You’re reading Short Takes, our sort of first impressions/mini-review hybrid in which we provide our opinions of a game in slightly truncated form. This may be a game we’re eventually going to fully review, it may be a game we don’t have time to play to completion and review right now, but it’s a game on which we want to share our thoughts. There are tons of games that come out every week, and we can’t play and review all of them, so this is our way of joining the conversation and chiming in on the titles that interest us as we work through the weekly release schedule. Short Takes will not include a numbered score.
While it’s hard to say what kind of lasting damage, if any, the infamously buggy Assassin’s Creed: Unity may have had on Ubisoft’s annual series, I can definitely understand the concern many people may have with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. Ditching any kind of multiplayer and, in a sense, returning to the roots of the series, Syndicate sets out to right the series’ proverbial ship and deliver a core, back-to-basics Assassin’s Creed experience. To those who may be treading with caution, I can happily report that so far, Syndicate feels like the most refined Assassin’s Creed title we’ve gotten in several years.
Title: Assassin's Creed: Syndicate
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec (among many other Ubisoft studios)
Platforms: PS4 (version played), Xbox One, PC (Coming 11/19/15)
Price: $59.99 (Gold Edition with Season Pass $89.99)
What Is It?
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is this year’s entry in Ubisoft’s annual Assassin’s Creed franchise. Syndicate features twins Jacob and Evie Frye and their quest to not only obtain a Piece of Eden from the hands of the Templars, but to liberate the overworked/underpaid lower class as well. There are current-day story beats, but so far they’ve only been relegated to cutscenes which seemingly continue the present time arc that began in Unity. Syndicate takes place in 1868 during the Industrial Revolution in London. One of the newest additions to the series is the introduction of a grappling hook that, in a sense, eliminates the tedious task of scaling buildings. Players can also commandeer buggies to travel across the vast map present in this year’s outing. Lastly, due to the era that Ubisoft Quebec has chosen for Syndicate, combat is much more hand-to-hand focused as this time period didn’t see people walking around with swords or axes.
Refined Combat System
Prior games were heavily focused on beating enemies down with swords, staffs and, of course, your hidden wrist blade. Syndicate focuses on hand-to-hand combat featuring knives, cane swords, and brass knuckles. There are guns as well, but who brings a gun to a knife fight?! I didn’t enjoy what Batman: Arkham Knight brought to the table, so Syndicate feels like it’s picking up the slack in my book. While not a direct knock-off of the incredible Arkham free-flowing combat system, fighting groups of enemies in Syndicate is akin to that of fighting groups of thugs in Batman. Visual cues for impending attacks crop up here in the form of a flashing gold health bar as an enemy is about to strike, giving you ample time to press the counter button. Bringing two enemies to a near death state may also launch Evie or Jacob into some cool looking double kill animations. Typical gear such as darts, smoke bombs, and guns are at your disposal as well, but Syndicate’s hand-to-hand combat is so satisfying that you likely won’t find yourself using these unless you’re up against enemies that are a higher level than you.
While I may have been in the minority when it comes to enjoying Assassin’s Creed: Unity, it doesn’t mean I’ve been anticipating Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate any less. I have been very happy with what Syndicate brings to the table so far. Finishing up Sequence 3 really opens up the game, not only in regards to your arsenal, but when it comes to available activities as well. A variety of characters bring everything from buggy races to fight clubs into the fold for the player to experience. There are your typical chests to find and kick open, but additional collectibles such as pressed flowers, vintage beer bottles, and illustrations are also scattered throughout London waiting to be found. Furthermore, each territory is liberated by completing objectives like freeing child laborers from their oppressive warehouses, or seeking out a target in a work area and taking him or her down. Completing these activities will eventually grant Jacob or Evie access to a gang stronghold which pits them and a handful of Rooks (the gang which Jacob begins to establish upon landing in London) against the boss or leader of a gang in a certain district. These are intimate encounters that feel reminiscent of Bane and Batman’s showdown in the street near the end of The Dark Knight Rises.
The biggest addition to the series is definitely the grapple gun. To series veterans, the thought of slowly ascending buildings these days feels a bit tedious as climbing fatigue has set in over the years. Not only is the grapple gun great for quickly getting to the top of synchronization points, but it’s even efficient when moving from rooftop to rooftop. The L1 prompt is ever present once the grapple is obtained, and escaping conflict or scaling a building for a helix glitch (this game’s equivalent of helix fragments) is now a simple button press away, no longer requiring you to hold R2 and X to run and climb as in previous installments. Buggies provide the same renewed sense of escape and quick traversal, although I’ve only resorted to hopping into one when my next waypoint is across the map and I have no fast travel spots nearby.
The ability to switch between Jacob and Evie also presents players with a fun option to proceed through the game. Each have their own sets of story missions to tackle, however, players can swap between them (almost) on the fly as players only need to click R3 on the start menu to switch. Both siblings have their own unique skill trees to build out. Evie plays much more stealthily and moves a lot quicker, whereas Jacob is more of a slower moving, brawler type of character. Each of them earns skill points regardless of who is active while playing the game. Earning three upgrade points and spending them with Evie will still leave three points waiting on standby when players swap back to Jacob. As you might imagine, they also have unlockable perks that are exclusive to one or the other.
What I’ve Played So Far
I’m currently in the middle of Sequence 4, having completed Evie’s half of the sequence. I’ve sampled some of the new side activities, spent a lot of time running around and syncing viewpoints, and got distracted a fair deal searching for the game’s various collectibles. I’ve also spent time just messing around with the new grapple gun and driving around the various buggies found throughout the game.
Should You Buy This Game?
If you were (understandably) put off by last year’s Unity and need assurance that Syndicate isn’t following that same downward spiral, I can promise you that this game is absolutely for you. Seasoned Assassin’s Creed players will find more of the same tried-and-true franchise formula that they know and love, but with just enough new twists to make it feel like a refreshing take on the series. Jacob and Evie’s banter is entertaining as well, and neither character comes off as crass as some found Arno to be last year. The game also rewards veteran fans of the series with some cool, albeit minor, throwbacks to prior games. If you’ve ever remotely enjoyed an Assassin’s Creed title, I strongly recommend hopping back in to give Syndicate a chance.