On Thursday I was lucky enough to have me a little go on the forthcoming Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, the next installment in the über-popular franchise from Ubisoft. All told, I got to play for around twenty minutes (10 minutes x 2, if anyone’s interested), and whilst it’s sometimes problematic to extrapolate from such a small sample, I’ma go right ahead and say it was definitely enough to get me pretty excited about the game.
The first thing that became obvious to me was that it looked fantastic. Even playing on a relatively small (and not particularly great) screen, I was extremely impressed with the quality of the graphics, and particularly with the (fairly obvious) time and effort that had gone into lovingly recreating Victorian era London. The Demo I was playing (and I think it’s fair to say it will be a level in the finished game) was set in the Tower of London, and it really was superb. At times, it genuinely looked like the real thing – and the characters themselves were so well realised that they really could have been real people out for a leisurely stroll in the middle of the night (because, like, no TVs I guess!?).
Obviously, given the geographical and chronological setting of the game, it’s inevitable that comparisons/parallels are going to be made between AC: Syndicate and The Order: 1886, but those are especially apt for me for two main reasons. Firstly, I think The Order: 1886 (for all its faults) set a benchmark for next-gen graphics, and it’s a gauntlet AC: Syndicate seems to have both picked up, and run with, with all the enthusiasm of a hyper-active Labrador puppy. Secondly, one of my main gripes with The Order was exactly that I felt cheated not being able to explore such a brilliantly rendered and genuinely atmospheric Victorian London, but given the free-roam nature of the AC games, it very much looks like I’ll actually get that chance here with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate instead.
That’s particularly exciting for me, because in the big book that is the catalogue of my general all-round Geekery, there’s a fairly big ‘History’ chapter – and within that, there’s a pretty large ‘Victorian Era London’ subsection, containing entries on everything from literature to architecture. One would very much expect AC: Syndicate to riff off at least some of the more well known elements of these in the game, so it’s quite possible there’ll be a few guest appearances from certain figures (either real, or fictional) of the era, or at least knowing nods in the direction of certain people and events.
Anyways, as a gamer squarely planted in the ‘must explore everywhere and everything’ category, the idea of setting off through the fog-filled, lantern-lit streets of London at this particular time, honestly excites me beyond measure.
But, if that’s not you, fear not because in terms of actual MISSIONS and GAMEPLAY stuff, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate seemed to have a lot to offer too. Like, a lot.
In the mission I played, there was an admirable degree of variety available, with various ways to reach and achieve my main objective, as well as oodles of bonus/optional stuff to do too. I needed to enter the actual Tower of London, and, as you’d probably expect (the clue’s in the title) assassinate somebody – and there were some pretty cool ways to go about doing that – including stealing keys, using allies to bypass security (after killing a few guards who’d rumble you, obvs) and, if you fancy it (or, like me, you completely mess-up) you can just go right ahead and fight your way in. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that last option, but it did showcase the combat in AC: Syndicate – which I found pretty cool, and fairly intuitive.
What I also found really cool was the arsenal/tools available to me in the game. One immediate stand-out feature was that I could be all Batman-like with a vertical/horizontal line-launcher whatsit which allowed me to whip up, across and down the architecture like a boss. Also, playing as Evie (one half of the set of twins who together make up the duel-protagonist approach of Syndicate), I was able to utilise the “Chameleon” ability – and, by crouching, flipping up my hood, and remaining motionless, I became all-but invisible to Guards and enemies. Yes please, and thank you, Ubisoft, I’ll definitely take some of that!
Evie also had some mad skillz with throwing knives too – which can be used to take out foes both silently, and from a(n impressively) fair distance, which only increases your tactical options. If and when (inevitably, if you’re a clumsy numbnuts like me) you do get set upon by a group of enemies, there’s also a pretty cool Voltaic Bomb whatsit that gets all electrificationalish on yo’ attacker’s asses. Again, going back to the whole Victorian era stuff – and again, in a similar vein to The Order – new and developing technology/industry seems like it might feature quite heavily in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and that’s awesome because the only thing cooler than Victorian Era stuff, is Steampunk-ey Victorian Era stuff!
Other stray observations were that (thankfully) the free-running issues of previous AC games didn’t seem to be as much of an issue here – at least in the brief time I played. The free-run-up/free-run-down options from Unity return, which helps significantly, and there were exactly no incidents of me trying to run up a building before being spotted, only to find myself hanging with my crotch in a guard’s face. Which, I think we can all agree, is a pretty good thing – tactically speaking.
Finally, I watched another guy (not me, again because of the whole clumsy numbnuts thing) combine all of the above stuff pretty deftly, and it was a stealth, gadget, free-running, combat masterclass. This was good to see because I’ve often been plagued by AC games insisting on doing one thing when I wanted another (for example, refusing to abandon a combat stance and just run the hell away), but watching that dude expertly segue between all that the game had to offer, it seemed that Syndicate might be the most responsive and intuitive game in the series to date.
All-in-all, and as I said at the outset, there was a lot to be excited about with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. There’s always a danger that a long running franchise can become stale, boring even, but Syndicate looks like it might achieve the opposite – and re-invigorate an already much loved series. I’m genuinely looking forward to getting my hands on the game when it comes out in a couple of weeks – and really can’t wait to dive into Ubisoft’s sublime, atmospheric depiction of Victorian London. And from what I’ve seen, it certainly doesn’t seem like it’ll be a leap of faith either (see what I did there?), but rather a safe, and ultimately enjoyable, investment of both your time and your cash.