I blame Titanfall.
Well… Let me rephrase that.
I attribute it to Titanfall. When the shooter launched in 2014, one of the most notable things about it was how it evolved the way players moved. Aside from speeding up the player, Titanfall’s designers added something most FPS games lacked: vertical flavor. The wall running and jet packs let the player climb with ease and added a much-needed shot of adrenaline into a genre that was largely copying itself every year. It didn’t take long for other shooters to follow their lead. Call of Duty adapted the concept into their own movement schemes, and even the staunchness of the Halo franchise seems to have found new life with vertical movement.
Assassin’s Creed, it seems, may have learned a little bit from its FPS cousins, and is all the better for it.
On the surface, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate looks and feels like this year’s expected follow-up to last years AC: Unity. I’m not going to dwell on the technical failures of Unity in this review, mostly because Syndicate has not carried on that particular AC trait this time around. It runs fine, looks great, and lacks any of the problems Unity had at launch. Full stop.
The time period of the game, set in Victorian London following the industrial revolution, allowed Ubisoft to grow up the AC franchise bit. With the most modern setting for an AC game yet, Assassins are now wielding more advanced weaponry, gadgets, and are forced to navigate a world much larger and more varied than in games past. Cities like Rome and Paris had small streets and (relatively) small buildings. Climbing up to the rooftops was often a quick task, allowing you to leap from each rooftop and string together quick journeys from one side of the city to another. London is much more advanced following the industrial revolution. The city’s building stretch higher into the sky, and streets are extra wide to accommodate carriage traffic. Getting around this city on foot is not easy, even for free running Assassins.
It is this challenge that forced Ubisoft to make navigation faster and easier for the series. The whole franchise’s movement options have largely not changed since the series began. Sure, you had some climbing enhancements here and there, and the ship transport in Black Flag, but overall you’re still running and climbing. With the backdrop of industrial progress, Assassin’s now have one key addition to their arsenal: a grappling hook. With the tap of a button, players can quickly grapple to the top of a building that would normally take time to climb. Once up there, they can zipline between buildings, quickly flying over the wide streets or even wider River Thames that splits the city in half. The zip line also allows players to create new and unique assassination opportunities, effectively creating hidden observation posts in the skies above a foggy London.
But Ubisoft didn’t stop there. With a large portion of the world being wide open streets, the designers saw fit to add a driving mechanic to the game. At any point, players can hijack a carriage and zoom around town as they please. It speeds up movement drastically, allowing the player to get where they want to go quite fast, and eliminating the slog that open world games can press on a player looking to get close to 100% completion. It also allows for some great combat sequences that can be enjoyed anytime you find yourself in the sights of an enemy, as well as racing side missions with a horse-drawn twist.
Ok. I’ve said my peace about the movement. It really does make the game feel fresh, and may be the most important part of moving past the problems of Unity and franchise fatigue. That said, there are plenty of other things Syndicate does that make the game work so well on many levels.
The characters of Jacob and Evie Frye are very well-developed over the course of the game. They bicker as most siblings do, but its playful and at times, really funny. They have personality that was lacking with characters like Connor or Arno. Instead, these characters pull from successes in the past. Evie plays a lot like Altair from the original game, with stealth as her specialty and a purpose driven focus on progressing the Assassin mission. Jacob, on the other hand, is more like Edward Kenway mixed with some Ezio Auditore. He’s a rash, fun-loving assassin whose primary goal is beating the life out of the rival gang in London, called the Blighters. While Evie explores the mysteries of the Precursors, Jacob decides he’s getting into the gang business. Both help each other throughout the campaign, and both grow significantly as it progresses.
Campaign missions will place you in the role of either character as you move forward, but the open world allows you to switch between them anytime you wish. The progression system is built in a way where both characters play almost identically, although you can assign the unlock-able skills to each player individually. In this respect, you can craft both players to specific uses. Don’t worry, they both can unlock just about every skill, with the exception of a few capped skills that are specific to either of them. For example, Evie can unlock an “invisibility cloak” perk that makes her impossible to see when standing still, while Jacob unlocks brawler-based perks unique to him. They are interesting differences, but largely aren’t enough to convince me one player is worth playing over another. Luckily, you can pick. There is no wrong answer. It’s a nice change of pace, and I feel like the character switching from Grand Theft Auto V was an inspiration for this new twist.
Missions are varied, for the most part. There are a lot of familiar concepts explored here, and still a few of those awful tailing missions, but for the most part each one offers great new twists on the formula thanks to the new tools available to the player. There are plenty of side missions available, aimed at helping you take over gang territory or level up your relationship with some of the side characters.
Those side missions all allow you to acquire money and materials for the game’s satisfying crafting and upgrade system. There are a few categories, but they all function the same. First, you have a gang upgrade system, which also ties into the game’s economy. I’d recommend this are first for new players. Upgrading your gang’s influence will increase your income gains over time, financing all other upgrades in the game. I focused on this first and never really needed to track down materials for the other craft options. Once you get that figured out, you can upgrade your gang’s fighting stats, making your allies in the field more versatile and plentiful. This is a lot like the brotherhood system in AC2: Brotherhood, only instead of calling them when you need them, you instead recruit them and have them follow you into battle.
Equipment, weapons, and upgrades are all regulated to the crafting system, only a little more streamlined compared to past games. If you get a good economy system behind you, this becomes an afterthought, since you’ll be able to afford everything. The only thing holding you back may be the level requirement, which will become irrelevant the longer your play the game and continue to advance your stats.
The overall package is a solid one, touching on every staple of the franchise and refreshing it in a way that makes it all feel new again. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is everything fans would want in an AC game, and still is extremely welcoming to new players. Don’t fret if you aren’t up to speed with the story, as the game really stands on its own without it. As a fan of the franchise, I’m happy the series landed on its feet after last year’s disappointing attempt.
This game is a must play. It’s stealth, action, story, and substance all rolled into a gorgeous depiction of London. Don’t miss it.
Also, special thanks to the folks who made Titanfall. I truly believe Syndicate would not have happened without you.