Developed by: Ubisoft Quebec
Published by: Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia and PC
Released in October 2015, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is the ninth major instalment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise and the first title to feature dual lead protagonists. Set amid the Industrial Revolution of Victorian London, twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye arrive to the capital to help overthrow the Templars, who are searching for another legendary Piece of Eden. As is customary for the Assassin’s Creed games, the open-world map is filled with intricate details and is an astonishingly accurate representation of the city with numerous key landmarks brought to life. Ubisoft excels in crafting these immersive environments that exemplify the spirit and mood of the eras they depict, resulting in some of the most realistic virtual landscapes ever created.
To help traverse 19th Century London, players can use grappling hooks to zip from building-to-building or hijack horse-drawn carriages to cover longer distances. This focus on vehicular travel and the larger-sized map leaves the game feeling like a ‘Victorian Grand Theft Auto’ with numerous missions revolving around using carriages. Players are still required to use the traditional roof top parkour for missions, particularly the stealthy assassination sequences, but it is interesting to see the game introduce a new gameplay element. Players are able to switch between Jacob and Evie at any point in the game, with Jacob favouring outright combat versus Evie’s more stealth-driven skills. For the most part the characters are identical, aside from a few exclusive skills that tailor to their strengths.
As twins, Jacob and Evie Frye introduce a new relationship dynamic to the Assassin’s Creed franchise, that of bickering siblings. With two opposing ideas on how to tackle the Templars, the two constantly argue with each other and rather fittingly, their success hinges on them finally learning how to work together as a team. I really liked the characterisation of both Jacob and Evie; Jacob has a devil-may-care attitude and is constantly sarcastic to his friends and foes, whilst Evie is more studious and driven in her approach, with a Lara Croft-inspired character model. Their adventure sees them cross paths with a number of notable figures from the period such as Florence Nightingale, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Alexander Graham Bell. Of these, Graham-Bell might be my favourite as he injects a cheerful child-like wonder into the few missions he appears in.
The majority of these characters provide the Frye Twins with side-missions such as Bounty Hunts, Cargo Hijacks and Child Liberation – with successful completion of these missions building up the loyalty of these associates, which in turn awards limited-edition items. Character development is based upon a combination of XP, skills allocation and items; the crafting system is relatively basic and allows players to create cosmetics, weapons and tool upgrades. The game introduces a variation of the ‘brotherhood’ system first seen in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, with Jacob’s street-gang, ‘The Rooks’, who can assist the player during open-world combat. Upgrades and improvements can be made to the gang using cash and resources, but the game never really capitalizes on the ‘syndicate’ aspect in a meaningful way.
Even the collectables are relatively streamlined compared to other releases, with only a small amount of items (posters, flowers and letters) actually tied to the achievements system. Unfortunately, the achievements for this game are extraordinarily buggy and multiple achievements failed to pop for me, resulting in me having to replay the game in ‘offline mode’ in order to force them to work. It was extremely frustrating, and definitely impacted my enjoyment of the game.
While Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate does have an enormous map and plenty of side-missions to occupy player’s time, it definitely felt shorter than Assassin’s Creed: Unity with about 30-40 hours gameplay time. There are also a number of post-game DLC content packs; one of which, The Dreadful Crimes, is exclusive to PlayStation and PC. As I played this on Xbox One, I only had access to The Last Maharaja and Jack the Ripper missions. The Last Maharaja is a ten-part addition to the main game which sees Jacob and Evie working Duleep Singh against the British Indies Company (BIC) and Templars – for the most part, gameplay is similar to the core title aside from a fun murder mystery sequence at the start of the storyline. The Jack the Ripper DLC is more of a full expansion, and takes place twenty years after the main game, with its own skill tree and additional side-missions. The biggest change is the inclusion of ‘fear tactics’ which allow Evie to scare her foes into submission; this new dynamic feels reminiscent of the Batman: Arkham games (a franchise that Assassin’s Creed often shares DNA with) and how Batman uses fear to intimidate his enemies in the stealth segments.
While the Assassin’s Creed franchise has always featured open-world exploration as a core facet of its gameplay, it is Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate that feels like a true Grand Theft Auto-esque ‘sandbox’ game with its emphasis on road vehicle gameplay. The Victorian London setting is a natural fit for the franchise, and Ubisoft even gives players a glimpse at World War One setting, although this segment feels detached from the main narrative and deserving of its own title. Jacob and Evie are refreshingly different types of protagonists compared to the typical Assassin’s Creed lead, and it is fun to switch perspectives between the two throughout the game. While some attempts are made to individualise the two, I’d have liked a greater distinction in game style between the two aside from a few perks.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is a solid mid-tier title for the series, but there are definite signs of a tired franchise here despite the new innovations introduced; so it’s no surprise that Ubisoft took a break from its annual release schedule to develop Assassin’s Creed: Origins. As much as I enjoyed the adventures of the Frye twins, the game lacked the same ‘wow factor’ that could be found in previous titles.
Score – ★★★★
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia and PC from Amazon UK