“Righting The Ship”
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Platform: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: October 23, 2015
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, much like each of its predecessors, faces a barrage of essential intricacies it has to nail down before it can rightfully get going for itself. At the forefront of this issue, is the baggage that comes with its mainline lore, with the present-day elements and simulation motive having always acted as an underdeveloped distraction from the main event. Syndicate smartly subverts many of the narrative issues, leaving connections to the Animus simply to select cutscenes throughout the game. Instead, Syndicate puts more of a focus on the stories unfolding within the actual game, dropping both the multiplayer, along with much baggage that has weighed down past entries. Though for as many improvements as Syndicate makes in terms of narrative focus, its gameplay is still largely tied down by inconveniences and inconsistencies that continually broke the immersion of what Victorian London has to offer.
Perhaps Syndicate’s strongest trait is its continual spark of evolution apparent throughout its enjoyable journey set during the tail end of the Industrial Revolution. Twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye lead the adventure, having traveled to London with the goal to overthrow the unjust reign of Crawford Starrick, a Templar with a firm grip on the gangs manning the city. You’ll sneak, climb, and stab your way through the gorgeously realized streets of London, all while slowly taking back the city by crippling the Templars’ presence. The twins, Jacob and Evie are one of Syndicate’s most intriguing aspects, each brimming with their own unique personality and specialties. Jacob is the more rash and arrogant of the two, driven by his goals to nurture a gang of his own and help the city in ways of bloodshed. Evie on the other hand is considerate and logical in the moves she makes, with her eyes set on retrieving an important relic. Each sibling is likable in their own right, with their conflicting motives often leading to the most engaging and memorable moments of Syndicate. For as interesting as the twins are, London steals the show as Syndicate’s most developed character, with historical layers and intricacies to boot. The year is 1868, and The Old Smoke is a bustling place, ripe with crime and a new industrialized way of life. Smoke hangs thick in the sky, train stations scuttle about with passengers, and the streets and alleys convey a sense of path that feeds into the open world’s appeal. There are issues to be found with both enemy and bystander AI reactions within the world, as they inconsistently range from no response at all to wildly overdramatic. These blemishes taint a bit of the realism to be found in London, but the overall tone of the city leaves more of a lasting impression than its more underwhelming inhabitants. When it’s all said and done, the realistic recreation of London’s most famous landmarks matched with the convincing sounds of a busy city and a solid score, make venturing about a pleasurable experience.
The excitement of exploring all Syndicate’s nooks and crannies is once again significantly interrupted by the series’ main trope; gameplay. In terms of both structure and execution, Syndicate feels like a very familiar game to both past entries and its typical competition. Expect to spend a lot of time climbing and scurrying atop high towers to unlock side missions on your map, slowing stacking up tasks to complete for XP and whatnot. The more substantial side missions consist of liberating small boroughs of London at a time, all of which are under the control of Crawford Starrick. You’ll slowly regain sovereignty over each District as the bodies fall, either playing as Jacob or Evie to get the job done. Every district has a set list to check off, with missions ranging from straightforward child liberation, to various kidnapping and assassination missions, all haphazardly strewn throughout the area. It’s entertaining at first, as sinking your blade into the neck of a child slave master feels like justice, and the rush of sneaking in and out of Templar strongholds to pick off a leader is satisfying. After completing the set amount of objectives, the fight for a district culminates in a gang war, which will then put the Frye’s gang, the Rooks, in control of the sector’s entirety. The novelty quickly wears off after only liberating a few districts, as tasks promptly become more of a chore than enjoyment. Combat grows monotonous relatively speedily as well, with a melee system ripped straight out of the Arkham games that fails to encapsulate the same satisfying momentum and force that accompanied them. Encounters are solely reliant upon counter attacks, defense-breaking, and strikes of your own. What’s missing is the desperately needed sense of energy, for most scuffles drag on far past the point where someone should have risen victorious. This entirely detracts from the ability to care about the gameplay when things come to blows, even more so when your left murdering the same set of AI clones, all looking near identical. Much of Syndicate feels sloppy and underdeveloped, with the gameplay loop, controls, and variation getting the brunt of it. Frustrating parkour controls once again are a glaring issue, especially when testing the stealth elements and traversing the open world. It’s unfortunate considering London begs to be explored, yet the unrefined controls make the adventure unappealing. Once the awe of Syndicate’s well-realized open world weighs off, it’s the erratic movement system, substandard artificial intelligence, and subpar combat that you’ll have to deal with throughout the rest of the game that stick with you the most.
Syndicate’s stronger elements such as its story, upgrades, and occasionally original mission variety, provide a reason to wade through the title’s more inferior parts. The new toys and upgrades at the twins’ disposal brings some modernity into the formula, but at its core, Syndicate is every bit as Assassin’s Creed as the rest of the series. Tools like the rope launcher and drivable carriages usher in new opportunity for dynamic gameplay, but Syndicate’s way of capitalizing on it, and other new features, is underwhelming and void of vigor. For as captivating as London is in terms of presentation, little agency is given to the player in terms of lasting motive, for after a while everything eventually starts to feel like a series of increasingly tedious obstacles. Complete this, climb that, kill them, it’s all rather paint-by-numbers and the new features exhaust their novelty long before the game ends. In this sense, it takes a bit of time to dig into Assassin’s Creed Syndicate in order to recognize its flaws, but nonetheless, they’re there. Built upon a structure that’s all too familiar by now, much of Syndicate’s content ends up feeling like filler, with the exception of some excellent assassination missions towards the tail end of each sequence in the main narrative. However, for all it’s inconveniences, Syndicate still manages to feel like a step in a new, decisive direction that the series has been working towards for years.Conclusion: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a flawed, but enjoyable game. It’s impressive open world environment and strong characters are the highlight, with each radiating a strong sense of personality. The sheer scale and attention to detail of London’s open world city is at times overwhelming, but deeply appreciated. Sadly, much of the world’s activities are dull and lacking in inspiration, with repetitive missions and tasks seemingly strewn about with reckless abandon. Platforming, combat, and stealth once again feel underdeveloped in the grand scope of things, as countless scenarios had me frustrated with unresponsive basic inputs. This unpredictability made the gameplay especially hard to trust, let alone enjoy, particularly when considering just how simplistic and unimaginative it’s as a whole. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate attempts to break through tropes that have held back past entries, and while the effort is admirable, the results heavily sway from success to glaring failure. In an effort to fix history, Syndicate finds itself committing many of the flaws it so desperately wants to subvert, proving once again history will repeat itself.
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