Following Assassin’s Creed: Unity’s disastrous launch last year Ubisoft’s latest Assassin’s Creed entry, Syndicate, had to fight an uphill battle to convince people it’s better than its predecessor. It turns out that Syndicate is the series’ best game for quite some time. It’s unfortunate, however, that not many people have recognized that.
Releasing right before Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Fallout 4, and Star Wars: Battlefront, it’s easy to see why Syndicate got overlooked. Of course, it’s also because Ubisoft’s flagship franchise has been annualized for several years now, and all of the entries since 2011’s Assassin’s Creed: Revelations have yet to live up to the quality and impact that both 2009’s Assassin’s Creed II and 2010’s Brotherhood had left.
Both games brought something original to the action-adventure genre, and the dramatic change of scenery and tone from the first game’s brooding Middle Ages to the second and third games’ glorious and cordial Italian Renaissance proved to be fruitful. The series has yet to replicate this, and you always wonder if people are finally getting bored and tired of this franchise.
I definitely thought I was but to my surprise Syndicate shows that Assassin’s Creed still has some life left in it after all.
Yes, Syndicate has flaws. It contains way too many banal side-missions and gameplay loops, and the melee combat pales in comparison to the series’ trademark swift platforming, which is much better as well. But this introduces a slew of clever and interesting design choices that elevate the Assassin’s Creed experience to a whole new level.
The most dramatic addition is playing as two separate characters — the Frye twins. You have the hulking and smart-talking brother Jacob Frye and the more serious, stealthily sister Evie Frye. These pair of assassins are well written, and the constant banter and arguments between the two easily make them the best protagonists since everyone’s favorite Italian Ezio Auditore.
I actually forgot that a main character in Assassin’s Creed can actually be charming, relatable, and likeable. Ubisoft has failed to create a protagonist as nuanced as Ezio, but it finally pulled it off with the Frye twins. Plus, Evie is a well-realized, tough female character that isn’t a caricature, which is important to note considering the backlash Ubisoft got with the way it treated Unity’s female characters.
But not only are the pair great protagonists, they introduce a fun new way to play. Jacob favors a more loud and violent approach to a situation while Evie is adept at taking enemies out silently. I love to use Jacob for bombastic gang wars, for example. When playing as either character you can definitely feel the differences and I always found myself constantly switching between the two in certain missions and assassinations.
Yes, changing characters is instant with just the push of a button. The upgrade system is streamlined and revolves around the drastic gameplay differences between the twins. You can upgrade in three categories: One strengthens your combats kills, the other increases your stealth skills, and the final third deals with general assassin skills like getting more loot from chests.
This clever design choice — having two playable characters — makes for an unexpectedly refreshing game to play. Who would’ve guessed?
The setting and story are Syndicate’s other biggest strengths. While the modern-day side-story is annoying and convoluted, it contains a focused main plot that almost anyone can understand and quickly get into. A ruthless monarch is running 18th-century London with the help of his large posse. Jacob wants to assassinate the monarch’s group, like the city’s most powerful corrupt doctor, while Evie is on the hunt for an Eden artifact and wants to make sure she gets it before the baddies do.
Both of these interwoven stories complement each other well and have great pacing. The eccentric 18th-century London setting is put to great use, and the main villain is someone you love to hate. Yes, the story can get a bit predictable but it’s still a huge improvement over the past couple of games in the series. More importantly the wonderful Frye twins drive the main plot, which is fantastic.
Is Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate one of the best games this year? No, definitely not. But is it still worth your time? I think so. I genuinely believe that if Unity never released last year and Syndicate followed 2013’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the game would’ve received a much more cordial reception. My biggest takeaway from Syndicate is that Ubisoft is still capable of trying something new and exciting with the series. I just hope next time it takes an extra year to continue doing so.