Not a review: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

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He who controls London controls the world. That the crux of the central, historical story in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. It’s uttered right in the opening chapters of this latest in the long and storied Assassin’s Creed series. It just so happens that the chap who controls London in Syndicate’s Victorian England is a right bastard; a tyrannical megalomaniac by the name of Crawford Starrick. He also happens to be the Grand master of the British Rite of the Templar Order – which is all the impetus that’s needed for Assassin rivals to want him and his order squashed.

“Today, Starrick sits at the helm of the most sophisticated Templar infrastructure known in the western world. Every class, every borough, the gangs, the industries – his reach extends all across London.”

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I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate for the past few days, and while I’ve not put in nearly enough time to pen a conclusive review, I thought I’d throw up some thoughts and impressions for you. I’ve played enough to get a feel for the branching, more open narrative, I’ve freed a few of London’s boroughs from Templar control, and I’ve levelled up my player characters sufficiently to see some of their unique skills and abilities. Once again, this is not a review, but rather how I feel about the game a handful of hours in to it.

When I first started the game, it reminded me most of Assassin’s Creed 3 of all games. Now before you roll your eyes back so fast that your head snaps clean off of its shoulders, remember that Assassin’s Creed 3 started off strong, introducing one of the best characters in the series; the charming and delightful Haytham Kenway. It was only hours later that the bait and switch happened, replacing the fun subterfuge, ye olde spy games and Haytham’s personality with the stoic and dull Connor. In those first few hours, Assassin’s Creed 3 held such promise.

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The same goes for Syndicate. Kenway’s been replaced this time by a pair of protagonists; Jacob and Evie Frye. It is, thankfully, not another origin story. The Frye twins grew up in the Assassins order, so there’s none of that faffing about with them finding their feet, discovering the magic of eagle vision and learning about the Creed. They’re fully-fledged assassins, newly relocated to London to carry on their father’s legacy. At least, that’s Evie’s plan.

The more grounded of the two, Evie wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and take on the Templars by finding and using pieces of Eden. Her brother, Jacob is more impetuous. He wants to take the Templars on by force, building up an army of gangs – his Rooks – and bashing away at the Templars, like a blunt object bashed against an enemy’s skull.

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I didn’t think I’d like Jacob much, he seemed another boring white male in a sea of white males in games, but he’s an affable chap with the sort of roguish charm that’s hard to dislike. The interplay, witty banter betwixt the two and their obvious love for each other despite their butting heads make them interesting characters to play as. You can switch between them and use either within the open world, but they each have specific missions so you’ll need to spend time playing as both. It’s a good thing then, as Assassin’s Creed inches ever closer to being an RPG, that when you earn experience points and their resultant skill points, you earn for both characters.

Their skill trees are, admittedly, very nearly identical, with just a few moves and abilities unique to each. Jacob gets more brutish, combat-focused upgrades while Evie’s additional skills lean towards stealth.

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Combat and stealth are both areas that I feel have improved this year. Though combat boils down to the same sort of dodge, parry, attack gameplay of games past, there’s a lot more flourish in the melee, with a slightly quicker pace, a great big combat multiplier and some lovely, brutal executions in play that make it a tad bit more exciting. Stealth, likewise, actually seems to matter more. The player, once in a stealth position, is now encircled with a stealth meter that shows little audio spectrograms showing enemy position, and the noise you’re making relative to where they are. From within the cover of darkness, Evie and Jacob can launch knives at faces for concealed killing.

New to the series is the physically improbable grappling hook, which allows for quick and easy vertical scaling, making getaways often easier than they used to be. It can also be used to fashion on-the-go lines which you’ll use to scurry from rooftop to rooftop. Given the scale of the buildings, how tall and how far apart they are, this helps keep the parkour action as fast-paced as it can be. There are, on occasion, targeting issues with the grappling hook not quite going where you want it to sometimes, but I’ve found the general movement far more fluid than before. It isn’t too removed from Unity’s implementation, with a button for going up while free-running, and another for going down.

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The city streets are longer and wider this time, which benefits the new vehicular drive. You’ll often have missions involving riding carriages, chasing or tailing people, and it works. Video game horses are, by their nature a bit stilted, but it’s more fun that I thought it would be, especially enacting action hero stuff like climbing to the top of a carriage, to jump from its roof to another vehicle while both are moving.

There’s the borough and gang warfare stuff, which I’ve played with, but not touched too much. Like your own skills, you can spend money and resources to upgrade The Rooks, who you can drag in to fight for you. Clearing one of the boroughs, places like Whitechapel, London City, Westminster, etc make it less likely that you’ll be accosted by Starrick’s own gangs.

