< Thoughts on Syndicate

I thoroughly enjoyed Black Flag. It wasn’t a conventional Assassin’s Creed, but I finished it to 99% anyway because being a pirate with your own ship in a big open world was just damn fun. Finished Unity, didn’t like it. The story sucked, the combat was broken and the only thing new on the table was a facelift.

To make a long review short, if you haven’t played Unity yet, forget about it and go straight to Syndicate. It tightens up a lot of loose bolts and brings a handful of new tricks to the show that makes it more fun and less meticulous. The characters are more likeable and interesting and the game doesn’t take its self so bloody seriously.

Like most Assassin’s Creed games, it’s a slow, boring start that leaves your hopes out in the cold. There’s no fun to be had until you admit yourself into the first few campaign episodes. My first instinct playing Jacob was to explore London and wear the hood, precisely as Evie caught up to me and said “Now is not the time. Follow me.” Sigh. Once you’re about 10% through, Syndicate opens up and starts to get fun.

In Syndicate you can switch between assassins Jacob and Evie, characters who this time are actually funny and likeable. Jacob wants to stroke his ego and start a gang to take the streets of London back from the Templars, while Evie wants to unravel the mysteries of a powerful artefact. I really like both twins — Jacob wants glory, Evie wants the unknown, but both of them want adventure. It’s a great duo, and building a brawler next to a prowler makes a lot of sense.

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The music in Syndicate ranges from gentle and elegant to simply beautiful. Soaring high over the roofs of 1868 London, my ears were dipped in a short but angelic piece carried by a female opera singer. It was one of those rare moments in a video game when I’ve been surprised and humbled at the same time. It caressed my emotions and I had to take a moment. In combat, playful violins and violas are anything but intrusive. They make your brawl feel like the painting of a picture.

Your new grappling hook makes zipping around fun and easy. You need to try it to really appreciate how much of an edge it gives you when infiltrating a stronghold. You can position yourself above a cockney brute for the perfect aerial kill in almost any situation, and it makes collecting things around the city even more fun and satisfying. However, a targeting mode would have been nice — aiming the camera at a nearby edge very often doesn’t yield a grapple symbol as expected. It’s hard to figure what the criteria is.

Absconding with a loaded horse and cart and ramming your pursuers into oblivion can be a blast. The carriage handles worse than a Russian station wagon — put reversing out of your mind and expect to get pissed off on occasion. But when you’ve left a trail of cripples and you’re galloping off with a stage full of coin and crafting goods, you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

The game detaches from reality perhaps more than any Assassin’s Creed before it. Rampage through a market of gangsters with a horse and cart, ram everything off the road including old ladies and urchins, and you’ll still walk away an anonymous assassin. Ridiculous, but it’s all good fun and that’s what games should be about.

I’ve always loved finding all the chests and collectables in Assassin’s Creed. It’s a terrific way to run your fingers through the world while gaining resources and currency. In addition to chests, there are now vintage beers and pressed flowers to collect!

Lock picking no longer requires a timing puzzle like it did in Unity. I can’t say I miss it, although it was very satisfying to rattle the pins of a vintage chest to reap the riches inside.

Automatic body looting is a very nice perk, and you can unlock it at a very low level. Slay a reprobate — cha-ching! Loot. No complaints there.

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Combat feels more refined and predictable. Dodging bullets or quick-shooting the gunman is now actually doable. However, combat stance sometimes doesn’t activate, even when a guard has a pistol in your face. Very annoying. Makes injuries the fault of the game and not yours. Pressing counter when the counter indicator appears sometimes does nothing. It was a major gripe I had with Unity and it’s amazing to think such a huge flaw still exists.

Frame rate could be higher. The game feels sluggish. I think the detail and geometry everywhere is excessive. I can only take it in if I stand still and gawk, and I’d prefer the smoothness and responsiveness of an extra 10 frames per second. It seems Ubisoft still prioritises graphics over performance and I’ve never agreed with it.

I’m having a much better time playing Syndicate than I did playing Unity. Unity felt disjointed and tedious. Syndicate has more character, intrigue and good old fashioned fun. Oh the glitches are still there, make no mistake, but nothing game-breaking in my experience so far. If you’re willing to crawl through the first few boring hours, I think Syndicate is well worth the buy.