London, 1868. The Industrial Revolution unleashes an incredible age of invention, transforming the lives of millions with technologies once thought impossible. Opportunities created during this time period have people rushing to London to engage in this new world. A world no longer controlled by kings, emperors, politicians or religion, but by a new common denominator: money.
However, not everyone is able to enjoy the benefits of this boom. Despite fueling the engine of the British Empire, workers’ lives are little more than legalised slavery while the top few percent profit from their labour. Living poor and dying young, the lower class unite together in protest as a new kind of family – gangs – who turn to a life in the underworld in their struggle to survive. A struggle, until watchful Assassins come to their side and re-ignite an age-old conflict involving London’s leaders that will echo throughout modern history from the underground, up.
Introducing Assassin Jacob Frye, who with the help of his twin sister Evie, will change the fate of millions in the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Rise to rally and lead the underworld to break the corrupt stranglehold on London in a visceral adventure filled with action, intrigue and brutal combat.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while now chances are you’ll be aware of my favourite video game franchise, Assassin’s Creed. I’ve played all of the major releases for the consoles and as of this afternoon, completed the latest entry, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, thereby completing all of them. This game follows on the back of the controversial predecessor, Unity, which many viewed as one of the franchise’s weaker instalments. However, Syndicate more than made up for the general disappointment that was Unity by pretty much correcting almost everything that Unity was weak at.
This time, you’re thrust into Victorian London, and gain the ability to play as brother and sister, Jacob and Evie Frye. Jacob is the brawler, the unconventional and unorthodox assassin who prefers street fighting to sneaking around in the shadows. Evie meanwhile is the more traditional of the two Frye twins, and follows the Assassin rulebook more closely. Even though Jacob gets more of the storyline when in open world you can still play as both characters, who are charming, likeable and fun to play as, feeling closer to and possibly better than the two strongest characters that we’ve had in the franchise previously, Ezio Auditore and Edward Kenway. The characters are fun, energetic and charming, with some great one-liners that really work, adding moments of humour to the game.
The secondary cast of Syndicate is also fleshed out as you play your way through the Victorian era. Charles Dickens, Karl Marx and Queen Victoria herself are some of the most notable historical figures, and Syndicate learns a lesson from Unity in how it deals with them, they actually feel involved, be it either in the side missions that concern the characters, rather than simple cameos such as Napoleon had in Unity. The game puts majority of the focus on Evie and Jacob however, and really allows them to shine. The villain, the big bad, is the fearsome Crawford Starrick, who has control over all of London. You’ll also get support from a London Assassin, Henry Green, who plays a minor role as a non playable character in the series, particularly in Evie’s storylines.
Whilst controlling ships has been an element that the game has not had since Rogue, Syndicate offers several districts of London to explore as you visit key, iconic landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and more in the several districts, such as Lambeth, the heart of London itself, and Westminster, playing both sides of the river, and on the Thames itself. At the beginning of the game every district is in control of the Templars and you have to undertake various side-missions such as liberating children from factories, overthrowing gang strongholds, and hunting down and killing or capturing key Templar leaders. Each time you accomplish one of these side-missions you will liberate more and more of London, replacing the Templar Gang known as the Blighters with the Rooks, Jacob’s own. These side quests felt fun and interesting, and often distracted me from the main storyline for hours at a time as I fought my way across London.
The open world is fascinating, and one of the game’s best selling points. You can hijack carriages to use at your own interest, (refreshingly, unlike previous Assassin’s Creed games, there is no “Wanted” posters that restrict your movements, you can kill as many people as you want and not have to bribe anyone, innocent civilians excluded of course), and when one carriage is close to destruction, you can jump into another one if there is one available nearby without ever touching the ground. The Rope Launcher, a new tool, allows you to quickly scale the heights of London’s buildings and combined, the two make getting around London a lot easier, meaning that as a result, I rarely used the fast travel methods at all.
The storyline is a bit hit and miss, unfortunately. It follows Jacob and Evie working their way to liberate London, matching wits with Crawford Starrick, either by dispatching his key leaders or making a risky alliance with a leading member of the Criminal Underworld to do so. Although Starrick is established as a potentially memorable antagonist, he’s quickly reduced to nothing more than a final boss, who is dealt with far too quickly and frustratingly leaves the audience not feeling anything at all at the end. All the build-up is wasted with an underwhelming payoff that whilst makes the journey that it took to get there fun, it means that the game just kind of ends without any real impact. There are some great moments to be had getting there though – for example, a particular favourite mission of mine was to visit the home of Edward Kenway, the lead character from Black Flag, and even though he has long since passed into history, it was great fun to explore the secrets that his home contained as Evie, and the game really delivers with moments like these.
The gameplay is a mixed bag. The stealth element is fun, as usual, but combat is as flawed and sluggish as ever, however, that said, the series puts stealth first, so expect that to be your main method of killing people off. There are various methods that can be used to achieve your goal as per usual, as you can build up your gang of Rooks to give you a further advantage in the playing field, which feels rewarding to do so. Gang upgrades can be accessed that would either improve your own, such as giving them enhanced troops and enhanced carriages, and weakening the Blighters, by giving them less accurate firearms. You can also upgrade your character, giving you extra perks depending on who you are, for example, as Evie, you’ll want to upgrade your stealth aspects, whilst with Jacob, combat upgrades will be preferable.
The soundtrack is incredible and really helps capture the atmosphere of the world design which allows for natural progression. The scenery looks amazing and Victorian London is a fantastic backdrop as you hack and slash your way through the city, with several jaw-dropping buildings perfectly realised in game. Whilst you’ll be familiar with most of what you’re doing here, it still manages to be fun and incredibly entertaining with a great sense of involvement and wonder that the game allows you to experience. Despite a few flaws the game is as fun as ever, and really feels like one of the best entries in the series so far, offering what is certainly one of the best in game maps for gamers to experience. It’s a fun ride through Victorian London that is worth the trip, with everything that you could want from an Assassin’s Creed game. Hopefully this year’s inevitable entry continues the same trend of quality content.