Assassin’s Creed is the mega franchise that Ubisoft cannot let go. The annualization of the history trotting series has brought with it equal measures of surprises and disappointments. Black Flag and Unity both represent contrasting ends of those scales, with last year’s Parisian adventure failing to live up to expectations. Syndicate, sadly, isn’t helping things yet.
Set on the banks of the river Thames and in an industrially booming London, Syndicate brings a lot of new toys to the Assassin’s repertoire. There are guns, chariots and wrist-mounted grapple hook launchers, which all act to enhance and streamline the core gameplay that the franchise has become famous for. The game is immediately familiar, and sitting down to play though the same gameplay demo we saw a few weeks ago, I was right at home.
That’s part of the problem already. Running around as Jacob Frye, I could just as easily scale buildings and scurry across rooftops as I have with Arno in Paris, with the simplified parkour system working just as well as always. With London being a more vertically daunting city, great chasms between structures becomes a problem – which makes your new, Arkham-esque grappling hook a fairly frequent gadget option.
Zipping between buildings is just as fluid and fun as platforming has ever been in the franchise, allowing you to get into some truly advantages assassination positions. Leaping off balconies and plunging your hidden blade deep into enemy necks is just as satisfying – if not at all different to anything the series has produced thus far. Environmentally contextual actions, like dropping crates on targets or using fires to enhance poison dart area effects, do give you more attacking options – even if they feel a little too on the nose for my liking.
Moving swiftly along, I quickly cleared out an enemy stronghold that is used to initiate one of many “Free the City” styled missions. Throughout your adventure you’re going to have to take back London from the organised crime that grips it, and it seems like these sorts of activities will be interweaved into both main and secondary storylines. With the hideout cleared, the Templar leader appeared, triggering a chase through the busy carriage filled streets.
Jacob can essentially hijack any cart he pleases, giving Syndicate a pace that other Assassin’s Creed title haven’t had before. chasing down the Templar while avoid civilians (badly, I might add) was one of the more exciting set-pieces I engaged in with my time with the title. A hands-off presentation revealed similar ones too it as well, with Jacob being able to hop onto moving trains to peruse targets. Assassin’s Creed excels with these set-pieces, and just these two got my heart racing.
Not nearly as impressive was the combat, however, which was keenly showcased near the end of my demo. With the Templar hunted down; a Gang War began on a bridge, with Jacob’s crew laying the smackdown on the rival gang in all out open hand-to-hand combat. Syndicate delivers weighty punches and visceral, gory finishers, but the system has been diluted to the point of mediocrity. Gone are the waits for parries, instead replaced by an endless mashing of a single attack button and no need for any block, dodging or, generally, thinking.
It’s mindless, boring and quite frankly disappointing. Hand to hand combat might not be different to swordplay, but Syndicate feels like it’s going in the complete wrong direction here. It could just be for the purposes of a short, early demo, but right now Jacob feels like an unstoppable, brass knuckle machine with no real reason to keep his fists up. And it’s not fun to play at all.
Mixed with the all too familiar gameplay and only minor enhancements, and it’s fairly difficult to actually get excited about Syndicate at this point. I’m excited to at least try some of the set pieces I saw behind closed doors, but it very much feels like the series might be digging itself into a greater rut. There’s still time to change that though before launch later this year, but right now I’m reserving myself to cautious optimism.
At the very least until we get to play as Evie – and actually see if she changes things up a little bit.
Last Updated: June 16, 2015