It’s no secret that Assassin’s Creed Unity left a lot to be desired. From the lack of playable female characters to the poorly received multiplayer online co-op mode, the game seemed to be a step back for the franchise. Fans had big expectations after the surprise hit Black Flag, but Unity’s buggy launch and other problems didn’t quite take the series into the current-gen with a bang. Thankfully, the latest annual installment in the stealth-action franchise, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, takes gamers to industrial-revolution-era London and breathes some fresh life into the series.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate doesn’t have high stakes pirate ship combat or a multiplayer focus like past successful entries, but instead switches things up by allowing players to alternate between two protagonists throughout the game. Jacob and Evie Frye are sibling assassins with unique personalities and motivations, and players explore London and assassinate Templars with both siblings. Some missions lock players into playing as Evie or Jacob specifically, but many of the side missions offer the freedom to choose.
The dual protagonists mechanic and storytelling gimmick works incredibly well. The pair share their looted resources, but have unique skill trees, weapons, and gear. This means that players have the option to make each sibling awesome at different aspects of the game and then choose the sibling with the best skill sets for each mission. For example, players can dump all of Evie’s skill points into the stealth tree and all of Jacob’s into the combat tree and then switch between the two depending on which skill set a particular mission requires. Though once players reach the later sequences, there will be enough skill points to get both characters near the bottom of all three skill trees.
From a narrative perspective, having two unique voices does help keep things fresh. Jacob offers a few more laughs and is more blood-thirsty than his sister. While his missions focus on running around town building up a gang (we’ll come back to that) and assassinating major targets, Evie’s missions are all about exploration, puzzle-solving, and unlocking the big picture mysteries. Evie’s antics aren’t quite as humorous as Jacob’s, but her side of the story provides much of the drama that makes the game exciting.
In lieu of a fleet of pirates to command or a party of online friends to team up with, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate gives players the ability to recruit and level up a loyal gang throughout the game. Jacob’s dreams come true early in the game when he and his sister take control of a rival gang and start recruiting members to the Rooks. As the de facto Rook leaders, players work through the gang’s unique talent tree by spending money and resources, strengthening their gang members for more street support and money. The gang reloads cash in Jacob and Evie’s train safe every thirty minutes once their regular activities are up and running.
Gang members appear throughout each zone where Jacob and Evie have left their mark, and players can recruit new members with the click of a button. Once recruited, players are able to use the gang members to help out in big fights, cause distractions, or help man a carriage while being pursued by enemies. Leveling up the gang isn’t quite as addictive as it was with the pirate fleets in Black Flag, but having the gang members on each street corner to help cause distractions is a major boon. The cash that they drop off in the safe is very much appreciated, as well.
Ziplines are a returning mechanic with a twist worth pointing out. Rather than using a hookblade to zip between a rope strung between two buildings, Jacob and Evie (with the help of a very famous British inventor) have modified their assassin gauntlets to include built-in ziplines. The new tool is incredibly useful for scaling large buildings and does make the siblings feel a little more like superheroes than the standard assassins. The tool speeds the game up in a great way, especially considering how enormous some of the structures in London are. The building-to-building traversal feels brand new in the best kind of way and, at this point, it’s hard to imagine playing an Assassin’s Creed game without a zip gauntlet in the future.
Although the franchise is definitely recovering well from Unity’s rocky reception, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate isn’t without its flaws. Cinematics aren’t really the reason to play Assassin’s Creed, but it is worth mentioning that the cutscene graphics aren’t anything to write home about. The cinematics get the job done, but certainly don’t scream new-gen in the way that the demos for Rise of the Tomb Raider and Uncharted 4 do. The in-game graphics are also perfectly fine, but not mind-blowing. The city looks fantastic and feels alive, but the character models don’t look much more impressive than last year’s installment or the PS4/Xbox One version of Black Flag.
After Unity, it feels like bugs have to be addressed in any Assassin’s Creed review. The game isn’t without a broken animation here and there (although some of these may be fixed with a day one patch), but we only fell victim to two total system freezes while playing through the campaign. The console had been running for hours on end when both of those freezes took place, so we won’t hold the game responsible.
The game’s industrial revolution storyline is very entertaining and has a fantastic lineup of cameos from the era’s most iconic scientists, philosophers, nurses, and politicians. We won’t go into spoilers, but the story offers a great commentary on the overworked lower class of London and weaves the franchise’s Templar-versus-assassin war into the history very well. The modern day scenes are not as frequent as they have been in some other installments in the series, but they will still be exciting for the hardcore fans of the franchise. As usual, these scenes aren’t presented with much context and will likely leave new players more confused than anything else early on in the game.
At the end of the day, Syndicate feels very much like an Assassin’s Creed game in all the good ways and only a few of the bad. The free-running feels fantastic when it is working, and at other times, gamers will still find themselves screaming at the television, “Jump DOWN! Don’t climb that! What are you doing?!” The game’s fighting won’t feel very different at all for veterans of the series and the difficulty scales smoothly, so new players have plenty of time to catch on. The missions will keep players busy for dozens of hours, and players will be left wanting to return to the busy streets of London after the end credits roll.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate releases on October 23, 2015 for PS4 and Xbox One, and November 19, 2015 for PC. For this review, Game Rant was provided an Xbox One version. The game’s microtransactions and eShop were not live at the time of the review, so those features are not factored into our score.