We've been waiting with anticipation for the latest instalment in the Assassin's Creed series for some time - and with good reason. With a Steampunk feel to it and a soundtrack to match, the first ever large scale Assassin's Creed aims a little bit closer to home, choosing Victorian London, in the heart of the industrial revolution as the setting for its tale of backstabbing, historical intrigue, and parkour wall running. You may even see a few faces you recognise along the way…
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Much like the other games, Assassin's Creed Syndicate is a game of many parts. With a giant city to explore, quests to complete, collectibles to find, and, well, people to assassinate, there's more to see and do than ever before - and a heck of a story tying things together. In Syndicate, you take control of not one, but two deadly assassins - but far from being work-for-hire mercenaries, these are killers with a conscience. After all, they just want to make the world a better place. Set at is it in the time of the industrial revolution in England, a time when factory workers were being pushed to their limits and not getting the pay and rewards they deserved, the two playable characters, Evie and Jacob take the whole "reformers" idea to the next level.
To game begins with a briefing on what the evil members of the Templar Order are up to. The famous antagonists of the Assassin's Creed series, the templars want to create the "perfect" world, through controlling the freedom of the general public. As members of the Assassin's Order (an organisation intent on preventing the templars from stripping mankind of their free will) we find ourselves flung into the midst of a long-running war, trying to put a stop to their plans, and keep London free. After all, this is the cusp of one of the most important parts of history - for the sake of the future, the templars must be stopped!
Our goal is to find the root of the criminal activity that has surged during the Victorian era. We find out who's at the head of the crooks, we cut it off, the suffering and mistreatment of the people of London will end. Simple. But in order to get there, we have missions to complete first. Completing these missions will earn us money, which you'll use to buy and upgrade better weapons, and earn experience so that we level up and ultimately improve our skills as an assassin. The various characters who set us these missions will also become more loyal to us the more we help them out. You do a good job for them, they look out for you in the future! This is a really nice touch, and one that gives everything you do in Syndicate a reason.
Sometimes, you have the option of playing as Evie Frye or Jacob. Both sufficiently developed characters in their own right, the two even lend themselves to certain styles of playing, with Evie being better at stealthily creeping up on targets to stab them in the back, while Jacob prefers the more head on approach, knocking foes out with a few swift punches, before they can even react. In our experience both work well, but you will find some situations more suited to stealth, while others require a more abrupt approach. Usually it's the situations where you need to take a person captive which require a more fleet of foot approach, as sometimes your target is no use to you dead! Believe us, we know. We completed a couple of missions where we didn't realise that keeping the target alive might have been a good thing, and lost out on money and experience bonuses because of our brash actions…
And experience bonuses are not something you want to miss out on in this game. Your success in Assassin's Creed Syndicate largely depends on how high a level you are. Gaining experience from defeating foes means you can unlock new skills, and unlocking new skills means you will become a higher level. However, certain skills will not be available until you reach a certain level.
When choosing your skills we advise you pick wisely. There are three branches of skills to choose from, and you can choose to buy the skills that suit your style of play the best. You have your combat options (to make you stronger and more lethal), stealth (silent but deadly can work to your advantage!), and ecosystem (being aware of your surroundings and those in it will improve with these skills). It's always worth considering a balance, but we ended up favouring Combat, as we like to hit 'em, and hit 'em hard!
Still, no matter what you choose to specialise in, you'll have a long way to go. The head antagonist and Puppet Master of London, Crawford Starrick, has instated several leaders of the red-clad Blighters, the criminal gang in London, to control each of London's boroughs. A typically nasty lot, who rule by fear alone, they naturally have to go!
By taking over sections of the London boroughs, starting off in Whitechapel, you can install your own gang which Jacob wittily names the Rooks. It's a chess themed name that fits well with the big game of strategy you're essentially playing with the enemy, biding your time and knocking down their defences, one by one. The other boroughs are Lambeth, Southwark, The Thames, Westminster, The Strand, and last but not least, The City of London. Each one has certain missions to be completed.
Every one you complete increases the number of Rooks that you've recruited, and you'll see the effects on the streets, as what once were hostile districts soon becomes a sea of green uniformed chaps and chapesses, greeting you as you pass and shouting words of encouragement! You can even take a couple with you as an extra pair of hands if you want!
To fully take over a borough, though, you'll need to participate in a gang war. Your trusty Rook companions lock horns with the nasty Blighters, and after a stand-off with the leader of the borough you're in, you claim victory! That is, if you actually win of course. It actually took us a couple of tries to win the final fight during our first borough takeover in Whitechapel. Trying to keep our footing on a moving train that we'd managed to run after and jump onto, we fought our way through the henchmen of the formidable Rexford Kaylock, before promptly dying in close combat with him. At least a few times. In hindsight we think we may not have been quite strong enough to take him on yet - but nevertheless, we learnt from our mistakes, and in the end pulled out a gun and shot him. There, job done.
Besides having a group of allies who always have your back, another cool feature that come from having a gang is that you can upgrade it, much like your own personal skill upgrades! Again, there are three divisions of upgrades to choose from: Ringleader, which add to and improve the strength of the gang; Insider, which can make the other gangs and policemen bother you less; and Swindler, which is in a nutshell a way to make money and save money. We found all three full of useful perks, so it's worth spreading your choices evenly, but we rather like the ones that fill our pockets with lovely English pounds!
But there's more to do in Assassin's Creed than running around fighting the power. With such a gorgeous world, dripping in history to explore, we were happy to take our time and savour each moment in this beautiful recreation of one of the most important eras in Britain's history. Taken with a pinch of salt, the insight into the historical goings on of this time period not only hold great entertainment value, but we'd even go as far as to say educational as well, as text books can't bring history to life half as well as an Assassin's Creed game can!
Here's a summary of what we've learnt from and enjoyed about playing Assassin's Creed Syndicate:
- Slow and steady can win the race when trying to take out a target. Unless you assassinate them from above. They literally can't see you coming!
- Traditional parkour is still a great way of getting around town - even more so when you have a rope launcher, as you make like a Victorian Spider-Man, shooting across the roofs of London! But racing away in a horse and carriage, or hitching a lift on the roof of a speeding locomotive are pretty awesome alternatives!
- There's always time to stop and smell the roses. Take time to chill out and explore the neighbourhood - you never know what useful treasures you might find lying around in a seemingly abandoned chest…
- Famous Brits from the past come to life in Syndicate, and we found it really entertaining to mingle with the likes of Charles Darwin and Alexander Graham Bell himself (or Aleck, as Jacob likes to call him!)
For those of you who enjoy a good Assassin's Creed game, the adventure continues aplomb in Syndicate - and for those who have yet to play one, this is a great place to start. So why not immerse yourself in London's smoggy past, and experience the goings on of the Industrial Revolution like no one has done so before! And remember, "Whosoever controls London, controls the world"…
Format Reviewed: PC