It’s been a long time since an Assassin’s Creed city felt like a playground. Not since the early days of Ezio have we felt that joy of clambering over rooftops and discovering items, missions and side-quests that distracted us from our objectives. But we challenge you to travel through Victorian London without finding something to distract you from reaching that next memory sequence.
We’re not talking endless numbers of chests, either. While the map is still peppered with collectibles, things have been scaled back from Unity. Instead, you’ll find dozens of missions across the seven London Boroughs – whether it’s saving kids from a factory, assassinating a gang leader, or capturing a heavily-guarded cart packed with cargo. The variety is impressive, and, after years of boredom-inducing challenges, it ensures that Syndicate feels less repetitive – although it still doesn’t complete avoid the feeling.
It certainly helps that the city is massive, gorgeous, and packed with character. The modern age has allowed Ubisoft to expand the world both horizontally and vertically, and the results are impressive. More than once we stopped on a rooftop and slowly rotated the camera to take in the sights. And there are few greater joys than using the Line Launcher to go from street level to roof in seconds, then leaping onto a passing train and riding it to your next destination. The Creed series has always done a great job of making its cities feel alive, and London is no different. You can just sit and watch it for hours, or jump in and cause chaos.
Of course, a new game brings new tools, including the previously mentioned (and utterly brilliant) rope launcher, which we never want to be without ever again. Climbing up walls? That’s so three years ago. And don’t talk to us about walking – we’re all about ziplines now. But Syndicate brings back some old favourites too; throwing knives are back. Headshots with Evie are a particular joy, to the point where we used them far more than her hidden blade. With Jacob, on the other hand, who can carry fewer knives, we were more reliant on his ability to drop in, kill someone, then rope-launch back up to a roof – why yes, we are a bit like a Victorian Batman.
The differences between the twins were talked about a lot in the leadup to Syndicate’s release, and but in reality there are only a few unique skills for each character. The vast majority of their skill trees are the same, although we did find ourselves focusing on stealth skills for Evie and combat for Jacob at first. For the most part, the characters play identically, and in the open-world you can switch between them at will – it’s only main story missions that require one or the other.
What does set the twins apart – and what makes this the most engaging and amusing Assassin’s Creed story yet – is their personalities. Jacob, the punch-first-ask-questions-later fella is all about getting his gang together, while Evie has her sights set on a Piece of Eden – the mystical whatsits that are shiny and come from an ancient blah blah blah. While the two are working towards the same goal – killing a buttload of Templars – their methods are very different, and this causes clashes. The sibling relationship is really well-written, and the facial animation is excellent, giving the twins real character. At first we thought Jacob was a bit of a prick, but as we progressed we saw more of his personality, including a lighter, funnier side that Assassin’s Creed often misses. If London is the best part of the game, the relationship between the two protagonists is a close second.
Sadly, it’s not all sunshine – this is London, after all. Despite two(!) day one patches, there are still some glitches rattling around. Don’t get us wrong – this is nothing on the scale of Unity – but it kills the immersion slightly. One of our assassination targets decided to pause in the middle of his lecture, and, despite having no idea we were there, sprint out of the door and run circuits around the corridors of the building. In the end we just let him run into us, then stabbed him in the neck. Sneaky, eh?
The main missions keep the pace up well, with a good mix of tailing, killing, stealing, and all the rest (although the less we say about the disappointing final boss the better). The supporting cast includes all the faces you’d expect from a Victorian AC title – including Darwin, Dickens, Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria herself. Did you expect anything else?
Syndicate might not solve all of the problems of the Assassin’s Creed series, but with an astonishing city to explore, plenty of things to do and (at last) engaging, entertaining lead characters to get behind, this is the best Assassin’s Creed title since Ezio hung up his hood.