Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Review: Scream Phoenix
Kalvin Martinez / Nov 12th, 2015 No Comments
By all accounts, we should have been able to write off the Assassin’s Creed series after two horribly disappointing games. Yet Assassin’s Creed Syndicate manages to sneak up behind you and hit you in the heart with a hidden blade of fun. Like Black Flag, Syndicate uses its proximity to such underwhelming entries to make itself look better. However, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate isn’t only good by comparison; the game stands out on its own merit.
London has changed. It and its people used to be free until the Templars took control of the city. They put everything, from the banks to the underworld, under their thumbs — all while eradicating their opposition, the Assassin Brotherhood, from the city. Now a lone station agent remains to document how the Templars power grows under the insidious guidance of Crawford Starrick. He begs his Brotherhood for help, but it feels like they have abandoned him.
It seems hope is lost for London until Jacob and Evie Frye, the son and daughters of two respected Assassins, decide to come to the city. Meeting Henry Green, they devise two opposing plans on how to remove Starrick and the Templars from power. Jacob, being an impulsive sort, feels the best route is to gain the trust of the criminal element and slowly remove Starrick’s underlings. Evie feels the Brotherhood’s best interest lies in finding the Piece of Eden hidden in London. This causes friction between the two, but both their goals are the same — eliminate Starrick and destroy Templar control.
A common theme in Syndicate is focus. From its story to its gameplay, there is a huge amount of attention paid to making the experience enjoyable. The story on its surface isn’t revolutionary, either in general or for the series; it is about an Assassin(s) tackling a rival Templar’s power structure to gain access to the big man on top. What makes it such a captivating narrative is the opposing paths the siblings take and the strong characterization.
Both Jacob and Evie are strong protagonists with plenty of charm. They are both distinctive from each other with two vastly different personalities. Jacob exudes a swarthy magnetism with a tendency to run headfirst into a situation without much thought. Evie is a more thoughtful, calculated character that often acts with thorough plans. These contrasting personalities make following their story enjoyable because their methods put a strain on their relationship. Seeing how their familial bond changes throughout the narrative is compelling.
It isn’t only the main characters that are exciting to spend time with, but the strong supporting cast is a joy as well. It is a credit when you want more about a supporting character like Henry Green and seeing how a game based around him would work. The narrative also has a good cast of villains to round things out. There is a cool trick done with assassinations where instead of a static scene, the victim gives a moving soliloquy as they lay dying in a Frye’s arms. Crawford Starrick is an unbelievably menacing and interesting antagonist. The scenes of him reacting to what the Fryes are doing are mesmerizing, especially the piano scene.
Take the Door or Creep ‘Round Back
Syndicate won’t be completely unfamiliar to anyone who’s played an Assassin’s Creed game. The formula is largely intact with hidden blades lurking under ornate garb waiting to cut through someone’s larynx, parkour free running, and smoke bombs aplenty. What makes the game unique among its kin is the ability to switch between two different protagonists freely throughout the game, a renewed attention to stealth, and a cool change to movement around the city.
In Syndicate, you can play as either Jacob or Evie, each with a unique play style. Jacob is a bruiser favoring a more aggressive, combat-oriented approach to missions. His upgrade path favors skills that make him more effective in fights, like more health, longer combos, and multi-kill chains with specialized combat skills.
Evie is a tactician with a more stealth approach. She prefers to avoid an outright scuffle if she can, and sneaks around to accomplish her goals. Her upgrade path allows her to be more silent when performing missions, with softer footsteps and quieter assassinations with unique skills increasing her evasion.
Stealth has always been an absolute chore in the Assassin’s Creed series. With few exceptions, it is easier to hidden blade everyone on your way to an objective. Shockingly enough, for all the ill will it garnered, Unity attempted to make sneaking a worthwhile endeavor. It didn’t work out, but points for trying. Syndicate makes stealth a viable gameplay option. Not only can Evie creep around handily avoiding detection in missions, but Jacob can also use stealth tactics when necessary. It adds some depth to the missions instead of the typical bull-in-a-China-shop gameplay.
The beauty of being able to switch between two characters is that you can play the game how you want. Outside of main missions that lock you into one of the Fryes to further their paths toward Starrick, you are free to conquer London any way you like. Whether you want to take over the boroughs with a cold, calculated stealth approach or barrel in hot with a pistol drawn and kukri out, it is up to you.
Certain conquer side quests like child laborer liberation favor a more stealth approach, but can be accomplished just as handily by raising an alarm and murdering the entire work force. Gang strongholds can be surgically done with Evie’s sneaking, but are more fun to throw voltaic bombs and rack up combos as Jacob.
The parkour free running and climbing is more responsive than it has ever been. There are still some odd control inputs, but for the most part, running around buildings and alleys is a smooth and easy. London is a big city though and parkouring your way around it would get tedious. Syndicate adds a few tricks to make movement in the game extremely satisfying.
A fun, quick way to different points of London is the horse and carriage, which for 1800s technology handles way better around the narrow streets of London than the cars in Watch Dog’s Chicago. The coolest way to move around the city is the handy zip line attached to Jacob and Evie’s gauntlets. While not as insane as Batman’s ability to zoom around Gotham in Arkham Knight, the Frye twins have a good deal of mobility granted to them via the zip line. It also aids in tackling certain missions very handily. It is just fun to zip line around London.
While the gameplay changes are refreshing, it isn’t a complete re-invention of the series. Even though the game on the whole is enjoyable, with clever takes on assassination missions and generally engrossing side quests, there’s still the Assassin’s Creed mission staples that linger. Eavesdropping and tailing missions persist, although not as prevalent as previous games, and are every bit as unbearable. Also if we got rid of chasing and tackling people, that’d be great.
Most Assassin’s Creed games fall apart by the end with a ho-hum late game, but Syndicate actually keeps the momentum of its gameplay in line with the climax of its story. By the time you’ve whittled down Starrick’s network and prepare to confront him directly, things don’t take a sharp down turn. The final mission and showdown with Starrick is one of the best end games in any Assassin’s Creed game thanks largely to great characterization, but also because it amounts to more than sneaking up and hidden-blading him in the throat.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s story is one of the best in the series with a complicated and compelling relationship between Jacob and Evie at its heart. The attention paid to make stealth more palatable and the different play styles of the twins make it a blast to play. There are still certain missions that need to be culled completely from the series because they mar the experience. As surprising at it may seem Syndicate is absolutely worth seeking out and getting lost in Victorian London.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was reviewed on PS4 using a copy of the game provided by the publisher.
tags: Assassin's Creed Syndicate , assassins creed , review , ubisoft