In Syndicate the player gains control over the Frye twins, Jacob and Evie, as they travel to London, which is now well and truly industrialised. Obviously buoyed by GTAV’s revolutionary stance on multiple protagonists, Ubisoft’s attempt is far more lacklustre but still interesting in a gameplay sense … at least for a little bit.
For all intents and purposes, Assassin’s Creed is a cash cow franchise for Ubisoft. The video game publisher signalled as much when it swiftly marginalised its present day narrative – one that spanned four games – for an abrupt ending in Revelations. Sure, they ripped the Band Aid off but they ran for the hills after they did it, frightened and oblivious to what its consumer base has been crying out for; some cohesion in the AC universe.
Nevertheless, the AC franchise is tried, tested and trusted. It ticks all the boxes and that, in the end, is its greatest weakness as it iterates rather than innovates. Having said that, there is still enjoyment and time to be had in the bustling streets of late 1800s London.
Evie Frye proposes the stealth path for the gamer, with her skill tree and personality one of quiet precision and an overall ‘get-shit-done’ attitude. On the male side Jacob is delightfully chirpy in the face of violence and conflict. They are, quite intentionally, representations of how the game can be played. One one hand you can go in all guns blazing, whilst the other presents more methodical slices with a razor sharp scalpel. It’s Meta but it works for the gamer. I found myself getting mind-numbingly robotic playing with Evie but with a few button presses I was gallivanting and murdering without remorse as Jacob. The two styles of play really compliment each other and allow for a more malleable playtime.
However, the biggest problems of the franchise still remain and they don’t look like going away anytime soon. For instance, the large map is still littered with little dots and collectibles, which are intended to flesh out the game but only prove to be a nuisance and an eye sore. There is very little variety in the grunts you fight and the villains you come across. I must’ve killed the same gang leader 100 times, so much so that it became infuriating seeing the same dude’s baldhead over and over again. One wonders why the variety in the NPCs bustling in alleys wasn’t transferred over to the grunts. This seems like an easy tweak but one that was overlooked.
The present day narrative is still an afterthought. At this point the present day nonsense has become a gateway drug to the historical sequences but come on guys, remember when we had Desmond and the story was kind of intriguing? Let’s get back there.
Furthermore, Ubisoft are still employing the most infuriating game-making tactic there is: let’s litter the map with tons and tons of collectables, overwhelming the player and tapping into their need to clear missions up. This tactic naturally makes large portions of the game feel like a chore. I don’t want to be collecting chests and fragments every two seconds but they’re everywhere and they’re an eye sore in an otherwise luscious map.
It would be easy to call Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate a good game but I have to take a stand. Syndicate isn’t a good game … it’s JUST a game. It’s nothing special but at the same time it isn’t horrendous. It’s unremarkable, not special and certainly doesn’t linger in the mind. Ubisoft’s franchise has gone stagnant and they need to breathe new life into it. Perhaps the 2 year break they’ve taken will allow them to come back stronger, better and more impactful than before.