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Assassin's Creed Syndicate review

Katharine Byrne
13 Nov 2015
Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
45
inc VAT (PS4)

An enjoyable if repetitive romp through Victorian London, but Assassin's Creed Syndicate fails to move the series forward

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Specifications

Available formats: PS4, Xbox One, PC

The London of 1868 in Assassin's Creed Syndicate is a city of dreams. It's a place where indestructible horses can run riot across gloriously wide, open streets and trample over iron-wrought lamp-posts like they were made out of matchsticks.

It's also a place where every major station has an interconnected steam railway, the Thames plays host to impossibly large galleons parked right in between Westminster and Hungerford Bridge, street urchins regularly carry £500 in pocket change, and almost every building is the same uniform height as its neighbour, allowing London's iconic landmarks to rise up out its murky smoke stacks like a carefully coiffured Victorian topiary garden.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate screenshot03

Of course, it wouldn't do to get too hung up on all the incongruous details of Assassin's Creed Syndicate – these games are churned out on a yearly basis, after all – but it's still rather jarring to see St Pauls to the east of Cannon Street Station, St Pancras on what is essentially Oxford Street and Whitechapel plonked directly above the City of London.

However, there are moments when Syndicate does get it right, providing an uncannily nascent glimpse of the London we know today. Trafalgar Square is particularly brilliant, if only because it lets you clamber over the bronze lions at Nelson's Column without being hauled off by the nearest bobby. The same goes for the areas around Soho and Covent Garden, as the sheer number of famous landmarks gives you a firm sense of place among the rabble at street level.

It's a shame, then, that you spend so much time in the least-recognisable parts of the city, where the bland street furniture and homogenous architecture of Syndicate's Southwark and Lambeth could easily have been lifted from any lane in Unity's revolutionary Paris. Thankfully, Unity's frame rate-crippling hordes of NPCs are dramatically reduced in Syndicate, leaving the game feeling much more technically proficient than its French cousin. I was able to play the PS4 version of the game without a single hitch during my time with the game, but it's still a bit of a shame that Ubisoft's had to sacrifice that classic Victorian busyness and overcrowding for the sake of a glitch-free adventure.

Thankfully, Syndicate has a much more jovial sense of humour than Unity, and that's thanks in part to the great rapport and sibling rivalry between its twin lead Assassins. Once you get to the Big Smoke, you can switch between Jacob and Evie Frye at will, although some story missions will require one or the other. I was hoping Evie's smaller frame might give her some advantages over Jacob's extra muscle, but for the most part they have an identical moveset and each one can equip exactly the same weapons, which extend to cane swords, knuckle dusters and kukri blades. Their shared DNA diverges later in the game when you finally unlock a grand total of four character specific skills, but by that point it's rather little too late.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate screenshot02

Still, the rough and ready combat makes a pleasant change from previous Assassin's Creed titles, and Evie in particular is refreshingly feisty for a female lead. The addition of electric bombs and hallucinogenic darts, the latter of which can be fired into hearths to catch multiple goons in a drug-fuelled haze, make for some brilliant stealth takedowns, too. Syndicate's new rope launcher is also a great addition, allowing you to traverse great stretches of London very quickly and snipe away at your targets between buildings. 

You can take those brawls on the road, too, taking the reins of a passing carriage or omnibus and hauling its driver on to the cobbles. Admittedly, fighting atop your chosen vehicle isn't the most elegant or intuitive way of scrapping with rival gang members, but the ability to jump between nearby carriages at least gives you the opportunity to give them the slip if they prove too troublesome. Then again, when every horse handles like an opium-fuelled drug mule, veering this way and that as you try and steer them down the road, you're probably better off walking and losing your enemies down an alley instead.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate screenshot01

Gang warfare plays a crucial role in Syndicate, as bringing each borough back under your control helps weaken your main adversaries, the ever-present Templars. To do this, you'll need to assassinate key Templar targets, capture key figures by throwing them in a carriage and delivering them to the police, eradicating Templar control over child workhouses and raiding gang strongholds.

They're a diverting enough past time away from the main story missions, and it's a pleasant relief to see that your map isn't bursting with icons and collectible knick-knacks this time either. However, these side quests begin to tire when they start to crop up elsewhere, particularly in the additional character memory missions. Here, you do the bidding of famous historical figures such as Karl Marx and Charleses Dickens and Darwin, but when each task is just another watered-down version of the gang missions, the limits of Syndicate's appeal begins to show.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate screenshot

This lack of depth is a perennial problem with the Assassin's Creed games, and Ubisoft could do with giving the series a year off to give it some time to really take stock and reassess its strengths. Syndicate does address many of Unity's problems, particularly its overall stability and making it easier to free-run and climb into buildings, but underneath it does very little to move the franchise forward. It's still very enjoyable, but when so much is reused and recycled, it often feels like Ubisoft is simply going through the motions instead of making its players hungry for more. 

Availability
Available formatsPS4, Xbox One, PC
PC requirements
OS SupportWindows 7 SP1 64-bit, Windows 8/8.1 64-bit
Minimum CPUIntel Core i5-2500K 3.3 GHz, AMD FX-8350 4.0 GHz or AMD Phenom II x4 940 3.0 GHz
Minimum GPUNVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 or AMD Radeon HD 7970 (2GB VRAM)
Minimum RAM6GB
Hard disk space50GB
Buying Information
Price including VAT£45
Supplierwww.zavvi.co.uk
Detailswww.ubisoft.com
Product codeN/A