Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is the 9th entry in the series, released on October 2015. Coming off the coattails of Unity and Rogue, it had a fairly low bar to reach, and because of it, it did pretty well. As the most recent assassin’s in the series it allowed for a fair bit more leniency with the usable gadgets as well as an easier sense of familiarity with the setting.
Syndicate opens with camera footage from a drone showing Shaun Hastings and Rebecca Crane actually doing something useful by downloading the lives of Jacob and Evie Frye. We play as the Initiate, a faceless assassin recruit tasked with living out the life of the Frye twins so the assassins can find and acquire the Shroud, this games “MacGuffin”.
This game features the second playable female character, Evie Frye, along with her twin brother who is also playable. It follows their story through 1800’s London against the Templar Grandmaster Crawford Starrick, the cardboard cut-out villain.
Their section opens with them both undertaking missions, Jacob is successful, and Evie is also successful in the sense that at least the templars lose a Piece of Eden. They escape by train and are told to be good little assassins and run home.
Jacob and Evie don’t play like that.
Post Teen Angst
Jacob and Evie ride the train to London and decide to take down Starrick on their own whim, with no directive or guaranteed backup from the assassins. Which is never addressed and there are no consequences for. They lie through their teeth to everyone they meet about their mission and entangle everyone they can in their web of conspiracy.
The story plays out like a fanfiction. The main characters state their intentions in plain terms and the story fits around their goals. Jacob wants to start a gang called “The Rooks”, and he does so easily. Evie wants to find more Pieces of Eden, and she manages to do it effortlessly as well. At no point is there too much conflict. They go through their stories and play out their events with relative ease and a fair amount of “sarcasm”. They hunt templars and find clues in order to locate the whereabouts of the Shroud.
Along the way very few things of note happen.
Stuff that Happens
Jacob uncovers the templar robbing the bank of London while also making counterfeit money which nearly bankrupts all of England. To which he states “Whoops! Ah well, the templar died so whatevs!” in response to this, Evie announces that he is an idiot and she is “not his sister anymore”. In the end, they stick together because the real Shroud was the friends they made along the way. Also, the English economy stabilised so no harm, no foul.
After an important Templar death in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Starrick greets the player in a cutscene, reacting to the deaths of his colleagues. The cutscenes aren’t anything outstanding, but they are the only means of interaction between Starrick and the player for the large majority of the game. This leads to quite the odd ending sequence. As the player, we have learnt about Starrick as a character, but the Frye’s haven’t, and yet they act like they’ve known each other the whole time. It’s very odd. That aside, Starrick is a bland villain with foreseeable reactions, and a humorous final fight.
Taking down Starrick
Starrick’s end fight involves each Frye twin going at him one at a time, Jacob gets there first and does some damage. The damage is healed by the Shroud and Starrick begins to choke Jacob out, why not stab him? Couldn’t tell you! Then Evie shows up and stabs Starrick, who throws Jacob away from him and fights Evie, which ends with Starrick trying to choke Evie out. Jacob and Evie swap like this for the whole fight until their friend Henry Green (assassin for London) whips the Shroud off of Starrick allowing the Frye twins to use their sibling powers and stab him. And that’s the end of Starrick. Seriosuly that’s it, just swapping between the two main characters in a weird, chokey dance.
Joining the cast in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, we have Alexander Graham Bell, Charles of the Dickens and Darwin variety, and Karl Marx. Bell is an equivalent to Da Vinci from Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood, he gives the twins their fancy new gadgets. The others have their own specific quests. Dickens recruits us to research the paranormal, Darwin focuses on the flora and fauna of London, and Marx deals with the political situation in London. As far as side quests go having these very familiar names behind them made them more engaging for sure.
Back in the future present, the Assassins find the shroud at the same time as the templars. So they fight it out and the templars escape with the Shroud. It’s revealed that Abstergo plan on using the Shroud not to resurrect an Isu precursor, but to use its cell regenerating abilities to create an Isu (ancient and highly-advanced species of humanoid) from scratch. And then the game ends.
Combat in Syndicate is largely the same as previous titles. Additions include a new levelling system, and stun grenades which do what they say on the tin.
The weapons are time period-appropriate. In the 1800’s it wasn’t exactly socially acceptable to wander around town with a sword strapped to your hip. So instead there are Kukris, cane swords, and knuckle dusters available for use. All small and concealable with animations to show them coming out, it’s a very nice piece of polish.
Leveling Take 2
Evie and Jacob now have levels associated with them. Unfortunately, the levels only go up to 10, and it takes the whole game to get there. It’s wild to have it at such a low number, and you still get heaps of experience points from missions, and each level grants multiple skill points. So why not have the levels go past 10?
Anyway, each level grants skill points which are spent on new traits for the twins. They upgrade damage output, stealth, and the general world state. Each twin has specific skills at the later levels, Jacobs focussing on damage, and Evie’s focussing on stealth. The levels also dictate what equipment you can use, with weapons and armour pieces having level requirements. You can also level up Jacobs gang in Syndicate by spending money and resources to make them stronger.
Where the Game Shines
Making a comeback from Unity are the assassination procedures. Each assassination has multiple entry points, extra escape routes, and unique assassinations. It feels even better than in Unity. The options are more fleshed out and have more uses than just getting the kill.
Travelling around London is an absolute joy. London looks stunning. From the grimy industrial areas with their giant smokestacks and lit up billboards, to the upper-class society with their lush greenery and tall white buildings.
Bell gives the twins a grappling hook which attaches to the hidden blade and it works flawlessly. Remember having to painstakingly climb up to a synch point? Not anymore! Now you just grapple up and you are at the top in no time. Remember being faced with a fort full of enemies and having to assassinate one or two people before fighting the rest with your sword? Not anymore! Now you can drop on an enemy and grapple back up to the safety of the rooftops. You can also grapple across the roofs of London at record speeds so you never feel bored in your travels. And with a huge open map, it is a welcome addition to Syndicate.
Horse-drawn carts make an appearance and add high-speed chases to the game for some added fun and an extra way of getting around London.
Syndicate was a redemption for the series. It was a safe story with fun mechanics. It revealed Ubisoft could still make a decent Assassin’s Creed game when they focus on one at a time, and the series truly needed that.
Syndicate hosts an adequate story with an astonishing game wrapped around it. There is very little tension between characters and much like the last two games the “MacGuffin” didn’t affect anything in the world. The new gameplay elements made for an amazing experience I won’t forget. I place it at 5th in the series.