Preview: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

E3 may have been thousands of miles away from my current base of operation, but thanks to Ubisoft Benelux I was able to experience at least a fraction of what LA had to offer this week, which in this case was the demo sequence of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Ubisoft set out to give players across the globe a chance to experience the newest instalment in the franchise, and here at Press-Start we’ll be doing an analysis of the ups and downs of our first delve into Victorian London. Be aware that this is alpha-level gameplay at this stage, and certain remarks concerning gameplay design and performance may not reflect the final title.

After seeing footage of the same floor demo currently present at E3 I wasn’t surprised to see the same cutscene open up the sequence as we’re introduced to our two main protagonists; Jacob and Evie Frye, the leaders of the street gang known as the Rooks. The characters have a heated discussion regarding the current state of control of the city, and we’re soon set on our way as we set foot on the streets of London for the first time. Firstly I’ll take a delve into this opening sequence, as some good and less good things come to light in this opening minute. In this in-game cinematic the visual fidelity seemed less or more the same, if not slightly touched up from the quality of Unity, which presented itself quite well during cinematics as well when it came to animations, textures and such. The frame-rate however did seem to dip every now and then, which seemed eerily similar to the performance of Unity during its cinematics. Note that the visual fidelity did not match the trailers, but this was due to the fact that we were presented with the console version on PlayStation®4, rather than the PC version that is used for marketing purposes in trailers, screenshots and such.SCREEN_ACS_0000_ACS_Screen_Combat-Cane_wm_E3_150615_4pmPT_1434307896Following the opening we are sent out onto the streets of London with the purpose of reaching a specific location and defeating the rival gang defending it. Here we catch our first taste of traversal and of course what London looks like during actual gameplay on consoles. Design-wise London is entirely different from what we’re used to when it comes to map design in the franchise, exchanging its narrow streets for wide open streets and grand plazas. The buildings are much higher than we’re used to, and you can really feel from a visual perspective that it does seem to try to do its own thing, though the city set-up is really hard to get used to if you’re used to using parkour as your main form of travel, which is pretty much impossible without the rope launcher, which we’ll get back to in a few. Visually the game is about on par with Unity when it comes to textures, detail and such, albeit certain aspects of its design do give the feeling that it may look a bit more repetitive when it comes to styles of buildings, which is mostly due to the height of a majority of the buildings. The game does share a lot of the same problems as Unity like texture pop-in and a currently unstable framerate at times, which could obviously differ in the final release as we’re experiencing an Alpha build, but only time will tell if these technical faults get resolved or at least improved.

Parkour seems to be mostly unchanged, albeit I did find myself experiencing less moments where I’d be clinging onto unwanted objects/structures. New to the parkour arsenal however is the rope launcher, which lets players traverse across the large gaps in the vertical sections of the map, providing a faster and often necessary way to make your way through the city, as many places would require you to sink down to ground levels for an extended period of time due to the structure of certain parts of the environment such as the streets. The addition is surely a time-saver, but I had my doubts regarding the animations and overall visual look of the addition, which looks a bit off at times.Moving on to actual stealth and combat, which has undergone some changes. After moving towards my first objective I found myself having to take out 10 gang members, which would preferably be done in a stealthy manner. At first I found myself doing some of the standard routines, such as hiding in a bale of hay and jumping to do air assassinations, but there were a few new tricks that I took advantage of as well. There seems to be more use when it comes to the environment, such as barrels hanging from transport cranes, which you can cut down by throwing a knife towards it and experiencing your enemy’s demise. The second is the use of hallucinogenic darts on multiple targets. These darts can be used on singular targets to make them turn on their allies, but when shot into a fire all nearby enemies will experience the same effect, which can take care of a lot of the work for you.SCREEN_ACS_0002_ACS_Screen_CarriageGunFight_wm_E3_150615_4pmPT_1434307892Hand-to-hand combat has arguably undergone the biggest change by providing a system that relies a lot more on actual brawling due to the absence of swords in this instance. I had a gun to my disposal, but taking on my enemies physically really seemed like the way to go, and technically it actually works pretty great, though I wonder if the difficulty had been toned down for the floor demo. The controls are mostly the same, but the timing has been tweaked and the addition of the combo counter provides a nice new challenge to get those special animations in between. Some animations do seem somewhat clunky due to their speeds, but the system itself is actually implemented pretty nicely.

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The penultimate mission had me chasing the main objective in a carriage chase along the city, which gave me a taste of what I ultimately labelled as a so-so addition when it comes to gameplay. During my chase I was confronted by multiple enemies who were doing the same to me, and whilst I had to keep up with my current target they tried to remove me from the equation by ramming me and using their fire-arms, which can obviously done by the player as well. The biggest problem I had with this was the fact that the game gave me a pretty large window when it came to the distance between me and the target, which led me to believe that Jacob probably has some psychic power that allows him to track down his foes, as there is no way I’d be able to track her down the way I did as I lost her at one point due to being stuck behind an object.

What followed the chase was what only could be described as a great scene from Gangs of New York, putting rival gangs against each other in an all-out brawl that gave me the opportunity to kick up my combo counter as high up as I could. Despite a lot of the problems I had with the demo, this sequence did seem the most fun in retrospect.SCREEN_ACS_0003_ACS_Screen_Pub_wm_E3_150615_4pmPT_1434307914Is Asssassin’s Creed Syndicate the saviour the franchise needs? I’d have my doubts, but  if Ubisoft does the needed work to fix up the rough edges we might be treated with a title that at least outscores its predecessor. I couldn’t help but feel that the game felt a lot like Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and Revelations when it came to succeeding its predecessor, and whilst a Syndicate is so different in many ways, it’s still eerily same in a lot of others in the sense that we’ll have to get a deeper look into the story of the game to know wether it stands on its own as well as we hope it does. There can be a thin line between good and great, and with the required work Syndicate might just become the latter.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is set to be released on PC, PlayStation®4 and Xbox®One this fall. Look for more news and previews on the game here at Press-Start as we move towards its release.