In years past, Assassin’s Creed games have been highlighted by the battle raging between the Assassins and the Templars and with this year’s installment, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the focus isn’t entirely on that centuries old war. Instead, this time around the focus is on contrast. Contrast between your main characters, Jacob and Evie Frye, the social classes of Victorian London, and of London itself. After some ... “technical hiccups” last year Assassin’s Creed Unity, a magnifying glass was set upon Syndicate, and it holds up well.
Jacob and Evie Frye are twins and in an interesting spin, you’ll be playing as both of them. When out wandering London, participating in any of the dozens of different things to do, you can swap between Evie and Jacob seamlessly from the pause menu. Story missions are particular to one or the other, but the game will automatically swap you to the appropriate Assassin when you initiate it.
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The difference in personality is robust and quickly apparent, similar to most siblings. Evie is more determined, conscious of her actions, and focused on completing tasks the “proper” way, while Jacob likes fun, loves danger, and struts around with an ego the size of Big Ben. For all their differences though, one couldn’t exist without the other. Evie and Jacob are, individually, flawed characters, which is what makes them so interesting. Together, they act as the other’s counterpoint and, through the love and respect they have for each other, make an unforgettable team.
The most impressive part of Syndicate is how delicate the transition between districts can be. Initially you’ll wander within some of the poorer sections of London, witnessing brutal child labor, clogged streets, pollution, and debris littering every corner. As you progress, you’ll eventually make your way into the upper-class area. Roads have regular upkeep, carriages are far nicer, and beautiful parks with lush, green grass are common.
The poor sections of London are washed out, clouds and smoke blotting out the sky, and a gray film covers everything and everyone. The nobler areas, Westminster for instance, are bright, sunny, colorful, and welcoming. Dividing these areas is the river Thames, a bustling, clogged channel filled river boats, both stationary and not. Seeing the organized chaos of the Thames is daunting at first, but you’ll discover that the river acts, not only as a divider for the city, but as a world in itself.
Unfortunately, if you’re not a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series, Syndicate isn’t going to make you reconsider. While the inclusion of a grappling hook is helpful, not much has been done to improve the parkour system. Scaling and descending buildings is back, making things easier throughout, but the overall smoothness of running and jumping through London is lacking. Oftentimes the layout of rooftops alone is enough to frustrate you, as you’ll get stuck on chimneys (so many chimneys), eaves, or simply jump off a building altogether.
The technical side, while far better than Unity, still has its issues. Falling through the ground, getting lodged under trains, and having the game crash altogether happened far too often to be ignored. Additionally, though it doesn’t affect all players, some collectible items will disappear from your map, making 100% completion nearly impossible without uninstalling, then reinstalling the game.
And despite those problems the game is still impressive in all other categories. There’s so much to do in London, aside from the story, that you’ll find yourself spending hours trying to see it all. Jacob and Evie’s recurring interactions with famous London-dwellers like Dickens and Karl Marx aren’t brief, nor are they too long and, thankfully, no one character overstays his or her welcome.
Finally, it’s clear that Ubisoft has started to reign in the modern day story that seemed to have gone off the rails. Instead of drawn-out sequences in an office building, you’re given cut scenes showing what’s happening between the Templars and the Assassins and, coyly, it’s intermingled with what you’re doing and seeing through the eyes of Jacob and Evie Frye. For a series that has existed in the past, it’s finally doing a good job of making the sci-fi angle enjoyable and interesting again.
With so much to do throughout the city of London, fight clubs, carriage racing, and stopping child labor to name a few, you won’t get bored with what Assassin’s Creed Syndicate offers. Then again, if you moved away from the franchise, there’s little here that’s new or improved enough to suggest you come back. The story is magnificent, holding perhaps one of the best endings in the series, but the gameplay for Assassin's Creed Syndicate remains largely the same.
Overall Score: 8 out of 10