Are we at a point with the Assassin’s Creed series where fatigue has well and truly set in? Well after the mess that was Assassin’s Creed Unity, it seemed that way. Being a yearly franchise just doesn’t feel like the right thing, as bugs were rife in the last game and it was an absolute average affair, even if you discount those bugs.
So it was with some trepadation that I started Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Sure, it had new characters and a different setting, but it is still an Assassin’s Creed game and if I am being honest, I really wasn’t excited for the release.
Yet here I am writing a review for what I consider the best of the series to date, I’d like to sat that this is because this Assassin’s Creed feels different, that is has new mechanics that set it apart from all the other titles. However that isn’t the case.
Mechanically this is as Assassin’s Creed as you can get, to the point you can pick it up and if you have played any of the previous games, you will feel very much at home. Much like most Ubisoft titles, you have a well realised open-world that comprises of main story missions and a ton of side quests and discoveries to keep you occupied.
Combat is nicely done, mixing up close quarters combat and stealth assassinations. At the same time though, the options you have to approach each mission feel a lot more open, allowing you to go in and choose your own approach. Take things as carefully and stealthily as you want, or approach the situation head-on. Both ways have their pros and cons but they both work well if that is your decision.
One thing that does stand out is the AI feels a lot better this time around, far from perfect, but a definite improvement. You do need to be on your toes at all times and slip-ups can be costly.
I’ll come back to combat soon, but I must mention the real reason this is the best in the series to date. That comes down to the characters, especially the two leads, Evie and Jacob Frye. The twins are superbly written and wonderfully acted. The thing that stands out the most is Evie herself and the way she is portrayed.
Games have had a long history of misrepresenting women and their place in the medium and is something that has been discussed at length in various places and something I don’t wish to dwell on for too long. Yet a lot of credit deserves to go Ubisoft’s way, especially after the criticism they rightfully got for Unity.
Just looking at Evie, you can tell from the outset she has been given equal status to her brother. There is nothing sexual about her appearance, she is dressed in a way that is practical to her profession, rather than for titillation, she is also treated with respect by her peers, rather than being used as a plot point to make others seem more powerful.
The interactions between herself and Jacob are well handled and treated like they are any other brother and sister, often at each other’s throats, but with that overall respect and love for each other. Jacob is a lot more cock-sure and is always looking for a more in your face approach to things, whereas Evie is a lot more careful and has a different set of skills.
Yet this isn’t a case of Evie being pushed to the side and only being able to the the less hands on stuff, as she can fight and fight as well as anyone. It never feels like you are playing a role that is specific to a women and it just happens to be a women who is part of the game.
It’s not just in the main characters where respect is given, there are gay characters, obese characters, trans-gender characters and more. Many of which are vital to the game’s story. Yet attention isn’t ever drawn to those characters for those things. They are just characters in a story and they are really well written too.
I never though I would be championing an Assassin’s Creed game for taking a mature approach to how a game handles people of many different walks of life, that doesn’t try to pigeon-hole anyone and simply treats them as human, but here we are.
Such is it the case that Ubisoft has listened to critics, is the loss of the merging with prostitutes to evade capture, which considering this is 1880’s London feel a little bizarre, as if my history knowledge is correct, then this is the one game where their inclusion could make sense.
London is beautiful too. Well it is dark and grimy but there is no denying that the artists at Ubisoft have done a great job in fleshing out London of the 1800’s and making it just feel alive. Whilst it isn’t a perfect one to one vision of London, the recognizable areas feel like they are just that.
It feels wonderful at times just taking it all in, climbing buildings and looking at London from the rooftops and that moment when you reach the top of Big Ben is just magical and one of those awe inspiring moments that you may have had at the start of Fallout 3, or when crossing into Mexico in Red Dead Redemption.
There are still bugs, but they honestly feel like they are less apparent than they were in Unity and in my time with the game, there were none that were game-breaking, but obviously your mileage may vary. So I won’t claim this is a completely bug-free experience.
Overall though, after the disaster that was Assassin’s Creed Unity, this is a true return to form for the series and for me Syndicate stands alone as the best of the lot to date.