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The city is alive, but with it being industrial revolution England it is darker and drearier than the magnificent opulence of the French Revolution, so it does look like the game’s taken a visual step back. Whether that’s down to technical reasons or art design is for somebody else to delve in to, but from my perspective, the game looks quite spiffing; its recreations of the Palace of Westminster’s clocktower (often mistakenly referred to by Big Ben, the name of the ball that resides within its clock), the Thames and other London landmarks are all exquisitely detailed.

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I’ve been playing it on the Xbox One, and it not only looks good, but runs well enough too. There are occasional frame drops, and on the whole it runs below its intended 30fps, but I’ve not seen any great big bugs, unrendered faces or people falling through floors.

There aren’t great big, sweeping changes to the established formulas here – it’s still very much Assassin’s Creed. Kill people, synchronise viewpoints, muck about in the open world collecting things, opening chests and engaging in crowd events. That’s all still here – but the setting, its characters and the little changes that have me wanting to play it more. Yes, I actually want to leave my desk and play more of the game, which I think is all that really needs to be said.

We’ll have our review up, with a score and everything once we’ve finished the game.

Last Updated: October 22, 2015

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Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I’m old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time – they were capable of being masterpieces. I’m here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

  • Bob of the Khundelar

    Good to see some positive feedback from an AC game especially after Unity.

    • oVg

      lol that was before all the haters like me hijacked the thread. They still need to pay for what they did with Unity.

      • Bob of the Khundelar

        No game is perfect and no game launches as perfect these days. I don’t mind people calling out shoddy code or poor performance but hate just for making a game or using a particular distributor (general example) is uncalled for.

        Ubi has probably made more than their fair share of mistakes over the past few years but I enjoy their games and I think that is all that matters. Games should be about enjoyment, the rest is ancillary.

        • oVg

          true

        • Bagel

          “No game is perfect and no game launches as perfect these days.” And why is that? Because people are A- Okay with shitty half-assed games. Ubi knows they can release a product like Unity and still make money. Its pathetic.

          • Bob of the Khundelar

            It’s not just Ubi, it’s all studios on all platforms. Name one game that hasn’t launched with a day 1 patch or some issue over the past 5 years (at least). I’m sure the list would be very small.

            People aren’t happy with poor games it’s just only recently we as gamers and buyers could do something about it. This is why Steam refunds are such a popular thing at the moment. All we do is hope developers get the message and that things improve going forward.

          • Bagel

            Im honestly too stoned to go and find you that list. But i agree a very small number of games.

            Well for eg. Why are DLC’s still a thing? Because it makes money. No one is forcing gamer’s to purchase these things. My point being that if gamer’s don’t do something its not profitable thus it will stop.

            So if gamers reject a poorly released game, it wouldnt be such a wide-spread issue, in my opinion. But you see people giving a company like Ubi their money before they even have a working version infront of them.

            Steam refunds is a beautiful change. Devs do get the message, but publishers have the final say. Unfortunately.

  • Grand Admiral Chief

    All good and well, BUT, will it actually WORK on PC this time?

    • Well, it’s only out on PC in November – so hopefully.

      • Grand Admiral Chief

        I thought Unity only recently worked properly? And how old is that game again…?

        😛

        Jokes aside, I’m hoping it will work for those getting it

      • oVg

        lol I see what U did there. Fallout 4 BABY!!!

    • I’ll let you know how the PS4 version works 😛

      • Grand Admiral Chief

        Lol, you sure do bring the ASS to Assassin’s Creed

        • and you bring the DICK to SynDICKate <3

  • Valshen

    “Once again, this is not a review, but rather how I feel about the game a handful of hours in to it.”

    But you played more than a lot of local reviewers will before putting their review up?

    • I called that!

    • I could have slapped a score on this and called it a day, but that would be disingenuous.

      • oVg

        I bet it would have been higher than the score you gave TLOU

        RUNS

      • Grand Admiral Chief

        At least you did not give it a 4/10 dafuq rating….

        #TooSoon?

  • oVg

    Top Tip, its called character development. Bring Ezio back.

    The problem with jumping into another history tour of a city is that you cant develop a character to stand for the franchise besides that Desmond dude who was as bland as a middle aged hacker in a cap.

    • Grand Admiral Chief

      I REALLY enjoyed Ezio, what a character

      • oVg

        Thats because he had 3 games like Nathan Drake. He was coooool and brought a sense of revenge to the table. I also enjoyed the little side quest of building up the Villa, now they probably make you do that with fremium gameplay via an iPhone App.

