This is one area where Assassin’s Creed: Unity spoiled us a bit. That delicately rendered hair, the subtle texture of skin, is largely missing from Syndicate. The graphics aren’t godawful, though lip-synching sometimes appears crude. But they lack the more-realistic human rendering that sometimes made Unity’s characters appear more like flesh and blood.
Did we give up that graphical step forward to get Syndicate’s steady performance? Probably. Do I miss it? Yes. If I had an incredible story to distract me, it wouldn’t pose as much of a problem.
Combat is simplistic
You’ll still rack up combos in Syndicate, but you’ll never need them. Generally speaking, the new combat system looks something like this on Xbox One: X-X-X-X-X-X-crap, he’s blocking-A-X-X-X-X. Most of the time, you’ll win by being constantly on the attack, with only the occasional counter needed when someone turtles.
If you have a gun equipped and someone takes a bead on you at range, you can quick-tap Y to try to shoot him first. If you have a bomb equipped, you can use Y to toss it in the group and make your escape, or toss it at someone at range to make them unable to hit you.
I’ll confess that I’ve never been a fan of “now hit these 16 buttons and you’ll do something fabulous” fighting, but high and low weren’t that hard to understand, were they? Combat in Syndicate isn’t unsatisfying, and it looks reasonably good, but you won’t need a lot of skill to control it.
Multi-enemy moves are rare unless they occur automatically when you have several at very low health (or you’re going for a stealth assassination and have taken the two-at-once talent.) That way-cool spin-duck-multi-kill I loved from some of the previous games never happened for me here.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is a solid entry in the series, with a great setting and two likable protagonists. It gets its badass female character just right, and it nails the fun with carriages and zip lines. The Victorian London cityscape offers a huge gameplay map, but many ways to get around easily. The amount of fun, if mindless, gameplay Syndicate offers bumps up the score quite a bit.
Storyline missions (and famous-character side missions) generally don’t disappoint, but nothing here poses too much of a challenge. The puzzles stay relatively simple, the combat takes simple button-mashing to master, and if you keep an eye out for trouble, you’ll rarely die. Even the graphics appear to have simplified in many ways.
The storyline itself takes too long to wind up and feels a little milquetoast compared to the grand drama of previous installments. Syndicate is a good, solid game, one of the better in the series recently when it comes to its mechanics, with some nice surprises.
It just contains a little too much filler, both in story and in side missions, to be truly great.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate launches Friday, October 23, for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a physical copy of the Limited Edition for this review.