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Assassin's Creed Syndicate hands-on: Top-hats, bobbies, and a bit o' ultraviolence

Hayden Dingman | Aug. 5, 2015
Wheel out the hidden blades and hoods—it’s time for a new Assassin’s Creed. This year’s entry, Syndicate, finally brings the game’s Forrest Gump-esque historical tourism into the modern era.

After murdering the Master of Keys, I just sort of sat down in an empty field and prayed that no guard walked close enough to figure out I was indeed a person and not a person-shaped piece of fabric. It's a bit silly, but I guess it allows Ubisoft to make more realistic environments instead of filling each area with waist-high bushes and cupboards to hide in.

From there, things played out like a pretty standard Assassin's Creed mission-unlock a door, waltz into a building, avoid guards for as long as possible, eventually get caught, murder all the guards one by one, then murder Lucy. Ubisoft's been touting overhauled combat for both Syndicate and Unity, but I didn't notice anything different per se. I murdered about fifteen guards in a row when I got discovered, and I was playing as Evie (ostensibly the "stealthier" of the two siblings).

Chalk some of that up to skill. There's an eerie familiarity to playing Assassin's Creed at this point. If we count Assassin's Creed III: Liberation (which we should, because it's a pretty decent game), then Assassin's Creed Syndicate is the tenth game I've played in the series. Ten games. I'm pretty sure that's the most I've played in any series, when I stop and think about it. Most of the properties I enjoy never even get ten games, and some others I've fallen in and out of over the years (Call of Duty).

Ten games is a lot. And so even as the developer explained to me what's "changed" with this year's Syndicate, I just sort of nodded along and got to playing. Why? Because we've been through this a lot now.

When you play Assassin's Creed Unity versus Assassin's Creed II, sure, it's clear quite a bit has changed over the years. But it's also clear how much hasn't changed. Assassin's Creed is still Assassin's Creed, and some of the biggest problems in the series-like combat-are still an issue almost ten years later. Syndicate also hasn't fixed Unity's much-vaunted "overhaul" to free-running, which turned something clumsy and broken into something sticky and broken. I had an awkward moment during my Syndicate demo for instance when I tried to jump over a waist-high fence and it just wouldn't let me over.

It's the sort of jankiness that was forgivable in the first game, when so much of the series It's felt "new." In 2015, it's annoying. Expected by fans in a sort of "Well, that's Assassin's Creed" way, but nevertheless annoying. What's worse is that some of these pesky lingering issues have since been improved on in other games-the free-running in Shadow of Mordor was better than Assassin's Creed, for instance.

And after playing some of Syndicate, I can't say I'm a huge fan of the Victorian-era setting. One of my favorite things about Assassin's Creed in the past was its ability to set games in places/times where we never see other big AAA games-like Renaissance-era Florence. Even the American Revolution was a weird setting for a third-person action game.


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