        • Grand Admiral Chief

          I still have to play Revelations….

          • Rock789

            Good game that. I enjoyed it more than Brotherhood. And a nice rounding off of the Altair / Ezio saga, I thought.

  • Milesh Bhana

    Geoff, what do you think of the current day storyline in Syndicate? i’ve heard that it’s getting a major revamp since it was mostly ignored in Black Flag and Unity.

    • I havent done too much of it, so it’s still a lot of rebecca/shaun and abstergo twaddle – but it does seem to be going right for the heart of the modern day assassin/templar struggle.

      • oVg

        lol I bet there is no ending. It will be another Adam and Eve teaser.

        • Mistake Not…

          Seriously, that would have been interesting if it was played out properly. But it’s Ubisoft.

          • oVg

            Carrot on a stick. I bet the ending is sequel bait.

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            Rince is on a stick?

          • oVg

            Sounds like a free to play game.

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            So we are free to hit him with a stick?

            Sounds like we have a kick(hit)starter right here folks

          • oVg

            Ill send you my Pay Pal details…

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            One dorrar

      • Milesh Bhana

        meh, i was hoping for more than just those two saying random stuff. new modern day characters, including whoever is driving the animus.

        The idea was solid, Desmond was just boring.

  • “below its intended 30fps” lulz

    • oVg

      lol At least its Cinematic.

      • HAHA! Only because the smog hides half the screen

        • oVg

          Like the Silent Hill game on the PS1 LOL

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        No it’s not, 30fps is cinematic – below 30fps is like one of those books with the drawings where each page has a minor change and it looks animated when you flip through it. ;P

  • (Umar) Must be Cipher

    Saw some videos of glitches, but alas, people are gonna blow it up to make it look like the game is completely farked again.

    • I played this a few weeks back with Nikola. I was not impressed at all. I can only hope the version we played was the Beta. ‘Round’ windows with more straight lines than a drug dealers mirror…

      • oVg

        Is it cross gen? They keep the polygons low for the 360 but just up the res for the next gen. Thats why they still have hexagonal circles.

        • Not sure, but seriously man, I was like what year is this?

          • oVg

            I suppose playing Shadow of Mordor and then going back to this old combat engine must be frustrating. Watching that dude in Unity spinning around with his sword and doing kill animations while the enemies are still 10 meters away while getting stuck in the geometry forces one to take the stealthy approach lol as zoe said in her review last year.

          • Agreed. The movements were clunky compared to Mordor, stickier than darryn in a Cosplay store…

          • oVg

        • Rock789

          Nope – current-gen only. Rogue was the last last-gen AC game.

      • Nikola

        Yeah I was not impressed with the technical side of game graphics and so on did not look good!

  • oVg

    Haytham Kenway? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA I must have been sleeping under a rock, its the first time Ive heard it. I suppose its a better name than… shit I forgot it again… arghhhhh!!!! that dude from Watchpuppies….

    Desmond, Dan, Pierce? I think the surname is Pierce.

  • Mistake Not…

    Hopefully other reviewers won’t be like ‘It’s not as buggy as Unity”, or “Compared to Unity…”. This is a game in itself and it should be treated as such.

    • oVg

      Give it a week before the gifs start rolling out of Protag British person falling through the floor.

      • Mistake Not…

        Or the biggest bug of all: a british person drinking anything other than tea. The game would be condemned.

        • I am pretty sure the Brits have a reputation for drinking other stuff, like warm beer 😛

          • oVg

            Australian warm beer, in a four pack 😛

        • oVg

          with an American accent thanks to the Animus translator 😛

  • Nice grappling hook, Batmansassin’s Creed.

    • Grand Admiral Chief

      Oh you

    • oVg

      Fatman stole that shit from Rico Rodriguez

      • no, you still need to parkour in, up and around everything. The hook is great for long stretches, and for helping you go up.

        • oVg

          cool .Nobody does parkour better than the French.

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    Assassin’s Credit syndicate. tee hee.

    • oVg

      Shoo!!! You are not getting comment of the week again

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        lol It’s not me – read the article tags. 😛

        • oVg

          as subtle as a silent b.

    • You shush you!

  • Bagel

    Intended 30fps.
    C I N E M A T I C E X P E R I E N C E

    • Grand Admiral Chief

      Hahaha

      Oh, wait.

      H A H A H A H AH A H A

  • Nikola

    Awesome it seems reviews are very positive everywhere will pick it up on the holiday season now I just need to get through Unity:(

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