These twins are bound by their bloodline as well as the blood of their victims.
Ever since the first Assassin's Creed game was launched, I've been skulking around various ancient civilizations silently slaying Templars in the name of the Assassin Order. These two secret societies have been at war with each other for hundreds of years, and there's no end in sight. This year's installment, Assassin's Creed Syndicate, takes place in the familiar setting of Victorian London, and as an avid Steampunk (yes, with a capital 'S'), I couldn't be more pleased. I knew I was in for a treat when I first saw the homescreen, a wall of moving gears accented by pipes and springs. Although the experience is marred by imperfections and a few questionable design decisions, I still find myself longing to liberate London by using brute force and by striking from the shadows.
The story focuses on Jacob and Evie Frye, twin assassins yearning to make their mark on the world. They decide to break from the Assassin Order and travel to London on their own in a quest to find a powerful artifact called the piece of Eden. Soon after they arrive, the twins become split on their main goal, as Evie wants to steal the piece of Eden while Jacob has ambitious plans to start a gang and take the city back from the Templars. Unfortunately, the story itself is rather humdrum, so it's great that the twins have such robust personalities. Jacob is impetuous and stubborn while Evie is coy, sarcastic, and prefers to think before she acts. I found myself really liking Evie, but Jacob is kind of a douche.
Not surprisingly, each character's personalities compliment their abilities. Hotheaded Jacob is a straight-up brawler who specializes in brass knuckles. He likes to rush into battle and fight enemies head-on, but he can still sneak around and perform assassinations. Evie, on the other hand, is more focused on making a stealthy approach and taking out her enemies without being seen. She prefers using a cane-sword in a macabre dance of death. There doesn't seem to be much difference in their abilities beyond stat-boosts for certain weapons, but Evie's fighting style and assassinations are truly a bit of the old ultraviolence. On more than one occasion I blurted out “holy crap” while watching her jam a sword in the face of one enemy, using the cane hilt to brutally beat the hell out of another enemy, and then returning to sword-face to beat him down even more.
Two new features, the rope launcher and the sneak button, dramatically enhance the gaming experience. Either character can use the new rope launcher to ascend buildings quickly as long as they're standing beside the structure (too bad this can't be done from a distance). This is extremely useful and makes exploring the tall buildings of London a breeze. It's also possible to create zip lines from building to building, which helps to cross wide roads and long gaps. In addition to travel, this can be used to set up air assassinations on practically anyone, which is very cool. One unexpected bonus is the sneak button, which puts the character into a crouch and lets them take cover behind walls and ledges. I always found it odd that the series never had this feature, and I find myself using it here more often than not.
Some people may find the drab appearance of Victorian London to be off-putting, but I appreciate its authenticity. The steam-powered Industrial Revolution was a golden age of advancement, but the heavy price was rampant pollution, corruption, and frequent deaths. This is evident in the thousands of thick, black smoke plumes rising from houses and factories, giving London a dreary appearance when combined with the cloudy climate. The atmosphere helps to make navigating the busy streets and thoroughfares more realistic.
Everywhere I went, there was a heavy hustle and bustle of activity as people engaged in daily activities, enough that I could choose to take my time and observe, listen to conversations, or hurry to my destination. One thing I found particularly humorous was when I wanted to cross the Thames River. There are boats traveling in both directions and the only way to cross is by jumping from boat to boat, which reminded me of a reverse version of the classic game Frogger.
Since London is so gigantic, I appreciate the ability to use both carriages and trains to get to my destination faster, and with style! Horse-drawn carriages are used for much more than mere transportation, as they provide a slow-moving platform for hopping on top to fight enemies or jump to enemy carriages and take them down. If there are no empty carriages around, I simply perform Grand Theft Carriage on an unsuspecting driver and ride away. If the police or rival gang members give chase, I can ram into them or blast them with my pistol to get away. Trains are very different as players cannot control their route, but they can have battles on top of train cars. In addition, trains are a great mode of indirect transportation and they are fun to traverse. One thing worth mentioning is that Jacob and Evie's gang hideout is on a train—what a great idea!
Speaking of gangs, the ability to recruit gang members to roll with me on side missions or even to do a drive-by is fantastic. It's also fun to participate in gang wars that help to take control of territories. It's easy to ignore the gang element, but using them to your advantage can really enhance the experience. In addition, players can upgrade their gang in a wide variety of ways. For example, purchasing Watchers, Brutes, and Enforcers makes these classes recruitable while buying pubs, bookies, and investing in tea will increase gang income. It's also possible to acquire several upgrades that weaken enemy gangs, like giving them dull blades.
I didn't find the story missions to be all that interesting. For instance, tailing a stalker isn't very exciting, but blasting hordes of enemies with a gatling gun is more enjoyable. I enjoy playing the huge variety of side missions and activities much more. It's definitely heartwarming to liberate children from a factory, and performing assassinations without being discovered is still very rewarding. Participating in the gentleman's fight club is also rather splendiferous, indeed. In addition to main and side missions, several random crowd events that include scaring bullies and chasing a purse thief help to add life to the city.
Anyone who read about the rushed released of Assassin's Creed Syndicate will get the impression that this game is as buggy as Assassin's Creed Unity, but I don't agree. In all the time that I've invested, I had no crashes and only saw two major bugs. One was a guy shoveling coal with a detached shovel, and the other was an invisible enemy. I admit that the invisible enemy was a pain in the ass because I couldn't attack him, but I could see the icon over his head and he was damaging me. Fortunately, it was in an area where I could run away and hide. Other than that, there doesn't seem to be any more bugs than what is found in most open-world games.
However, I question the use of one button for so many context-sensitive functions. When the same button is used to kidnap an enemy that's used to also put him/her in a carriage and is used to hijack the carriage, players are bound to perform the wrong action on several occasions. This can be extremely frustrating and expletives will surely spew forth like cheap wine at a bachelorette party. I also wish the menu wasn't so convoluted because it can be very confusing to try and figure out different things for each character. Lastly, I would rather go to different stores to purchase gear and craft upgrades than have them all available from the menu.
I've been waiting for a long time to see this franchise take place in the Victorian era, and Assassin's Creed Syndicate doesn't disappoint. Sure, there are some bugs and a few missteps, but I see myself playing through the game at least one more time before I put it aside.