As of the franchise’s last iterations the narrative formula of Assassin’s Creed had begun to grow stale due the lack of direction, inspiration and flat characters that lead their narratives, but in many sense’s each narrative still had its own positive points and ambitions that were down under their surfaces. Syndicate continues our journey through history as the brother/sister duo of Jacob and Evie Fry work to continue the legacy of their father within the Brotherhood, which has led them to London, the oppressed city that their family had wanted to liberate for years. Told by their mentor to wait till the time is right, the Fry siblings work against the tide and decide to take matters in how hands, which puts them in the middle of a gang war with Templars and crooks, which causes a divide between the two as their aspirations take them on different paths within the goal they set out to achieve.The main character duo is one of the more depth-filled set of protagonists that we’ve seen in comparison to last year, though its dynamic seems to be a little one-sided when it comes to showcasing character. Evie’s character remains the interesting part of the duo, showcasing a strong female protagonist that stands her own next to her male counterpart, though there are certain cliche’s within the narrative that seemed somewhat unneeded, including a bit of character development that seemed to be somewhat counter-productive, which I say like this to adhere from noting any spoilers within the narrative. Jacob’s sense of righteousness and rebellion seems a tad bit over-exaggerated, which leads to a sense of one-dimensionality that makes Jacob far less interesting than his counterpart, which can make character interaction between the siblings somewhat cliché’d at times due to the fact that his role is simply to be the brother that tends to break the rules.Syndicate’s narrative is actually pretty compelling in comparison to some of the lesser installments within the franchise, though it still shares some of the faults that have yet to be addressed within the story of the franchise. Whilst the entire ‘take back London’ aspect of the narrative is pretty fun and intriguing, the callbacks to the Templars, pieces of Eden and the present day storyline continue to be the achilles heel of the franchise. This isn’t due to the fact that they’re inclusion is misplaced, but it feels like the writers are making this up as they go along, which once again makes these sci-fi aspects of the story a bit contrived and sometimes even deemed unnecessary, which is a shame since the 19th century war for control over London seems to be more than strong enough to warrant its own game, which does raise the question, is the series’ own narrative holding it back from providing a compelling experience?When it comes to the strengths of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, it excells in showcasing a deep and immersive visual experience. Not keeping in mind the gameplay aspects of the open world, London is simply the most well-crafted and good-looking map that we’ve seen in the franchise so far. From the bleak streets of the industrial areas to the tall spires of the city of London, the contrast and diversity in design is impressive in comparison to a lot of the other installments within the franchise, which do seem less detailed or thought out than Syndicate’s map does.
Character design is pretty similar in quality to last year’s iteration with Unity, which showcases character designs that range from ok to great, depending on their obvious purpose within the game world. Character animations do seem to have taken a step back at times, which is due to the fact that facial animation seems rather static at times, whilst the actual movements of the characters themselves seem rather over-animated, mostly during combat where movement seems a tad bit too rapid in comparison to animation speeds throughout the rest of the game, leading to some unnatural visuals whilst in combat.Texture detail has drastically improved throughout the game, which was a worrisome factor within the game’s alpha stage, but in this final product details seem to be crisper than originally anticipated, though the game does showcase some muddy textures at times, but this issue seemed really isolated as we went through the game, which made the issue rather small in comparison to Unity’s more distracting texture issues.
