Assassin’s Creed Syndicate ★★★★☆

I’ve been a heavy gamer since first playing Mario and Duck Hunt on the NES. I’ve owned a Sega Genesis, SNES, PS1/2/3/4, PSP, Gameboy, Wii / WiiU, gaming PC, and even went so far as to backdate old systems like the Intellivision, Atari Lynx and original Pong. That said, oddly enough, I haven’t played an Assassin’s Creed game until now. This review is coming from a first-time player of the series, but not a noob when it comes to gaming.

As of this review, I’m about 20% through the game. My early impression was to compare the gameplay to Styx and Splinter Cell, but as I got further I thought of two other games it fits better: Far Cry (3 & 4) and inFAMOUS.

Climbing mechanics in inFAMOUS (left) similar to Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (right)

As with inFAMOUS, you scale buildings, run across rooftops and liberate territories. You also earn skill points to level up your characters. Several of the game mechanics for character movement were very similar, such as climbing and jumping from high places. Now add in Far Cry where you search for treasure chests, enter restricted areas, disable alarms, free captives, craft items, commandeer vehicles (aka carriages), and execute a multitude of side missions.

View of mission points in London

Also relative to Far Cry are the many quirks and bugs, such as water buckets moving on their own, characters missing the upper half of their body, and strange objects randomly floating across the screen. Similarly, the enemy goons all look the same with only a handful of repetitive character designs. That said, there are many of the pluses too, such as the elaborate settings, beautiful landscapes and impressive world scale.

Encyclopedia entry of Charles Dickens

In the beginning, I made the mistake of tackling the story in a very guided manner. I ran through the tutorials and reached checkpoints as quickly as possible, passing by any obstacle in my way. Because of this, I didn’t get pulled into the settings or storyline. After a while, I realized I needed to tackle the game less like Uncharted and treat it more like Skyrim. Basically, I slowed down — took my time, inspected buildings, listened to crowd dialogue, read wall posters, explored the historical characters and settings, checked character profiles and tackled more of the minute tasks such as searching for treasure chests and freeing children. Slowing down my pacing gave me a deeper level of enjoyment; the game become more about exploration than a guided tour.

Jacob Fry opening treasure chest

At times, the controls felt jumpy. For instance, occasionally I performed an execution where the camera panned away from my character and I could barely see what was going on. The need for combining keys for common actions messed me up in the beginning as well, and I more than once ended up jumping up a wall when I intended to leap at an enemy instead. But the longer I played the game, the better I got at the mechanics; and thus they were less of an issue.

Unlike Far Cry and inFAMOUS, you switch between two different characters. This helps to keep the story fresh, but it also means you are leveling up two different people. A few times I swore I had already gotten such-and-such an ability, only to realize it was on the other character.

Weapon inventory

Even though the leveling up isn’t shared between Evie and Jacob Frye, thankfully the items you purchase are (except for items like Jacob’s belt, which Evie doesn’t use). If you buy guns and brass knuckles, both can use them [assuming their level is high enough].

I was a little disjointed in the story when the gameplay went from 1868 to a modern day cut-scene, but I get that’s part of a larger picture to the story. My biggest annoyance is with the policemen, who are just poorly programmed. They ignore someone getting pickpocketed, but attack you when you tackle the thief. You get wrongly attacked by Blighters, the police join in and nightstick you in the back. A Blighter kills someone, the police go after you just because you are nearby. Figuring out their role has been somewhat of an annoyance to me.

Policeman beating up an unarmed man who is busy trying to save orphans (just ignore that gun icon in the inventory window)

Apart from that, I’m getting into this game and liking it more and more. The scale of the world is impressive and I like the ability to explore.