New ‘Assassin’s Creed’ leaps forward to 1860s London

25 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

5 things ‘Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’ gets right.

We were going to dismiss Assassin’s Creed as the gaming equivalent of fast food or daytime television, but it’s nowhere near as crudely satisfying as that might imply. There’s plenty of stealthy throat-stabbing to mete out in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, but there’s also a major thread in the game that involves building your own gang — the Rooks — and wresting control of London from the rival Blighters.

You don’t have to assume total control of London’s gangland, but (a) it helps you out a lot and (b) it’s a ton of fun to spread your influence out across the entire city. Activision’s Call of Duty series is the poster boy for annual instalments that deliver diminishing returns over time (creatively speaking, at least – the games still make massive truckloads of cash). You can shoot out the grappling hook and then retract the rope to lift yourself up and over walls and buildings (though because this is real life, you need to loop in a harness of sorts).

But French video game giant Ubisoft has also taken critical lumps for turning its Assassin’s Creed franchise into an assembly line product, cranking out at least one of these massive new games every year, with historical settings ranging from Renaissance Italy to Colonial America to pre-Revolutionary France. London’s gang territory is broken up into seven districts — Whitechapel, City of London, The Thames, Southwark, Lambeth, The Strand and Westminster — each of which is further divided into multiple neighborhoods. Available now for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is 2015’s entry in the series, developed primary by Ubisoft’s Quebec City studio. There’s a recommended level tied to each district; you can venture where you want, when you want, but the challenges associated with taking over a territory will be significantly tougher if you tackle a higher-level district as a lower-level character.

The most modern Assassin’s Creed to date, Syndicate takes place in 1860s London, a city of smokestacks, horse-drawn carriages and sinister intrigue. Although to be fair there are small attempts to improve some of the franchise’s long-standing faults, starting with slightly more charismatic leads in twins Jacob and Evie Frye.

They’re still not as fun as Assassin’s Creed II’s Ezio, but Evie has a few good lines and is relatively likeable – even if Jacob’s an obnoxious boor. Oh well, I’ll just keep standing here and hope for the best!” But if you can look past those rough edges, this is one of the better Assassin’s Creed games we’ve seen in a long time. The size and level of detail is hugely impressive, especially if you’re familiar with the real thing, but beyond replicating the bricks and mortar of old London the game struggles to make the most of its setting. Historical cameos such as Charles Dickens and Alexander Graham Bell are thrown about with all the reverence and believability of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, while the writers struggle badly in creating convincing period dialogue (the lead writer, we were not at all surprised to find out, is American).

Leaping between Thames riverboats, careening down cobblestone streets in carriages and hopping aboard moving trains (including a cool new mobile hideout) makes moving around the world quicker and more interesting than in previous games. It doesn’t quite have a Batman: Arkham City level of superheroic empowerment, but it’s the best toe-to-toe bloodletting of any Assassin’s Creed so far.

But it’s not so much that the game’s mechanics are broken – they’re not quite bad enough to classify as that – but it’s that they’re so joyless to actually use. The melee fighting is a pitiable attempt to copy the Batman: Arkham games, with encounters relying almost solely on counters and a guard-breaking attacking.

But there’s absolutely no heft or momentum to battles, with enemies often taking a dozen or so hits to go down and everything dragging on long past your ability to care. The sloppy, unrefined controls come to a head in the stealth elements, which, especially given the open world, you can’t help comparing to Metal Gear Solid V. But Syndicate is so miserably inferior, with it’s weightless, jittery movement and incompetent artificial intelligence that, if not for the visuals, you’d swear the two games were made 15 years or more apart. Be sure to take note of the secondary objective; you might have to kill the leader without being spotted, or find a set of heist plans (usually inside a building) to burn.

Especially when adding back in features like being able to pick up bodies, or whistling to attract enemy’s attention, are treated like new and revolutionary ideas. This has been a problem with Assassin’s Creed since the very first game, but it’s actually worse in Syndicate than it has been for a while, given the regimented sequence of events you have to go through to liberate an area. The street races in a horse and carriage are silly but fun, and while Evile’s grappling hook isn’t as cool as Batman’s it does come in very handy.

In the end Syndicate really isn’t very different from Unity at all, including the fact that hoovering up every last icon from your map, finding every hidden piece of treasure, and completing every mini-game is as mindless compelling as ever. The best video games are such amazingly creative and exciting experiences that it seems impossible that, no matter your tastes, you couldn’t find something more worthy of your time and money than Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Then perhaps they can have a long hard think about why they keep making these dull, tedious, unambitious monstrosities instead of the excitingly unique historical adventures that Assassin’s Creed should be.

The Templar (who is once again highlighted in yellow via Eagle Vision) won’t try to run if you raise an alert, so you can just get to safety if you accidentally raise an alert. Patrolling guards have a tougher time spotting you when you attack from above, and using rooftop entry points gives you a much better sense of how the environment is laid out. There’s always a cash and materials cost associated with these upgrades, and the prices are relatively steep — especially early on — so you want to choose your upgrades carefully. Rook Training I —really, that whole tree — makes early gang showdowns easier, and it gives you more competent fighters to recruit on the streets when you run into your gang members. All of the upgrades in this category increase the income generated by your gang (which you can collect at regular intervals from the safe in your hideout).

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