Filling the gap left behind by Ezio Auditore was obviously one of the hardest issues that the Assasin’s Creed series has to face. The fact that neither Connor, nor Edward, and especially Arno have managed to do that could be considered alarming. And while the AC3 was a miss when we consider the barely used setting and it’s mild protagonist, here the situation is much more complex. We have reached the point in which AC looks less like it should, and more like a generic action adventure that Ubisoft cranks out every 12 months. That trend of yearly releases is obviously taking it’s toll. The different attempts to spice up the AC formula seem more and more forced and bring nothing innovative into the series, but rather feel like changes for the sake of changes.
So, what has Ubisoft cooked for us this year? The setting for Syndicate is 19th century London, in the time of the industrial revolution. We follow the actions of Jacob and Evie Frye, twin brother and sister and members of the order of assassins. For the first time in the series we have the protagonists that are members of the sect right away and we don’t get to witness their initiation. Let’s get this out of the way early – Ubisoft has abandoned the idea of a co-op mode, so you’ll be playing as either Jacob or Evie. Which one of them depends on your play style or specific situations. Jacob is a tough guy who prefers to solve problems with his fists or weapons, while Evie is much more subtle and her specialty is to stealthily complete her tasks and remove targets.
At the start of the game we have two introductory missions, one for each assassin, in which we get acquainted with their basic capabilities and glimpse the game’s mechanics. After the intro, the pair heads to London where their main assignment awaits: to free the city from Templar tyranny and find the Precursor box that’s hidden there. The brother and sister are diametrically opposite when it comes to their priorities. Jacob aims to create his own gang (and thus fulfill the boyhood dream of being a gang leader), while Evie is much more assassin-conscious and her priority is to find the artifact before the Templars do in hopes of it helping them in freeing the city.
The open world that we get to explore in this game, embodied in London undergoing an industrial revolution, is faithfully and well presented. There’s everything, from the Big Ben, Edward’s house, to Westminster Palace. The city center is a personification of wealth and bourgeoisie, while on the other hand the ghetto is a faithful copy of what’s described in, for example, Oliver Twist. So when looked at from the perspective of presentation of the game’s setting, Syndicate is brilliant, like all other AC titles for that matter. However, the main quality and focal point of every AC game was the main character and a well thought out and complete story. Here we have neither, or rather not to the extent that we would have preferred, and ultimately expected. Syndicate is an ok game, but it doesn’t warrant a bigger compliment than that. And that could be the worst possible category for an AAA title to be put in. There are no bugs to ruin the gameplay like in Unity, but there’s no real story either. Or a real story at least, one with an intriguing plot and interesting characters. Even the main protagonists aren’t especially interesting, with Evie being sort of an exception. Besides, here we have perhaps the least interesting set of historical figures to meet in game. In comparison to the Borgias, the Medicis, Leonardo da Vinci, to Washington or to captain Blackbeard, the characters that we meet in London such as Darwin, Bell and Queen Victoria, are mild at best, not to say even boring.
When it comes to the missions and the basic game mechanics and story development, during gameplay you’ll get the feeling that the enemies aren’t doing anything to stop you. Therefore the missions become relatively boring after a while. How much the core of the assassin-experience is dulled down is best illustrated with a new gadget you have at your disposal. It’s a grappling hook with which you can climb anywhere without much trouble. When we consider that a vast portion of the player base enjoyed climbing towers and buildings around them, the implementation of this gadget to us seems to be a mistake. It may be useful and it speeds up the gameplay, but all the charm of climbing tall buildings is lost with it.
On the technical side of things, Syndicate has fulfilled the expectations. Unlike Unity, this game is almost bug-free, with the exception of FPS loss in certain points. London has been recreated in great detail and the developers have taken care of even the smallest elements. The music has a Victorian vibe to it and you may possibly get sick of hearing the violin, as it can get irritating at times. The faces look a bit washed out and are not very expressive, which slightly spoils the overall visual impression. The most brilliant visual point (along with the Big Ben) is the train on which you can ride through London. As well as looking excellent, it will also serve as your main hub, with all the requirements of an assassin’s headquarters.
Another point at which Syndicated failed to impress is combat. There are two sets of moves, one for each main character, as well as two sets of abilities to upgrade. The combat is fluid, but the controls often lead to the action being reduced to simply mashing the buttons. That might have been fine if we didn’t feel like we were fighting the air. The execution is not nearly as interesting as it was in Black Flag or AC2. And to add insult to injury, there are the completely overdone kill-combos which look like they came from the World Wrestling Entertainment. Another objection would be aimed at the control layout on the joypad where the multifunctional buttons often complicate gameplay.
So, what to conclude here? Before us is a game that’s not as plagued by serious technical issues like it’s predecessor. But it’s also a game suffering from an identity crisis. When it comes to the Assassin’s Creed series, Syndicate serves as a reminder that AC hurts from being a yearly release. On the other hand, as an AAA title for this holiday season, this year Ubisoft at least managed to deliver a decent game that can serve as a fun single playthrough. If you’re a fan of the series, you probably don’t want to miss Syndicate. If you simply want to play an AAA title near the end of the year, this game can serve you as well. But if you’re someone who’s passionate about video games and expects more from a title into whose development went a lot of money, then unfortunately you won’t find that here.
Author: Borislav Lalović