Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Release Date: 10/23/2015
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Here we are, another year, another Assassin’s Creed game. Having to actually say this is just sad as Assassin’s Creed has always been a good series. The games are high quality, play well, and look amazing for their time, but when you release that same greatness over and over with only minor changes it can grow tiresome. I was personally done with AC when Black Flag was released. I just couldn’t get through it. I already played them all up until that point and I felt AC3 hit the series peak, but they had to keep going.
Syndicate doesn’t do much new, but as it’s the last of the “older AC style games” it does everything very well but is also a little too familiar. While we do get new characters and the continued “real-world” story of the Assassins vs the Templars, the most interesting part of any AC game is the historically accurate world you explore. This time its 19th century England, specifically the London area and surrounding cities. You play as two characters this time, Jacob and Eevie Frye who are rogue assassins that are trying to stop the Templar plot in London. The main villain is Starrick who is pretty decent and well hated, but overall, the actual story is not much to really care about as it drags on a bit too long and takes forever to really go anywhere. Most of the game is just interaction cut scenes on what to do for the current mission and very little progression overall. Eevie is trying to obtain the Shroud relic which grants eternal life and Jacob doesn’t believe in the relics and pieces of Eden and wants to just stop the Templar threat. Both characters play exactly the same minus a few skills, but Jacobs’s missions lead him on a separate path.
Assassin’s Creed has been slowly eeking in RPG elements over time and I hate them. It doesn’t belong in this game at all and it really shows here. The entire map is sectioned off with leveled areas up to level 9. Of course, story missions also require you to be at certain levels and the only way to level up is to complete missions and use your points in the skill tree. Once you acquired enough skills you will level up. The grinding isn’t too bad here, but a few times the story missions didn’t give me enough XP to level up so I had to end up liberating sections of the map. This is where the game really becomes formulaic and you can see the series has hit a brick wall. Each side mission that requires you to liberate an area repeats throughout the game. The missions range from assassinating templars, to bounty hunts that require you to kidnap the target dead or alive, then there are child labor camp liberations where you just have to assassinate the foreman and free the children, and there are gang strongholds. The gang in this game is the Blighters and they all dress in red so they stand out. You just need to kill everyone in these areas. Once you liberate all areas of the city you then have to fight the gang leader. You get an opportunity to do it out in the open, but more often than not the thugs will take you down as there are so many of them. Whether you kill the leader or not you have to challenge the gang to a stand-off and just eliminate a bunch of them in a closed-off area. Once that area is 100% liberated you can recruit those green-dressed members to fight for you.
After you liberate your first two areas these missions get old really fast and I didn’t bother with the last two cities. Most of the main missions are pretty much this combined with just unique areas and circumstances. Kidnapping, assassinating, stealing, blowing things up, and of course, there are secondary optional objectives you can meet for more XP and money, but some of these just seem impossible to accomplish, it was fun to try and strive for these, but if I blew it I didn’t bother restarting or anything. One new addition to the series is vehicles in the form of horse-drawn carriages. These drive okay for the most part but are pretty much useless once you start unlocking more fast travel points by syncing up at high points. They drive okay, but there are a lot of physics glitches in this game and often you’d see horses fly off into space or freak out and run off into the abyss.
Syndicate has a lot of great-looking outfits and items to unlock. Each character has an outfit, gauntlet, and sidearm to equip. Most of these have to be crafted or met at a certain level and you can find them by meeting secondary objectives on missions, locked chests, or by just playing the game. I feel the game is far too small in scope to need RPG elements. Once you get to level 8 you can finish the game and there’s no point to continue playing anymore. The only reason you need to level up and get better equipment is to survive the story missions. I was able to finish the game in about 13 hours, and I still felt this dragged on. Without the grinding, the story takes about 6-8 hours to complete with 8 sequences. I enjoyed the story and the Frye twins have great personalities, but overall it felt average and forgettable at best. They didn’t go through enough personal issues, they got away scot-free for going against the Orders rules, and overall the entire Assassins Order played no part in this game. The missions felt like they were just stringing you along and barely had a story to tell as an excuse.
As it stands when I finished the game, I felt the side stuff was pointless and boring. I enjoyed the unique story missions the most and yes, acquiring skills is just fine and the skill tree was actually useful. My characters felt more powerful as I leveled up and it made doing certain things easier like when Eevie can stay still and become invisible when she masters the Stealth tree. There are crowd events to complete in each area like stealth kill a messenger or scare some bullies, but these aren’t fun. They are just there for completionists and to pad hours onto a game. I felt no reward or accomplishment when just checking these boxes for items I won’t even need to use. You can upgrade each piece of equipment once to add a stat, but this is mostly for melee combat. Which in fact is terrible. It tries to be like Batman Arkham‘s combat system where you mash one button and then counter or break defense. When the enemy’s health bar flashes yellow you can press the parry button and when the health bar is gray you can break their defense. It doesn’t chain together smoothly and half the time it felt unresponsive. Some of the kill animations are also way too long and there’s a lot of clipping and while it feels and looks brutal it’s just button mashing.
The overall movement and flow of Syndicate feel a bit janky. A lot of time the character would hop around like a rabbit when I was trying to get down somewhere to hang on to a specific thing. A lot of the times this blew missions and I had to restart. You can free-run up or down with two separate buttons, but you also get a grappling line and it doesn’t work as you think. You have to be directly under a building to grapple up and you can grapple across rooftops, but it does come in handy for assassinating people in large open areas. The problem is you can’t grapple back out quickly as you must be right next to a building. This felt only half useful most of the time. Other than this the only side missions I enjoyed were with real-life people such as Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Dickens. These missions are always enjoyable in AC games, but the same repetitious missions repeat here as well.
The game does look absolutely stunning though. For the time, the game was ahead in terms of technical achievements for graphics and no GPU could run the game at maxed-out settings and 60FPS, but now that it’s been five years I can see why. The Anvil engine is horribly optimized and runs poorly on GPUs that are four generations newer. I had to turn anti-aliasing completely off on an overclocked RTX 2080 as I couldn’t get 60FPS with everything else maxed out at 1440p. That’s the game’s fault, not my system. When you do get it running well it looks stunning even today. Great lighting effects, outfits that look gorgeous and beautiful recreations of historical buildings. I enjoyed exploring London. However, the facial animations and models on everyone but the main characters looked horrendous and the same five-character models repeat. The game is a little rough here and there, and I also found on my 1660ti system that the camera had jerkiness to it despite hitting 60FPS with everything maxed out and anti-aliasing set to FXAA (otherwise you lose 20FPS and it’s not worth the cost).
As Syndicate stands now, the series really needs to reboot or needs to go back to simpler times when you just had a nice narrative and a few things to collect. Outside of the mediocre story and somewhat fun story missions, the side missions are repetitive, formulaic, and get old fast. There are only chests and newspapers to tear down off walls and even these are old as they have been in every single game except the first one up to this point in time. You can make beautiful historically accurate worlds, and you can have state-of-the-art graphics, but in the end, the series will get stale and tiresome fast.