ReviewsAssassin's Creed Syndicate Review - A Tale of Brother-and-SisterhoodReviews - RSS 2.0
Developed by Ubisoft Quebec. Published by Ubisoft. Released on October 23, 2015. Available on Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, and PC (on November 19, 2015). Review copy provided by publisher.
"Whosoever controls London, controls the world."
Assassin's Creed Syndicate drops you in London, 1868, during the Industrial Revolution. The rich have gotten richer, and the poor, though they have new freedoms, have grown poorer. The title is set against the backdrop of criminal enterprise, where Templar Grand Master Crawford Starrick has influence over everything from police to politics. The Templar's iron grip on London is strengthened by a partnership with Maxwell Roth and his gang, the Blighters, whose presence dominates all seven boroughs. In Assassin's Creed Syndicate, you're tasked with clearing the Blighter influence in each of London's boroughs, simultaneously growing your own gang - The Rooks - and gradually releasing Starrick's influence on London. And, of course, you'll be assassinating a lot of people.
Syndicate's predecessor, Assassin's Creed Unity, was a beautiful disappointment: Often feeling cold, with a significant number of bugs and glitches at launch. Many, myself included, were worried that Unity was an indication of the end for Ubisoft's storied franchise, particularly considering it starred an unimpressive protagonist with a tired story. Is Assassin's Creed Syndicate enough to put the franchise back on track?
I believe it is.
This time around, Ubisoft ditched multiplayer in order to focus exclusively on a complete and satisfying solo experience. Assassin's Creed Syndicate has two playable protagonists: twins Jacob and Evie Frye. Jacob is a more physical character - the type that I am most typically drawn to and spent the most time with - while Evie is quick and stealthy. The attention given to the individual personalities of the characters was refreshing. There was a predictable sibling rivalry, although their influence on one another was equally apparent. Jacob is overly impulsive (not to mention a total dork, in a good way) while Evie is excessively methodical. Yet when they are together there is a feeling of completeness to their characters that wouldn't be possible to capture with only one or the other.
Syndicate opens with a pair of assassination missions, one for each twin. After completion, the two decide to go rogue, hopping a train to London with the goal of ultimately overthrowing the Templars and returning the city to the people who built it. The game has some impressive surprises, with the Frye twins making unlikely friends and even more unlikely enemies. The main story missions are customized to one or the other, however you can swap between the two characters outside of a story sequence, and can use either when completing a number of missions in each borough. I'll admit I was worried when I first heard about the interchangeability of the protagonists. It's a mechanic that often goes wrong, especially when each character has individual storylines. In Syndicate, the transition always feels seamless, and there's a balance ensuring choice is available to the player without jeopardizing the game's story.
While Assassin's Creed Syndicate obviously focuses on the Frye twins, their missions, and the relationships that they forge with a variety of different people, the real star is London itself. Ubisoft has always focused on implementing an intense amount of character in the Assassin's Creed locations, and Syndicate's London is no exception - on the contrary, I believe it to be one of the most spellbinding locations in the franchise's history. The setting captures the ups and downs of the Industrial Revolution, focusing equally on the corrupt wealthy and the disenfranchised who essentially live a life of slavery. London was not used as a mere environment in the game, but rather as a catalyst for every event that unfolds in the game. Each of the districts has a unique feel, from prosperous Westminster to the slums of Whitechapel. The music is customized to suit each area brilliantly, and by halfway through my time with Syndicate I was able to tell when I crossed borders without checking the map.
The controls in Assassin's Creed Syndicate feel much more fluid and responsive than in any of the earlier AC games. The combat has improved dramatically in Syndicate, like the fluid transitions from hand-to-hand combat to using an item. You can easily fire off a pistol in between punches, as key items are mapped to a single-press button that can be toggled without bringing you to a standstill. There's no awkward pausing to access weapons or items. Combat is fast paced and brutal, with fluid attacks, dodges, and transitions.