There was a lot of trepidation over the past year with Ubisoft after it’s bug-filled release of Assassin’s Creed Unity. Could they regain the lost trust of fed up fans? It’s no secret that this franchise has raked in loads of cash for Ubisoft, and the hope is that their dedication to one game instead of a dual release (Unity was released alongside Assassin’s Creed Rogue for PS3) would initiate a renewed trust. How’s Syndicate doing in its first week? Not so good. It topped the U.K. charts, knocking Fifa 16 down to number two, but Syndicate has become the second-worst selling AC game through its first week (Rogue). That may not be surprising given last year’s issues, mixed with the fact that interest in the game is waning as fans appear ready to part ways with a franchise that may have overstayed its welcome.
I played Unity and I’m well aware of the issues it had. The free-running was a mess, the plot was rough, and the glitches were abundant, for starters. I held off playing the game for a long time, only because I didn’t have a PS4 when it was initially released, and by the time I did it had already been crucified by the general gaming community. For a $60 game it was terrible, and for a $20 game months later it was bearable. So the expectations for Syndicate were incredibly high for Ubisoft, and low for most gamers.
Syndicate introduces a new city, new skills and abilities, and two new characters that players can use throughout the game. Twins Jacob and Evie Frye have very little in common, but the dynamic offers options to players with preferences. Like to stalk and quietly assassinate people? Evie’s your ticket. Like to start gang wars and fight the oppressive gang called the Blighters? Then Jacob’s just your cup of tea. The two set out on different paths with the same destination in mind: reclaiming London. Evie’s hope is to find a Piece of Eden before the Templars do, and Jacob wants to crack skulls of every Templar from the bottom all the way up to crime boss Crawford Starrick. The two find help along the way, and as boroughs of London are reclaimed one by one, Jacob’s gang (The Rooks) grows in strength and numbers.
Another new feature to the game is the faster combat. It’s much quicker than previous versions to the point that it’s almost ridiculous. While the combat is faster, at times it feels like it takes longer to actually dismantle an enemy. Constantly mashing the punch button with the occasional counter tends to get repetitive. Each enemy you fight is of a certain level, so the greater the level the tougher they are to bring down. Though once you get accustomed to the fighting, they’re mostly easy to defeat, it just may take a little longer than you want. However, as you complete side missions and collect items, new skills and weaponry allow you to do more damage, thus inflicting more damage faster. The game also allows you to combo your attack with the punch and tool buttons to try to bring a tough enemy down faster, but if you like to stick with the punches and hit with the cane while trying to save knives or bullets, it’ll take a little extra time. Even as you upgrade and advance through the game, the Blighters also get tougher and more difficult to bring down.
The map for the game is huge. Six boroughs are occupied by the corrupt Blighters, and it’s up to Jacob and Evie to relinquish those leaders of their positions and claim the area for the people. Each side mission is tied-in with the main story in some way or another, so it feels like you’re actually getting things accomplished instead of doing the missions strictly for the rewards at the end.
Liberating child labor factories increases trust with the young entrepreneur Clara O’Dea, who is a valuable asset for information. Assisting the likes of Alexander Graham Bell or Charles Darwin open new opportunities and weapons. It’s Bell, after all, who you have to visit once obtaining the broken rope launcher that makes traversing the city much more enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, the free running and climbing are what help make the game fun, but with London’s wider streets and incredibly tall buildings, the rope launcher allows those pressed for time to zip-line or scale more efficiently. On more than one occasion I stopped mid zip-line to take in the sights of the city. Ubisoft did a great job with the look of the buildings, streets, carriages, and people. The Thames river, with the hustle and bustle of boats is a sight to behold, and hopping from barge to barge gives one that familiar Frogger feeling.
Along with the aforementioned rope launcher (a fantastic addition to the game), the new weapons offer assistance to the twins as they find themselves facing tougher opponents as the game goes on. A personal favorite was the Voltaic Bomb provided by Bell himself. When surrounded by more opponents than you wish to take on at one time, the Voltaic Bomb sends an electric current through the bones of anyone within its range and renders them helpless long enough to take a few out and help your chances of survival. It was mighty nice of Bell to include rubber insoles so Jacob and Evie don’t feel the effects of the bombs.
The sword-cane also became a favorite of mine, and was cool to watch during kills when Jacob or Evie would use both the blade and scythe to finish off Blighters. I was always a fan of the Berserk Darts, which are now called Hallucinogenic Darts, and can be shot at open flames to infect more than one person at a time. It’s always fun watching them go insane and attack each other.
This entry in to the AC franchise was one of the more enjoyable titles for me. Maybe it’s because Ubisoft actually came through with a solid product. Maybe it’s because the time, the plot, and the two character ability set it apart from others. Maybe it was because I just finished Unity a week before playing Syndicate. Whatever it was, I felt that Syndicate was how Unity was meant to be. I encountered few glitches throughout, the free-running seemed way less troublesome, and fighting the generic Blighter proved tougher as the game went on, as many had hire skill levels than those earlier in the game.
In previous AC games, I was always a fan of the modern day plot that began with Desmond (and it should be noted that Syndicate makes a few references to previous characters, including him), and though you’re only known as “Initiate” in this one, you reconnect with Shaun and Rebecca as they travel the world using your memories to find where the Shroud of Eden is hidden today. I won’t say who, but a figure from the past makes an appearance before you’re sent back to London to roam around and check off any unfinished business.
My biggest issue with the game was its ending. It’s obvious early on that Crawford Starrick is the final battle, and of course it’s over a Piece of Eden (this time an item called the Shroud of Eden). With the entire game bouncing back and forth between Jacob and Evie, it made sense that they do battle together, but the way it was done just became repetitive and not overly challenging after you realize what’s going on and what the pattern is.
In the past I used to try and make do with minimal leveling in the name of advancing the story. Syndicate makes it easier to gain skill points to level up, thereby making Jacob and Evie more suited to complete the tougher challenges. Normally during an AC game there’s at least one mission that always that throws me for a loop and makes me want to step away for a while. Not the case with Syndicate. Sure, I desynchronized a few times, but I never wanted to throw the controller through my TV. Plus there’s a surprising bonus map that opens up a third character and presumably sets the table for the next AC release.
The good of the game certainly outweighs any of the bad, and fans of the series would find it worth their time and money to give Syndicate a go. It mixes the best elements from earlier games along with some new pieces that help break up some of the repetitiveness. Adding two playable characters of conflicting minds and abilities was a great idea for Ubisoft, and putting the effort into making England as detailed and beautiful as they did only helps the case for picking up the game.
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Review statement: a copy of the game was purchased for the purpose of this review