I’ve at least dabbled–and sometimes, much more than that–with every Assassin’s Creed release. Maybe because I’m an Anglophile or maybe because I’ve spent a lot of time in London, but Syndicate has got its hooks in pretty deep. If you’ve dismissed the game as just another in a long line of broken and disappointing entries in the franchise, think again, guv’nor.
1. AUSTIN WINTORY’S SCORE IS FANTASTIC
L.A.-based composer Austin Wintory (the first composer to be nominated for a Grammy, for his amazing score to Journey) has crafted a subtle and intriguing score that is entirely free of big-budget action game cliche and bombast. Focusing on string quartet, string ensembles, and voice, Wintory’s score does not attempt to ape the style of Victorian music, but captures the intimate parlor feel while still using contemporary harmonic language.
Add to this, there are a handful of cheeky “murder ballads” sprinkled throughout the city, not unlike the sea shanties in Black Flag (though not a collectible). Ascend to the dome of St. Paul’s cathedral and the musical cue is a dreamy setting of the hymn “Abide with Me.” Wintory’s score is one of the absolute best of the year, and there have been some good ones.
2. EVIE AND JACOB FRYE
Having twin protagonists for this chapter in the series is a masterstroke, and even better, we get to play a smart, strong, capable, and not overly sexualized female character. The relationship between brother and sister is well-written, extremely well acted, and of course having characters with differing yet complimentary strengths adds to the game’s variety. While the story is one of the series’ most straightforward, I’ve always found the plot taking a backseat to the foreground characters, especially with Syndicate. It could be argued that the characters are so well defined that they lack subtlety, but I am not complaining.
3. LONDON IS ALIVE
Every Assassin’s Creed game has excelled at creating an immersive and historically accurate environment, but never more so than with Syndicate. The level of detail is fairly mind-boggling, and subtle touches that add to the city’s living presence are packed into every inch of landscape. Example: I stood next to a couple sitting in the park and listened for several minutes to their ongoing and evolving conversation about buying and selling stocks, getting tipsy and lightheaded from the wine, and more. These weren’t significant NPCs, but one of thousands of absolutely anonymous characters that populate the city.
4. CONTROLS HAVE IMPROVED AND THE GRAPPLING HOOK IS FANTASTIC
For me–and just about everyone who has struggled with movement in AC–Syndicate’s controls seem much improved. Climbing and jumping are not perfect but I only rarely found the act of getting around or escaping from pursuers frustrating. The addition of the grappling hook is a masterstroke and certainly makes logical sense given the historical period and mechanical proclivities of the era. Other tweaks to the game play systems dealing with enemy detection and stealth, the new leveling progression, etc. are almost all welcome and improvements. I’m not a big fan of Syndicate‘s vehicles, and found them unresponsive and awkward. The game’s races and carriage segments were disappointing, but happily an infrequent intrusion into my enjoyment.
5. CHARLES DICKENS AND FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE AND…
All the AC games have included cameos by historical figures, from Leonardo da Vinci to George Washington. Those who call the inclusion of so many luminaries–Alexander Graham Bell, Dickens, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx–cheesy and a little unbelievable are hard to argue with. Still. It’s fun to imagine all these important movers and shakers of letters, science, politics, and literature all hobnobbing, Forrest Gump-like, with Evie and Jacob and their inclusion in the story makes at least marginal sense.
Syndicate is, when all is said and done, still an Assassin’s Creed game, hewing pretty closely to the tropes and structures of the series. Given that, I found this latest iteration the most engaging and enjoyable since AC 2.
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