It’s about as inevitable as yet another rainy British summertime, but Assassin’s Creed has, once again, returned to our monitors. However, please stifle those yawns a moment: I’m happy to report that… this one’s actually quite good! And no, I haven’t even gone about as crazy as you’re average Joe Templar.
Your latest Assassin‘s adventure sees Evie and Jacob Frye, some of the most personable and interesting protagonists seen in the series this side of Ezio Auditore, and their self-styled gang called the Rooks in their attempts to reclaim Victorian London from those pesky Templars, headed up by chief nasty Crawford Starrick. Also lending a hand are a surprisingly large cast of historical characters such as Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale and Alexander Graham Bell sending you on an array of irreverent jobs. These are fun and lighten the tone of what has mostly been a serious series, but none of these historical celebs get much of a chance to shine in their own right.
The two siblings play off of each other nicely in both gameplay and story terms: Evie’s play style is more stealth-focused as she stresses the need for the two to recover the next piece of Eden and Jacob is more confrontational and brash as he prizes knocking as many Templar blocks off as he can. Not exactly revolutionary in its depiction of gender roles then, but at least Syndicate does well to avoid the wider Animus, Abstergo and Apple of Eden guff. Mostly.
Syndicate‘s most important triumphs are, admittedly, borrowed from other games, but they remain a big part of why the latest instalment is so successful. Horse-drawn carriages can be hijacked a la Grand Theft Auto in much wider street design reminiscent of Batman: Arkham Knight. Caped crusader comparisons don’t end there though; melee combat has seen an Arkham-esque update and the Batclaw – sorry, Rope Launcher – revolutionises AC’s climbing experience.
On the other hand, not everything has seen an update, as the controls will still endlessly infuriate. Too many actions are still mapped to too few button inputs and the behaviour of your Evie and Jacob can often be imprecise at best, and downright terrible at worst. When you’re stuck in a tight space and being pursued by enemy gangsters, it’s pretty much down to pot luck whether you successfully escape through a door to become Anonymous, or, most likely, end up crashing into everything and embarrassingly circling the room like a headless chicken.
But, by god isn’t this game gorgeous. Ascending the beautifully realised landmarks of Big Ben, Waterloo Station and the Houses of Parliament is a joy only beat by gradually taking in the detail Ubisoft have packed into London. Even underground in the sewers and on ground level the world is richly detailed: popular Victorian brands glisten near rain-soaked cobbles in the most dynamic environment seen in the series.
Even underground in the sewers and on ground level the world is richly detailed: popular Victorian brands glisten near rain-soaked cobbles in the most dynamic environment seen in the series.
Like every other Creed, there’s plenty of busywork to do in all corners of the city. However, unlike every other Creed, all the extra stuff you’ll be doing to compliment the main narrative feels necessary. With each gang leader defeated, weapon upgrade successfully crafted and section of London liberated, you’ll be increasing the Rooks’ sphere of influence and their chances in the fight against the Templars, encouraging you to explore every nook and cranny of Blighty’s beautiful capital.
Ironically, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is the type of game that categorically proves why developers shouldn’t release games annually. Franchises need the time to rectify series mistakes and recognise what rival games are doing more successfully. Syndicate irons out a significant number of traditional Creed-y missteps, but loyal fans will dwindle as they feel burnt out by a yearly release. Which is an incredible shame: Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate isn’t just the finest AC title in the series to date. It’s one of the best games of 2015.