I can still recall the exact moment when Assassin's Creed was first shown on stage at E3. Yeah, I know, I'm old. Let's put that aside for a second, and think back to that moment. We had this new franchise with an assassin named Altair in the time of the crusades fighting Templars. It all sounded awesome.
I remember at one point the person on stage paused the game and the game's director at the time, Jade Raymond, frantically told them to cut the feed. That pause screen was the animus, and they didn't want people to know about that little twist just yet.
You see, the Animus (and later the Helix) would be the story tool that allowed Ubisoft to create a franchise where any time period was possible, and new characters could be explored with each entry. There was a present day story that tied everything together, showing the modern fight between Assassins and Templars, but otherwise the bulk of the games could take place anywhere and anytime they wanted.
Fast forward until now and we're on the ninth Assassin's Creed game (including rogue, but excluding the handheld versions). Last year's entry, Unity, was a complete mess and almost completely turned me off from a series I've been playing since the beginning. When Syndicate came out to positive reviews, I was skeptical, but I wasn't ready to throw away all that we had worked for together in the world of Assassin's and Templars.
Boy am I glad I didn't, because Assassin's Creed Syndicate is the return to form the series needed. It's not perfect, but it more than makes up for Unity (which we will not speak of again).
A Fresh Story With Fresh Faces
The Assassin's Creed games live and die by their protagonists. After all, you're going to spend the bulk of your time with them. Last year's Arno was a poor man's Ezio. I'm sorry, but it's true. This year we have two playable characters in the form of twins: Jacob and Evie Frye.
Jacob is obsessed with liberating London from the clutches of Templar gangs, while Evie is on the hunt for a new piece of Eden. It's perfect because they both have space to work towards their goals. If one person was trying to do all of this, it would come across as odd and unrealistic. Splitting the goals between brother and sister gives us room to breathe, and it give their characters room to grow.
Some may find Jacob to be an obnoxious hothead, but personally I felt like he was the Victorian Ezio, which is quite high praise. Unlike last year's Arno, Jacob has a confidence and swagger that just manages to tote the line between charming and arrogant. Evie on the other hand has the decisive and skillful personality to come across as an expert assassin and a driven individual.
It works, very well in fact. You can switch between the two and do side missions as whomever you like. Story missions will demand one or the other depending on the situation. The villains this time around are delightful as well. While some would argue that the main bad guy, Crawford Starrick, is your classic mustache-wielding business mogul, I would counter by saying that his personality betrays the stereotype completely.
He's mad, yes, but he has this vision for what he wants, and he's not willing to let anyone stand in his way. It's this hotheaded approach that makes him the perfect antagonist for our equally driven characters. His skewed and detailed vision of London's well-being clashes almost perfect with our own pursuits in a way that makes it feel like two sides of the same coin.
It's a tried and true method, but it works wonders here. I enjoyed every moment that Starrick was on screen, whether he was playing piano, or describing the exact process by which tea is made, packaged, and brought to him. He's a machine with passion, which is more than I can say about some of the previous villains in the series.
He feels real, as do his lackeys. They all control a slice of power, and they embody the Templar mindset perfectly in the sense that they believe they are doing the world a favor. It reminds us why the Assassins and Templars fought to begin with: a clash of ideals. Templars want control, while Assassins want free minds and free will.
Syndicate embraces this clash in a pure form that doesn't try to over-complicate it self, and ends up being one of the best stories in the series to date as a result. If there's one complaint here, it's that Ubisoft is still dragging their feet with the modern day story.
Yes, there are people who don't care about that aspect, but I'm one of the ones who does. The first four games in the series kept this other parallel plot moving at a steady pace, but then the five games kind of started to forget about it.
I want to know how all of these stories connect. That's what makes this series so unique. Otherwise Jacob, Evie, Edward, Connor, Ezio, and Altair all exist in a vacuum. That's not what I want, not at all.
Almost Flawless Gameplay...With a Side of Glitches
Compared to last year's farce, Assasin's Creed Syndicate is the most polished game in the world. It has glitches, don't get me wrong. I had to restart or reload missions more than a handful of times because I hit a glitch that completely halted my progress.
That being said, the majority of the game ran smooth as a butter. The frame rate this time around is much more stable, and the visuals hold together for a beautiful representation of London. The combat has been massively improved, with a faster rhythm and a more streamlined approach that doesn't involve a bunch of complicated maneuvers.
It can be a little repetitive, but it flows much better than ever before. New tweaks to Eagle Vision allow you to tag enemies and see their level in comparison to yours. The overly complicated armor and weapon system has been focused down into a much easier form complete with a skill tree and inventory separate for each character.
Micro Transactions make a return (thought I cannot for the life of me understand why) but thankfully they are not needed in the slightest, unlike last year. The major assassinations employ a far better system of pointing out opportunities and giving your chances to score "unique kills" that really make you feel like a true Assassin.
The final major change is a rope gun of sorts that allows you to zip up buildings and create lines between rooftops to move around faster. Some may see it as a cheat, but I found that it really helped with the pacing. Getting around faster in between missions made the game far more enjoyable for me.
Side missions this time around are perfect. Everything you do feels like an accomplishment. There's the classic collectibles, but taking over parts of London, freeing children workers, and recruiting people for your gang are all awesome distractions. In addition, the Charles Dickens missions were a highlight for me, tasking you with helping the famous author hunt down and debunk tales of the supernatural.
PS4 owners also get an exclusive set of missions called the "Dreadful Crimes." These ten missions are amazing mysteries where you get to interrogate suspects, find clues, and ultimately solve a wide range of incredibly unique murders.
In case you haven't guessed yet, Assassin's Creed Syndicate mixes in a lot of new features and elements that jive really well with the established formula. Everything fits together nicely, and the game is finally fun again. After nine games, to bring back that same wonder of assassinating a target is truly an accomplishment indeed.
Final Score: 9.0/10
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date - 11/4/15