Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate PS4 Review
This year’s Assassin’s Creed is a mixed bag, there’s no doubt about that. On one hand it has provided me with some of the most fun I’ve had with a game in a long time. On the other hand it might be considered the worst Assassin’s Creed – period. The story moves along at such a breakneck speed you might blink and miss a key scene, the characters are completely flat, and it’s just not really that interesting.
Let’s start with the bad. The game is a bad Assassin’s Creed game, what I mean by that is it lacks some of the key stables that hold the series together. Those stables being strong characters driven by personal desires (ranging from revenge to love), an interesting well-paced plot, and the feeling that there is a genuine consequence to the series overarching plot. Yet Syndicate comes across as the b-team’s filler game, plot wise it feels of little consequence – it just exists to fill the void while we wait for the next meaningful entry.
The two main characters are Jacob and Evie Frye, and while using two intertwined characters was a great concept it was executed poorly and the game comes off worse due to its twin assassins. Jacob is a rash, brutish, yet at times a charming protagonist, whereas Evie is straight cut, smart, and calculating. This leaves the game in a good position ripe with opportunities to expand upon the characters, change them, have them grow, or even put them in conflict with each other – but it chooses not to do that, or at least not until the end at which point it feels forced. In my opinion Syndicate would have benefited from one well-rounded, more fleshed out character.
Then there’s the story, which is set during the tail end of the Industrial Revolution and sees our twin assassins taking on the responsibility of freeing London’s poor from the oppressive grip of the Templar Order. There’s a slight divide here as Jacob takes the fight straight to the Templers by raising his own street gang, the Rooks, to take on theirs, the Blighters. While he’s off bloodying up the Templers Evie is busy searching for a Piece of Eden so the Assassins can get to it first. That’s that really, there are no twists or turns, it’s a rather smooth and straight forward affair for Jacob and Evie during which you’ll never really feel a sense of danger or a risk of failure. The biggest problem with the story, however, is its pacing. It can only be summed up as brutally quick as key moments go by in a flash with little thought put into them, and there are no slowdowns that allow you to reflect on what has taken place. If there was better pacing, and more thought put into key moments this could have been a much stronger story.
That’s the bad out of the way but there are some things in the game that feel a little forced, they’re not necessarily bad but they don’t add to the experience either. The first of these issues is Jacob’s gang, the Rooks. Before the game launched the Rooks were promoted in a way that implied they would have a huge impact on the game, but they don’t. In fact throughout the 20 hours of Syndicate that I’ve played, so far, I haven’t used them once and the story never requires you to, so all in all they’re rather pointless. The one good thing about them is they have their own upgrade tree which can be used to increase your income, get you discounts in stores, and so on.
Then there’s the games structure which feels just as predictable as the first Assassin’s Creed. Every sequence starts out with a handful of Jacob and Evie missions. Jacob always ends up uncovering some plot which he will put an end to in the sequences final act, while Evie takes a stealthier route as she tries to find the Piece of Eden. As a result the game’s structure becomes extremely predictable a few sequences in. However this is where my first plus comes in, at the beginning of every sequence there’s a mission available for Evie in which you look at the impacts of Jacob’s final mission from the previous sequence, and try to fix the damage he’s inevitably caused due to his haste. One example being Jacob almost single handily destroying the British economy but remaining oblivious to that fact meaning Evie has to come in and pick up the pieces at the beginning of the next sequence.
Now for the good stuff. I won’t go into too much detail on the gameplay because Assassin’s Creed has being knocking about since 2007 so you probably have a fair idea of what to expect. However let’s just say moving around the environment is smoother and more enjoyable than ever before. Then there’s the edition of the rope gun which allows you to scale buildings or zip line across London’s wide, bustling streets in a matter of seconds – it also allows for some of the most badass escapes in gaming history. Horse drawn carriages are also introduced making Syndicate’s London feel like the first modern city in the series as you hijack vehicles and navigate traffic. There is one issue – more of a necessary evil – when it comes to the carriages and that’s the fact that you can kill innocent civilians, by knocking them down, with no consequence. However while this goes against the creed it is necessary because the game would become extremely frustrating if you failed every time you knocked down an innocent person by accident.
The game makes excellent use of its skill-tree upgrades, which I would say were heavily inspired by Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. The skills range from faster healing, and more health, too allowing you to perform executions with your gun. The best part of this is that these skills actually have a meaningful impact on gameplay and the more skills you buy the more your characters level-up, which allows you to craft and equip better weapons and gear. One major complaint I’ve seen levelled at Syndicate is its combat, which I have to say I had no problems with bar it can feel a little drawn out in the early stages but as you gain more skills you’ll find yourself countering attacks and dispatching foes like a pro, so I don’t think it will be an issue for many.
London is probably one of my all-time favourite Assassin’s Creed settings. The city is huge, its districts are easily distinguishable between rich and poor, and as I previously mentioned it’s the first modern city in the series. There’s traffic, police, trains, and signs of capitalism loom around every corner. This leads me onto the one thing Syndicate’s story does right – Crawford Starrick. This man is the Templar Grand Master and is in complete control of the city, but more importantly you find out about him in the game’s opening scenes and you’re treated to a short cut-scene of him reacting to your actions between each sequence. This results in a clear villain that you know, understand, and learn about from beginning to end, which is something the series has lacked in its last few entries. He is a villain with clear motives and who honestly believes he’s doing the right thing.
What makes Syndicate really stand out is its clear understanding of its own game mechanics. None of its side activities or missions feel forced, they all fit naturally into the gameplay which results in a game that is so fun to play that time just flies by. The most basic side activities are fight clubs and carriage races, but the real stand out activity is liberating London. You can do this in a variety of ways ranging from killing every enemy in a Templar stronghold to arresting key targets, but my personal favourite is liberating factories which sees you rescuing child workers. Best of all you can approach these liberating activities anyway you like from the stealthy to the aggressive approach. When you complete all of the liberating activities in any one of London’s six sectors you get to take part in a gang war which sees you, and the Rooks, fighting the Blighters for complete control of that area.
Associates add another layer to the list of activities. These are activated by traveling to any one of the letters dotted throughout the map and they are your main means of interacting with key historical figures from the 19th century. These figures consist of Darwin, Karl Marx, Queen Victoria, and more but I won’t go into detail on what you’ll be doing with them, because where’s the fun in me telling you?
Now for a little tidy up before the conclusion. As usual the game’s soundtrack is incredible, it was actually composed by Austin Wintory who previously composed Journey’s musical score. Unity was penalised for its cluttered map, which is a problem Syndicate addresses and fixes, that’s not to say the billions of collectables are gone they’re just not as in your face. Then there’s the modern day story which I think is greatly improved over Unity’s, although you still aren’t in control of it. I won’t spoil anything from it but you might be happy to know it actually follows familiar characters this time around – those being Shaun and Rebecca. One last note is that there are microtransactions in the game, but you can easily ignore them if you choose too and they only act as a method to get better gear and skills faster, but they do not spoil the game in any way nor are they intrusive.
In conclusion Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is an amazing standalone game packed with fun things to do from beginning to end. However a weak, badly paced story, and two uninspired protagonists hold it back from being a great Assassin’s Creed. If you’re not a fan of the series I highly recommend you give this one a shot, you might be pleasantly surprised. If you are a fan of the series then you should still give it a go but bear in mind it does lack the story and fleshed out characters you might expect. If they could bring the gameplay from this game together with the story and characters of the previous titles I have a feeling Ubisoft could provide fans with something really special. If this was a standalone game I would be giving it a higher score but I have to review it in the context of the series and it just doesn’t live up to the standard you might expect from Assassin’s Creed.