The Assassin’s Creed series had a lot to make up for after last year’s disappointing installment. While Assassin’s Creed Syndicate isn’t revolutionary, it delivers where it counts: it’s downright fun. Over the years, the story of Assassins versus Templars, all the way from the past to the modern day, has become convoluted and hard to follow for everyone but the die-hard fans. For the most part Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a game focused on the past, spending little time with the modern day plot. In fact you never even have to play in modern times. This allows 19th century London to be at the forefront. With the wonderful job Ubisoft Quebec did assembling this world you’ll be glad to spend your time there.
You play as Jacob and Evie Frye, twin assassins that set off for London to fight against the tyranny of the Templar Crawford Starrick. Overall, the story is a little lackluster and simple but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Ubisoft Quebec instead opted to focus on characters. Evie Frye is immediately interesting, she’s a confident female assassin that has a certain aura I was immediately drawn to. She’s one of those characters you instantly want to know more about. While I would’ve loved to know more, ultimately her journey was satisfying enough. On the other hand, her brother Jacob is a reckless, cocky assassin who, while at first seems intolerable, grows on you with each mission. The siblings play style also matches their personality. Evie is better at stealth while Jacob is better at combat. While these protagonists themselves are good characters, the real stars are the historical figures that have been re-imagined. From Charles Dickens to Charles Darwin, it’s exceeding interesting to see these figures come to life. I won’t spoil all the characters here because part of the thrill is running into these people and realizing you know them. While other games in the franchise have used historical figures well Assassin’s Creed Syndicate features so many of them and they are all well done.
London is both more vertical and spacious than any Assassin’s Creed game I’ve played before.
Ubisoft Quebec did a wonderful job crafting 19th century London. First of as you’d expect the game is gorgeous. I constantly found myself climbing to the tops of buildings and gazing in awe at my surroundings. While the game only takes place in London make no mistake it’s quite expansive. The beauty of Westminster juxtaposed against the soot spewn factories of Lambeth ensure that while it’s one city, the scenery is quite diverse. Snaking through the middle is the river Thames which is really a standout as I’ve never encountered an area quite like that in a game before. Thames features constantly moving boats meaning that each trip through the area is never really the same. With this spacious river and the sizable roads of the time resulting in large gaps between many buildings Ubisoft Quebec had a solution, rope launcher. Once this gadget is introduced you’ll have no idea how you ever played Assassin’s Creed without it. Scaling buildings and zip-lining over buildings is simple and effective. Basically, London is both more vertical and spacious than any Assassin’s Creed game I’ve played before. And the rope-launcher ties it all together.
I have to say I was really impressed by Assassin’s Creed Syndicate‘s mission structure. It never feels stale. Each mission I went on felt unique from the last. They do a great job mixing and matching similar activities within missions to make each one feel unique. For example there could be two missions that require you to kidnap someone. One of them is a case of mistaken identity where you are actually lead into a trap while the other gives you information that leads to a Templar hideout. As you can see, while both missions have similar primary objectives, they go in opposite directions. This along with unique story elements and the dynamic world means you’ll never have the sensation that you’ve done this before.
Then there are the assassination missions that bookend each sequence. These missions are definitely some of the highlights of the game. While each one ultimately has the same goal, to assassinate a target, they are assembled wonderfully. Each one gives the player the freedom to assassinate the target as they see fit, but points out opportunities that might make it easier or lead to a unique kill. For example you could simply try to sneaking into a theater through an entrance on the roof or as the game points out, you could sneak to the basement steal a ticket and move in through the front door. You could assassinate the target from above or again as the game points out you could try to hide behind a painting and burst through at the right moment. While it may have been nicer to discover these unique mission opportunities without assistance it’s likely you’ll never find them at all without the game presenting them.
The lack of variety in side missions brings to the forefront that Syndicate feels a little rushed.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has, like many other third-person action games, adopted the combat style from Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series. It consists of attacking and countering with the ability to build up a combo meter and use special attacks. It works well here, as combat is for the most part fun if not a little simple. With the rope launcher traversal is better than ever but movement can still be clunky. Every now and then, Jacob or Evie will not jump where intended which can result in enemies being alerted. This can be frustrating as certain areas require stealth infiltration and because lets face it its oh so satisfying to finish a mission without getting seen.
When not on story or side missions there’s still plenty to do. London is separated into seven different boroughs all with territories to capture by completing objectives. Once all the objectives in an a borough are completed you’ll have a gang war and if you beat the leader of the current gang the area is yours. Doing this means that you’ll see less enemies and more allies in the areas you’ve captured. Unfortunately these side objectives get old very quickly. There are only objective types and they are all similar. For the most part you are entering an area and either capturing, killing or freeing a target. The worst part is that these aren’t completely optional. The player must capture at least three boroughs to start sequence eight. This is a little annoying as it doesn’t allow you to necessarily play the game quite how you’d like. This lack of variety in side missions brings to the forefront that, in some aspects, Syndicate feels a little rushed. There basically only four enemy character models and I ran into many bugs, some of which caused me to have to restart missions. While some of these issues aren’t egregious you can’t help but notice the lack of polish.
Thankfully those are the only real complaints I have with Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Otherwise it’s simply a joy to play. Even after the credits roll on the main story there is plenty to do including a surprise that I won’t spoil but was a great glimpse into a different era. And of course it wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed game if there wasn’t hundreds of collectibles to find. So if you’re looking to scratch that Assassin’s Creed itch again Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a return to form if not a little rough around the edges.
A PlayStation 4 copy of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was purchased by the reviewer. To learn more about our score, read our review policy.