Thursday 12 November 2015

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

Another year, another Assassin's Creed. That's how it works, as we all know (apart from the years where there's two or even three titles). II and Black Flag were pretty awesome, but that's not a great success rate in a series of 3,476 games (approx). Developed by Ubisoft Quebec and out now on Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC, Assassin's Creed Syndicate takes several steps in the right direction, but then takes a dozen back again. And it really doesn't understand how horses work.

If you've played any other Assassin's Creed game you'll broadly speaking know what to expect, which is a problem in itself. Pepper the map with icons by climbing to high places, instakill enemies by attacking undetected, watch your assassin who has pledged to stick to the shadows get dragged into dozens of unavoidable mass scraps, follow people without getting spotted which is never as simple as it sounds... you know the drill.

Remember what I said about horses? One of the new additions here is the ability to drive (and hijack, GTA style) a horse and carriage, and the way this has been implemented is... weird. Apart from the fact that speeding up your horse is identified as a 'boost', you can reverse. As in, instantly make your horse walk backwards in a straight line or at any angle to push the carriage back. Okay, it makes sense in gameplay terms, but it looks bizarre. The icing on this cake of oddness, however, is the fact that horses can strafe. At great speed. You can – and sometimes have to – ram other carriages from the side. This is achieved by launching your entire horse and carriage about five metres to the left or right in a straight line. Now I'm no expert on horses in Victorian London, but that doesn't seem terribly realistic.

The setting itself isn't quite as “Gor blimey guvnah!” as was initially feared, but it's a shame to see all characters apart from the three assassins written as strict stereotypes. Nonetheless the writing is actually quite good most of the time, with some genuinely witty moments. The best thing about Syndicate, though, is surely the rope launcher (which is absolutely not a rip-off combination of Batman's grappling hook and line launcher, oh no no). In other Assassin's Creed games, getting to the top of a viewpoint was often a mission in itself, and journeys across rooftops were often interrupted by the need to grumpily drop back to the ground because the next roof was too far away. No more! Your rope launcher will pull you to the top of a building in seconds, or give you a zipwire to continue your horizontal journey above ground.

Scripted assassinations are now a little closer to how they should always have been, in that you have (limited) options regarding exactly how you reach and kill your target, often involving forcing or tricking other people into helping you in some way. It's yet another entry for the 'done right' column; but the 'done wrong' column has a depressing amount of weight to it. 

You get to control twins (brother and sister) throughout the game, but these master assassins are both as weak as kittens until you've spent a dozen hours and many skill points upgrading them. Until that time combat is to be dreaded, with anonymous grunts proving to be tediously resilient to your instruments of death. You also get a warning when entering high-level areas, meaning side quests, meaning you're pretty much punished for exploring before levelling up. You also need to conquer a total of three boroughs via loads of these “optional” activities before you can unlock the penultimate story chapter. Thanks Ubisoft!

I haven't even mentioned the microtransactions (spit) which demand real money for virtual materials; materials which can also be slowly gathered in-game, but which are essential for unlocking many items and upgrades. That's Syndicate for you. A game improved by the developers, and dragged back down by the executives. 

Strike a light, it's good but not great guv. 3/5.


Luke Kemp

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