Lighting does seem to have taken a turn for the worse. Especially in interiors and in darker environments the lighting system does seem a lot less natural, which is one of the aspects its predecessor did excel in. The system does the job, but there’s a lack of warmth, or more specifically a lack of finesse to the effectiveness of the lighting, which is most apparent in the interior sequences, where it does seem a lot more artificial than anything.One of the biggest issues I had with Syndicate’s visuals was the UI design, which can actually be quite irritating whilst gameplay. Even though every element of the UI can be turned off in the settings menu, the active AI simply wants to interfere way too often. An example of this is the new manner stealth is showcased, which the game does by continuously having a circle around the player character at hip height, which pushes this UI feature way too far into the peripheral vision of the player, which makes it more of an eyesore than an actual helpful feature. The rest of the UI can also be taken away, but constant prompts and hints plague a visual experience that is otherwise very easy on the eyes.What’s a good Assassin’s Creed game? Do you work towards the traditional formula like Assassin’s Creed II & Unity, or do you try to change things up like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag? Syndicate takes the former approach, where the game is set-up to work towards the setup of games like Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood. It tries to do some new things and it tries to get some of the old right as well, but how well does Syndicate hold up on its own?
One of the biggest changes to the game is combat, which has been completely overhauled. The new combat system has a very Arkham-esque feel to it, where the basics of combat and combos seems to have a very similar set-up that is based around streaks and finishers, which is completely new to the franchise. Combat is a lot harder to master than it used to, but it does strain the player after a while in the sense that gets incredibly repetitive. This is most apparent when the player is faced with a larger number of enemies in free roam, which apart from certain combos creates scenarios where you’re quite often getting tired of repeating the same thing over and over. Combos are fun endings at times, but due to all of the repetition there is little reward to make it worth it after each encounter.If you want to stay out of combat stealth is usually the best option, but even though the game’s predecessor had a very shoddy take on the concept, Syndicate hasn’t really seemed to make any improvements. Apart from taking cover (which is far too unreliable at times) and occasionally hiding in a haystack or closet, there isn’t anything that really makes the stealth system feel coherent, which makes it feel like the franchise continues to fail to take a step forward in this regard. An added issue is that Ubisoft has reintroduced one of the issues that Unity actually fixed, which is that AI enemies once again have just as much parkour skills as the player himself does. Enemies can appear out of nowhere behind you on a roof which completely messes up your strategy, which seems like kind of an illogical piece of gameplay design.
Syndicate’s main gameplay base doesn’t just ly in the traditional gameplay design of the franchise, but this time around you have to liberate sections of the city by completing main story missions and side missions, which consists of objectives such as freeing children, liberating enemy hideouts and stealing/destroying enemy cargo, which expands your gang’s influence over the city. Each objective is quite solid by itself, but like with many of the issues, repetition is one of them. London is massive, and whilst the amount of content is well set, you simply can’t get through the liberation and constant grinding for upgrades without fatigue setting in along the way, which can be even more of a drag for some since the game requires you to level up your character in order to reach the required levels for the missions throughout the game.Traversal has been drastically altered, which mostly to thank to the new gameplay environment, which consists of much more wide open spaces, which has led to the addition of the rope launcher, which gives players the ability to rapidly cross gaps and climb buildings, which makes for a much faster gameplay experience, but it does somewhat feel like it cheapens the experience by working around an issue by providing shortcuts. This does also reflect in parkour though, which seems less responsive and slower than it was before, which can make navigation quite aggravating due to the fact that Evie and Jacob won’t always do what you want them to do. An example of this would be a mission that took place on a train, which led to my character constantly hanging onto the edge of the train rather than perform the action I was supposed to on top of it, which creates a frustrating gameplay experience.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is filled with content, but so much of it just consists of repetition and grinding that it can simply become incredibly tiresome as you go along the game’s narrative, which apart from being decent doesn’t really give you much of an incentive to progress. Liberate one section, upgrade yourself, liberate another, upgrade your gang. There isn’t much reward involved, and with the lack of character customization aside from your weapon upgrades doesn’t really give you much to work with as you progress.Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is technically stable and visually appealing, but even though it learns lessons from the mistakes of its predecessor, it still manages to make older problems return and creates a gameplay experience that really doesn’t do much to take a hold of the player, which is a shame considering many of its gameplay elements showcase much promise. Ubisoft Quebec has managed to create a decent game, but the gameplay simply never manages to live up to the potential of its setting, which is a shame.