The Assassin’s Creed franchise has not found itself in high standing with fans of late for a myriad of reasons, but Syndicate might just be enough to change that reputation for the better. As I walked in to the preview hall, decked out with smoke machines and all the trappings of 1800’s London, I wasn’t expecting to walk out as impressed with Syndicate as I did.
The small section I played has been shown before, during the initial reveal of the game earlier in the year. In broad strokes it gives you a quick introduction to the heroes of Syndicate, Jacob and Evie Frye, while showing off a section of the world with carriages, plenty of things to climb and a gang/district take-over section.
In my short time with the game I spent about half of it climbing, exploring and generally getting a good sense of the new world the game is set in. The other half was focussed on completing the mission, giving me plenty of chances to dust the gloves off for some visceral, street brawl style encounters.
London is a beautiful city, especially in Syndicate. Even in its Alpha version, climbing atop the scaffolding that littered in construction buildings around the city showed off the technological growth of the times, with smoke stacks billowing clouds of black smoke in other parts of the city. While the world has a tendency to look fairly grey and brown, at street level the hustle-bustle of people, both high and low class, going about their business and riding carriages was quite a vivid picture.
The draw distance was equally impressive; once you climb high you can easily see the far off edges of the city, alongside the huge structures sticking out above the regular skyline.
Speaking of climbing, Syndicate implements the same parkour up and down mechanic that was so fantastic in its predecessors. The gameplay feels like it’s been tweaked for the new characters and setting, but ultimately at its core it’s the same great movement system the Creed series is known for.
One of the biggest additions by far to movement and traversals is the zipline, allowing you to quickly move around an area, akin to what we’ve seen in the Batman games. Not only can you shoot it out at any point to access roofs and towers, you can also fire it over gaps between buildings and over enemies for advanced takedowns and stealth.
One thing I especially liked is that you can climb any direction on a launched zipline, even up an incline. I used it quite a bit to scout and take out enemies while moving around the map in record time – it felt much more like a valued addition to the arsenal than a gimmicky add on item.
Assassin’s Creed has been refining and changing up its combat for quite some time, but Syndicate actually feels like a new step. The developers spoke about the nature of the time period, with short knives, pistols, fist fights and concealed weapons, and the way it plays mirrors this image of brutal, up close combat.
Enemies came in a few varieties, with big bruisers, swift dodgers and pistol wielding gang members. Timing, stunning and countering reward Jacob with some heavy hits and violent take downs, incorporating the world around him like tables, window sills and even fire pits into the fight. At one point I was fighting a bruiser in an alleyway, only to slap him in to the wall repeatedly as the man’s arms flailed to gain traction on the brick. It felt close and a little unsettling, but the whole ‘fighting dirty’ style of the times really carried through.
So far, the only issues I came across were the occasional parkour bumps and a few small bugs and polish things that come with an alpha version, and after Unity I’m sure Ubisoft know the importance of polishing these out well before launch. The gang takeover was a fairly free-form mission too, so hopefully there will be plenty of variety in the main story when the full game launches.
While the demo was only a mere twenty-minute taste of the game, already it felt much better than Unity at a similar alpha demo stage. With a much more interesting premise and world to explore, Syndicate is shaping up to be quite a return to form for the series. While annualising the franchise seems to have done more harm than good to the innovation of the games, hopefully Syndicate can get Assassin’s Creed out of the rut it has fallen in to and back to a bold title filled with quality and polish. Only time will tell, but already it’s looking and playing great.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate launches on October 23 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.