Review: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (PS4)

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Title: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (40.0 GB)
Release Date: October 23, 2015
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec, Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Shanghai
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is also available on Xbox One and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

The word “annualized” has earned itself somewhat of a negative connotation amongst the video game industry’s vocal loyalists. As is the case with any business, profit margins and capitalistic goals rear their ugly heads to outweigh passion, vision, and creativity.

The dirty word I mentioned above embodies this necessary evil and exposes some of the real reasons behind yearly installments of franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty.

Could the games be better if the publishers allowed fans to take a break? To paraphrase the great Langston Hughes, what happens to the deferred dreams of incredibly talented developers with new ideas that cannot be explored in the interest of safe business?

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a great game in its own right and a fabulous addition to the legacy, but its main detracting factor is something bigger than itself that transcends the content on the disc or in the file. I’m talking about franchise fatigue.

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Gameplay:
We’ve come to expect only iterative and incremental improvements from this series every fall but Ubisoft has indeed addressed navigation concerns this time around. Traversal has never been easier or more enjoyable thanks to Alexander Graham Bell’s grappling hook which both protagonists can wield. Be on the lookout for even more of Ubisoft’s signature historic freedoms.

You control both Evie and Jacob Frye, twin Assassin siblings who share a purpose and vendetta with radically different approaches to accomplishing common goals. Further perpetuating the ease of map navigation, the badass duo can hijack any horse and carriage in a very GTA-esque fashion.

… moment-to-moment gameplay hasn’t differed very much …
I was particularly impressed with the revamped meta-game mechanics in AC Syndicate. The leveling system, skill tree, and gang upgrades are masterfully done as they achieve a rare balance between accomplishment, satisfaction, and grinding.

Each sibling gets a skill point when one is earned and their separate skill trees feature both common and exclusive traits. Jacob can get some moves on the combat side that Evie cannot while the femme fatale can work her way up to helpful stealth tactics unavailable to her brother. Each sibling gains access to any unlocked weapon and certain outfits can provide boosts for these helpful tools.

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The moment-to-moment gameplay hasn’t differed very much from what Assassin’s Creed fans are used to. Outside of the enhanced maneuverability, some of the control problems and sticky environments still exist. The option to free run has been refined since its debut in Assassin’s Creed: Unity and it does provide more specificity to deliberate movement.

Some buttons just have too many functions mapped to them for my liking and dropping from or attaching to some rouge ledges can be a bit frustrating when trying to make haste. Familiarly, the map is filled with missions, horse races, fistfight arenas, collectibles, and more to satiate that assassin urge.

… freedom of approach through optional infiltration opportunities …
Many of the moving parts that make up Assassin’s Creed Syndicate are done better in some other open world games. The combat and grappling mechanics mimic what we’ve experienced in the Arkham series but the Batman’s movements on both these fronts are much more fluid than that of the twins.

This representation of Victorian London lacks the authenticity of the same setting in The Order: 1886 while the civilian life and vitality in The Witcher 3 and GTA V are much more impressive than what’s on display here.

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The story centers on the determination of the twins to continue their beloved father’s legacy while the out-of-simulation content proves thin. This silent protagonist approach allows the player to project him/herself onto the initiate accessing these ancestral memories.

The positive reaction to the rifts in AC: Unity allowed for a cool one to make its way into Syndicate and some of the most significant missions feature freedom of approach through optional infiltration opportunities and/or unique kills.

… a sizable open world with on par visuals …
Visuals:
Although the bombastic Triple-A production value of this title oozes from each of its components, the Assassin’s Creed franchise has never been one to offer unmatched graphical fidelity. It is all but accepted that there is a correlation between an open world game’s size and the degradation of its visuals.

The massive undertaking that is Fallout 4 loses a bit of beauty in favor of world size and interaction while CD PROJEKT RED seems to have achieved possibly the most harmonious balance of both ideals in the The Witcher 3.

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This sort of perfectionist mentality was seemingly absent from whatever amalgamation of Ubisoft teams were responsible for Syndicate’s look. They didn’t push any envelopes or break any new ground but they managed to deliver a sizable open world with on par visuals that are marginally more impressive AC: Unity.

Audio:
With motion capture technology improving exponentially and voice actors becoming household names amongst the gaming public, the onus is on the dev team to employ passionate, confident, and talented actors and actresses to bring their creations to life. I’m elated by the fact that Evie and Jacob are vitalized through witty quips, authentic accents, and all around great performances.

The soundtrack fits the time period and provides a good backdrop for level grinding or loot hunting. It’s subtle enough to accentuate the experience yet negligible enough, in some places, to be replaced by your favorite Spotify playlist.

… another satisfying experience …
Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Conclusion:
If Assassin’s Creed Unity’s big draw was its ambitious amount of enterable interiors and outrageous number of NPCs, Syndicate’s attraction rests with its newfound movement options and dual protagonist adventure.

In Unity, buildings were tethered together by strategically placed tightropes, encouraging the idea of playing from that iconic eagle’s-eye view. This time, those tightropes come in the form of a grappling hook you can launch at will and eliminate some long and tedious climbing.

Very few franchises have made their way onto my short list of IP from which I make it a point to play through each and every installment. The difference between Assassin’s Creed and most of those other series is that the latter tend to offer up an average of about only two games per decade.

The Assassin’s Creed release model bars from possibility the growth, maturity, and revitalization we experienced between sequels like Metal Gear Solid 4 and The Phantom Pain.

I’m paraphrasing some of the industry’s leading voices when I say that these games do not exist in and therefore should not be reviewed in a vacuum. Outside factors can and do contribute to a game’s critical appeal and it’s a crying shame that this sort of stain taints an otherwise impressive addition to the Assassin’s Creed library. Expect familiar gameplay with a few touch ups, workarounds for common annoyances, and another satisfying experience less than twelve months from last year’s double release… if you’re into that.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Emrah Rakiposki

Emrah Rakiposki

– Food
– Video games
– Rap music
It has been my life’s work to properly order the list of this world’s greatest pleasures. There is no right answer.

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