Video Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

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Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the ninth mainline Assassin’s Creed game, but it makes sure to do enough to ensure that it stands apart from the rest of the games in the series, while still staying true to the franchise’s beloved form. Syndicate took some of the best parts of past games, and successfully merged them with new ideas for a satisfying end result. However, some of these new ideas may not have been for the best, and a couple of old problems from the series persist, holding Syndicate back from being something truly special.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate doesn’t try to break away from the classic Ubisoft formula. In fact, it embraces it. By the Ubisoft formula, I mean the open world that is slowly discovered through vantage points and liberated from the enemy by completing objectives. However, the new setting for this Assassin’s Creed allows the formula to work better than ever. Protagonists Jacob and Evie Frye set out to liberate the city of London at the peak of the Industrial Revolution from the ruthless gangs that control its many districts. Syndicate is at its best when it allows you to run (or drive or zipline) across the map completing objectives and slowly turning your map from red to clear as you drive out the gangs from their strongholds. Each district is sprinkled with objectives that will have you assassinating Templars or retrieving bounties, among other things, and after doing enough of these, you’re able to completely free the district by battling it out against the district’s gang leader. Although the final gang leader fights were often underwhelming, the many side objectives that led to them were almost always fun and well designed, making them some of the best parts of the game.

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The setting of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is, like I briefly mentioned before, London during the peak of the Industrial Revolution. The map in Syndicate includes many of London’s districts, and although they are mostly great for traversing and exploring, very few of these districts stand out from the rest. Most of the city is simply factories and slums, and the noticeable reuse of assets is a sad reminder that you are, in fact, playing a video game, and are not actually an assassin. However, everything else about the setting works to the game’s advantage. Recognizable historical figures like Alexander Graham Bell, Karl Marx, and Charles Darwin all make strong appearances in the game’s story and open the door to interesting side quests. New vehicles like carriages, steamboats, and trains are introduced into the Assassin’s Creed franchise with Syndicate, and these make for some interesting missions including carriage chases and train hijackings. New gadgets like the zipline and voltaic bombs are great additions to the franchise, especially the zipline. Traversal has never been easier in an Assassin’s Creed game, and if you were worried the zipline would take away some of the Assassin’s Creed charm, don’t. The zipline only makes exploring the city easier, faster, and less cumbersome, and it opens the door to new assassination and stealth opportunities, adding an extra layer of depth to the game. Overall, this vision of London is one of the best maps to explore in any Assassin’s Creed game. Does it compare to other game worlds outside of the franchise? Maybe not in quality and diversity, but nonetheless, it’s still a fun world to get lost in during your journey with Syndicate and works especially well for this game.

The gameplay in Syndicate leaves me with mixed feelings. Stealth feels great, but a lot of this can be attributed to the predictable AI of the enemies, which leaves you feeling powerful, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I enjoyed tactically taking out enemies stealthily, even if it was pretty easy. However, the franchise’s boring, repetitive, and extremely easy combat system has not been changed enough. You may feel powerful as you are stealthily sneaking around completing mission objectives, but this is a fun kind of powerful. Combat, however, is so easy that it feels like you’re cheating by fighting. Although the melee weapons you can possess are cool, and the multi-finisher kill animations are quite the spectacle, this only goes so far. It’s simply not fun to mash the same button to attack, only ever taking breaks for the occasional counter. None of the upgrades you could make to your character fix this issue in the slightest. In fact, the whole upgrade system is unoriginal and is only surface deep. In a word, the combat and upgrade systems in Syndicate are simply bland.

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Syndicate seems to understand these shortcomings, because almost all the story missions and side objectives rely on the game’s stealth gameplay. Various settings and ways of completing objectives ensure that none of it feels overly repetitive. The game’s story takes you through 9 sequences, each filled with multiple missions that culminate in one final assassination. These final assassinations are the best parts of every sequence and the thing I always looked forward to the most. These missions were bigger and grander than the other missions, and the many different ways you could complete the assassinations were refreshingly creative. Each sequence itself was its own side story that connected to the main, overarching story neatly, albeit not always in the most creative way. Although the story itself may have been boring at times and the final “boss” battle was horrendous (like really, it was exceptionally bad), the main protagonists Evie and Jacob Frye were absolutely wonderful and possibly the best protagonists in any Assassin’s Creed game. The two twins had great chemistry and their banter was entertaining and believable. However, the game stuck with the series’ often ridiculed modern day story arc, and what a waste this was. The modern day story offered nothing more than unwelcome interruptions to the game and boring cutscenes that I simply did not care about. It’s something Syndicate definitely could have done without, but thankfully these cutscenes only occur about a handful of times.

Not all the changes made in Syndicate ended up being for the best, and the main culprit of this was the horse-drawn carriage. At first, the carriages didn’t seem too bad and were actually quite fun, but the more I messed around with them, the more unwelcome they became. It’s not that they are bad, it’s simply that they don’t fit the setting that Syndicate is trying to create. Whenever I stepped into the driver’s seat of a carriage, the game stopped being an Assassin’s Creed game and turned into a Grand Theft Auto mod.  Every time you are forced to use the carriages, it’s usually for either a getaway or a chase mission that involves you mashing the same three buttons to shoot, speed up, or slam your carriage into another carriage. Missions involving the carriages were easily the most repetitive part of the game, and by the end, they had overstayed their welcome. However, the other vehicles introduced in Syndicate, the train and steamboat, were great additions. You don’t actually get to drive either of these, but there are objectives that’ll have you fighting on and stealthily infiltrating these two vehicles, and this makes for some interesting and creative scenarios.

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Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s shortcomings, however noticeable they may be, do not hold the game back from being exceptionally great in many ways. The series’ stealth gameplay is as great as ever and is a perfect fit for the well-crafted sandbox missions you are presented, while the addition of the zipline is a refreshing new addition for the franchise. Top this off with a wonderfully crafted vision of London during the Industrial Revolution and the two brilliant playable protagonists Evie and Jacob Frye, and you’ve got yourself not only a great Assassin’s Creed game, but one of the best open world games of the year.

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