Sequels, remakes and comebacks seem big on the agenda for developers again of late. I mean they always are, but this year feels like there’s more than ever. Anyway, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate fulfils two of those categories – it’s yet another sequel in the long running series and is hopefully the comeback we’ve all been waiting for since the less than stellar previous game Assassin’s Creed: Unity.
Set in grimy old London in 1868, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing but so too is the world of underground crime. Gangs are thriving in a time when the Assassin Brotherhood is all but a memory and the Templars have finally regained control of the Church and the Monarchy.
Here we find the two stars of the game – twins Jacob and Evie Frye. Leaving their old home behind, these two trained assassins, loyal the to ancient Creed, head to London town to take back power from the Templars while growing their own street gang, The Rooks.
Helping them along the way are notable historical figures like Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin – who as it turns out were more than just academic geniuses but were also apparently big fans of killing people from the shadows. Really though, all I could think is how are they going to manage to shoehorn in Jack the Ripper despite him not being a threat until 1888. Then again historical accuracy is collateral damage in an Assassin’s Creed game.
Players can switch between the two protagonists at any time and utilise their individual skills. The main difference that players will notice is Jacob feels like more of a brawler while Evie has more stealth prowess. This time around, weapons are more modernised to reflect the time period with the brass knuckles, a cane sword, a Nepalese kukri blade and a trusty revolver being your primary tools of engagement. Combat itself is a much faster affair with enemies not waiting around for their turn as much and multiple foes going in for the kill at once. There’s also tonal shift in combat with Syndicate having a more brutal feel to it than any of the previous games. Punches land with a real thud here as your brass knuckles pummel enemies into submission. It’s not Mortal Kombat X of course, but it’s certainly a visceral step up from other Assassin’s Creed games.
A gadget making its debut in Syndicate is the rope-launcher that complements the classic free-running you’ve been using for years to scale buildings. To use it simply walk up to any wall press the prompted button and you’ll automatically shoot up a grappling hook, attach it to a ledge above and start ascending faster than you could with your hands and feet alone.
So too can you use the rope launcher to create long zip-lines between buildings that help you move horizontally across large distances without having to touch the ground or find an alternative path. This becomes increasingly important the more you play as London features some very wide streets and varied building heights meaning the rope-launcher is handy for keeping the game’s momentum going.
Another new addition is ground vehicles in the form of the horse and cart. Granted previous games have had rideable horses before, but the addition of a carriage adds a Victorian-era Grand Theft Auto layer to the game (as if multiple protagonists wasn’t enough) as you race down the cobbled streets of London.
During my demo I had to pursue a target who was escaping in their own private carriage. While in pursuit I was forced to start ramming my enemies out of the way before climbing on to the roof and firing off a few shots from my revolver. I was also told you can leap to other carriages from here, but the chase was getting hectic enough as it was without with that added pressure and landing a deadly moving vehicle jump. Plus I felt bad for the horse and didn’t want to stress it out anymore.
Another vehicle that I wish I knew more about are the massive steam trains that I did mange to see briefly as I watched Jacob clamour over one while in pursuit of an enemy. There were also a lot of boats floating in the river Thames, but as is often the case with these demos — details are hard to extract from tight-lipped developers.
Regardless of what we do and don’t know if you top and think about the state of the world during this time period it’s easy to think of ways Syndicate could be the radical departure the series so desperately needs.
The Assassin’s Creed series has been a mixed bag of late. Assassin’s Creed III was a bit of a misfire but then Black Flag turned out great while Unity went off the rails again. Maybe it’s like the Star Trek films where every other instalment is the one to watch?
But anyway, during my time with the game I did manage to get good feel for how it will play from moment to moment but what will define it is how compelling the long game is. It’s how engaging building and maintain a gang on the mean streets of Victorian era is while you’re also working on your next big target.
So here’s hoping Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate can bring this once mighty series back from the doldrums and restore our collective faith in the franchise. I think a lot of gamers are ready to move on and love this series again; all they need is a game they can rally behind. No pressure or anything Ubisoft.