Another year and another Assassin’s Creed steps forth to fulfil our running and stealth based needs. The games have certainly come a long way since Altair first donned his white garb and disrupted the Middle Eastern streets. Since then we’ve moved to Italy, Turkey, France, America and even the Caribbean. Our next destination is Victorian London and we eagerly dived in hoping to find a game to put into the series’ ‘good’ category.
We’ll have to be honest and say we didn’t really spend enough time with Unity to form an opinion on it so we are coming at this after the excellent Black Flag. We loved Black Flag and it’s about as close as we are ever likely to get to a modern version of Sid Meier’s Pirates! Jumping into Syndicate was a change of pace right from the start and the game certainly has a personality of its own. Syndicate is like sneaking your way through Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes version of Victorian London.
This time you take control brother and sister Evie and Jacob Frye who come to industrial London to loosen the Templar grip and stop them from taking over the world. You can switch between both characters freely and each one is a bit better at certain things. Evie is better at stealth and knives while Jacob is a better fighter and is better with a gun. You can level up your assassins by completing the various tasks and missions and then choosing what to spend experience on. You can also level up more quickly by paying real money which is something we are never a fan of. That said we never really found the ‘pay to win’ mechanic intruded upon our play through and is easily ignorable.
Evie and Jacob are excellent characters and each has a distinct personality. Their voice acting is excellent throughout and everything always stays the right side of ridiculous cockney accents. The strong voice cast help to make the story seem important and interesting and it’s one of the stronger entries in the series from a narrative point of view.
London itself is pretty much completely open to you from the very start. Different areas display the recommended level for you character to be but there is nothing stopping you going and trying to undertake side missions if you so wish. There are far fewer viewpoints though, so fast traveling around can be a bit of a pain. You do have a train which trundles around the map (and acts as your mobile base), which you can also fast travel to and this proves very useful at times.
The detail of London is excellent with horse drawn carriages rolling along the streets and a large population of NPC characters going around their daily lives. There’s been a bit of geographic manipulation but it gives a real feel of a city in the midst of an industrial revolution. When the sky dims and all the lanterns come on it can be very impressive to look at and we never grew tired of wandering around the streets on our way to the next objective.
Speaking of objectives, you are certainly not going to be short of things to do. As well as the main story missions there are countless other side quests to get involved in and endless amounts of trinkets to find. Each area of London is under control of a gang called the Blighters. In order to take it back you need to kill Templars, free work house children, take out gang members and kidnap criminals. These tasks all follow the theme of sneaking in somewhere and then either killing or capturing targets within enclosed areas.
Once the missions have been carried out the Blighters will challenge you and your gang the Rooks to a fight for the area. These are the only real low point of the game as the enemy gang leaders are huge tanks with massive health bars and you are stuck in an enclosed space with them and not able to use much of your equipment. We got stuck on one for hours as the boss could kill us with four hits and the game kept forcing us into quick time event sequences where he would continually strike at us when his health bar reached certain levels.
The easiest thing to do is try and kill the bosses when they first appear at the end of the initial gang war sections. If you can get them before they get away then you won’t have to deal with them later in the territory fight.
Aside from the tank bosses the only other major issue we had is the fact it has no colour blind options. There are now a ton of things represented on your map and for gamers with colour blindness you are likely going to struggle with identifying what they are. You now have your enemies, police, ally Rooks, escaping criminals, street kids, carriages and a host of other things. All represented by coloured dots with no other symbol. It’s really bad in this day and age to think that this hasn’t been taken into account and is certainly something that needs to be addressed to make it more accessible.
On top of these side missions you can also get involved in fight clubs, raid cargo, go looking for flowers, beer bottles and other collectibles and take part in ‘memory’ sequences which explore some of myth and folk lore of London. There’s so much to do that we spent hours skipping around away from the main quest and seemingly never even really made a dent in it.
Of course, if the game doesn’t play well then you aren’t going to want to spend hours with it. But this time everything works excellently. Your characters are fluid and control as you would want and combat is pretty much as it’s always been. You get a new gadget to play with which lets you grappling hook to the top of buildings and across large streets which solves the problem of London not perhaps fitting a free running world as cities have done in the past. The only bugs we found were that occasionally weapons didn’t appear in enemies hands and sometimes characters would vanish in cut scenes.
Overall, we had a lot of fun with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. It’s different enough from the other games to feel fresh while still holding onto the core of what makes the games great in much the same way Black Flag was. It’s a bit more action based than a lot of the other games and has bucket loads of personality. It’s certainly closer to the quality of Assassin’s Creed 2 than the miss-steps of the series. There are still a few frustrating sections and there will be many that feel the series should have stopped being an annual outing but you can’t deny that when the formulae works it creates a great adventure. Just sort out your colour blind options Ubisoft.
Colour Blind Issues - Yes
Review Code - Yes
Colour Blind Issues - Yes
Review Code - Yes