theft Auto 1800’s style. Players also have the ability to make sure they always have a getaway carriage ready through the various gang upgrades available as the game progress, and more and more of London’s underbelly denizens rally to the Frye cause. The carriages and trains are a great additional to the bustle of London, but what really pushed the movement pacing over the top for me was the wrist grapple acquired from a certain Scottish inventor. The grapple completely changed the feel of the game, and while not as versatile as say Batman’s grapple is, the wrist grapple definitely sped up the pace of movement, allowing both Evie and Jacob to cross open squares, or contested areas above the guards’ heads and unseen, as well as zip line down from high vantage points for spectacular aerial kills.
Since the game’s release there’s been a couple of expansion of the story of London and the Fryes, one that caught my eye deals with the case of Jack The Ripper, I haven’t picked it up yet, but thinking about it, after all Syndicate definitely is a return to the Assassin’s Creed franchise that I have been waiting for. The game is fun, vibrant, and feels closer to the original 3 games than any other that have come out since. With the announcement that Ubisoft is no longer making a yearly Assassin’s Creed title, maybe we’ll see more of what made us all enjoy the franchise in the first place, just please, seriously stop it with Shaun and Rebecca.
If you are, or were still on the fence about this one, or had a lingering pain in the cockles of your heart because of Unity I highly recommend give Ubi another chance, Syndicate will heal that pain, I promise you.
Until next time
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