A month ago, Gamespot’s The Point posted a video titled “Breaking Up With Assassin’s Creed.” I usually agree with Danny, but I have to disagree with him after playing Syndicate, for the most part; I think Assassin’s Creed and I can be friends after breaking up with it.
Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood are my favorite games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, for many of the reasons Danny points out in his video. I love how the missions create a story arc around Ezio in Assassin’s Creed 2, and I love the combat, free running, and world of Brotherhood. Revelations is still a great game, but it stumbled in the game play department, mainly the free running. Assassin’s Creed 3 dropped the ball completely, which is why it’s considered one of the worst games in the series. I felt the same way Danny does about Assassin’s Creed after Assassin’s Creed 3; I wanted to break up with the series. So, we took a break. I skipped Black Flag, and Rogue. I got Unity for free with a computer component, and played it for about seven hours before before putting down the controller; it truly is an awful Assassin’s Creed game.
Then, Syndicate was revealed. I wasn’t too sure about it, but the Evie Frye Trailer sparked my interest in the series again. Cane sword: check. Kickass combat: check. Badass female lead: check. Sure, the trailer looks prerendered, but it could end up like that, right? The reviews came in. Polygon noted, “It pushes back against the collected cruft of eight years of releases and spinoffs, an imposing accumulation of mechanics and lore and expectations.” ArsTechnica summarized it’s review by saying, “And Syndicate is just plain fun. After a couple dozen hours in Jacob’s or Evie’s shoes, it’s easy to forget about the past missteps, the annoying chase sequences, or that time one of the twins got stuck in a corner and the mission had to be restarted.” There was hope for a series I used to love. I reacquainted myself with the series, and bought Syndicate.
Hearing Syndicate dropped multiplayer, and stripped other unnecessary elements sounded great, and after playing it, I think it’s a great choice. I feel the developers weren’t focusing on tacked on elements, and they were able to focus on the details of London. London just feels alive. The non-playable characters (NPCs) on the street wonder around, and will stop to admire a musician, or talk to another NPC. Nothing feels scripted, because you rarely see the same action more than once; each NPC feels like an individual. My only complaint about the NPCs is I wish the enemies felt that way as neutral NPCs. Unfortunately, you fight the same looking enemy over and over again, and, out of combat, the enemies stand out from the crowd because they aren’t doing anything.
London is beautiful. The details on the buildings are amazing. In Syndicate the landmarks usually don’t stand out, and that’s a compliment, because the buildings around the landmarks feel unique (even if they are not). There were many times I’d be walking by or on top of building and think that it must be a landmark, but when I look at my map, I’m wrong. Part of the charm of London is it’s weather. The dynamic weather and day cycle makes London feel like a living and breathing place, instead of a setting like the cities of past Assassin’s Creeds. The gas lamps lighting up at night, and puddles of water after rain creates an atmosphere that makes you believe you are an actual part of the city, instead of just playing in it.
The music in Syndicate is the one of the best soundtracks in any video game. The playing of a lone violin while sitting on a viewpoint is amazing. Making a leap of faith almost feels whimsical with the sound of string instruments in the background. On the Thames, you can hear sea shanties (some of them from Black Flag). On the street, you’ll hear an organ grinder playing for a group of NPCs. The NPCs, the weather, the day/night cycle, and the music comes together to create an atmosphere that is like no other Assassin’s Creed game. I loved every second in London.
After the game opens up London, it still becomes a big “to-do” list, but I didn’t mind, because the developers nailed the atmosphere. Actually, I welcomed the excuses to go out of my way to collect a chest, or participate in a carriage race. London is a huge city in Syndicate (and, obviously, in real life).
To me, Assassin’s Creed has been getting worse with it’s free running; the last game to get it right was Brotherhood. They’ve been focusing on creating realistic cities, with realistic roofs that are difficult to run across. Syndicate doesn’t fix this issue, but they do offer a different solution: the grappling hook. I will say, the controls for running up and down buildings are better in Syndicate, but the grappling hook is going to be your main method of moving up and down, as well as across buildings. As Danny says in The Point video, the grappling hook reduces climbing to a single button press. I do miss the days of early Assassin’s Creed where climbing was a challenge, and was a selling point of the game. However, there’s a lot of buildings in London, and I think Ubisoft made the right choice. The grappling hook is fun, and it feels good to use.
The combat of Syndicate is refined from other Assassin’s Creed games. The combat is simple, but it is fun. However, there is very little challenge, because it is simpler. You can purchase and upgrade weapons, but gone are the choices on how you use them. You can’t pick up weapons of fallen foes. Basically, you counter, avoid being shot, hit, break blocks, and throw/shoot secondary weapons. The only reason I loved the combat is Syndicate, because of the variety of animations. In my entire play through, I rarely saw the same combat animation more than a handful of times.
The story in Syndicate kept me interested. Having twins, Evie and Jacob Frye, with different motivations and personalities helps create an interesting story. The banter between the twins is very well written and acted. They come close to my favorite assassins, right behind Ezio. Syndicate also proves Ubisoft can create interesting assassins without having the player go through their childhood to understand their motivations for joining the brotherhood. There’s a part of me that wants more Evie and Jacob Assassin’s Creed games, but I also feel their story was told.
I think Assassin’s Creed and I will stay friends. I feel Danny got burnt out on the series because he kept playing every game each year; I felt the same way after Assassin’s Creed 3. I’ll keep an eye on what Assassin’s Creed does in the future, but I may not buy next year’s installment, especially if it gets horrible reviews. There’s a part of me that wishes Ubisoft would skip a year, and give me time to miss the series; we know that won’t happen anytime soon. So until then, I don’t feel the need to play each new Assassin’s Creed game each year.