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After Assassin’s Creed Unity’s poor reception all eyes were on Ubisoft to see if the popular but much-maligned franchise would get back on track with its latest Victorian London based instalment.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate doesn’t include as many box-ticking features as its predecessors – gone is online multiplayer and fiddly mobile app integration – but Ubisoft’s Quebec and Montreal studios have introduced some new elements that shake up the core experience.

For the first time the main game has swappable male and female leads, and with the introduction of the rope launcher the series’ trademark parkour traversal takes a back seat.

Beginning with the game’s leads, Daniel Krupa, writing at IGN, found much to like with the characterisation of protagonists Evie and Jacob Frye.

They’re both extremely likeable, well-drawn protagonists, and the interaction between the two is laced with a lively sibling rivalry that brings levity to otherwise-earnest cutscenes. But their contrasting worldviews have the greatest positive impact on Syndicate’s structure, which is both engaging and meaningful.

Writing at Polygon, Philip Kohler also praises the Syndicate’s characters and the move away from Unity’s authentic period recreation.

…most of Syndicate‘s time is devoted to a chaotic caricature of 1860s London. Jacob and Evie gather a number of allies, both fictional (an awkward assassin named Henry Green) and historical (hilariously undercover police inspector Frederick Abberline, a ghost-obsessed Charles Dickens and more). The supporting cast is better than it’s ever been, full of memorable characters and sharp, witty dialogue.

With Victorian London being a long-wanted setting for the series, most reviews have been impressed with the city’s construction and sense of place. Eurogamer’s Tom Phillips finds Syndicate’s location to be the most impressive for some time.

The impact of London itself cannot be understated, especially to anyone who is familiar with the city themselves. But, more than Paris, colonial Boston, Constantinople or any other recent creation, it is a space that will feel at least partly familiar to the vast majority of players. There’s a genuine thrill to padding around the carpeted floors of Buckingham Palace or scaling the hands of Big Ben’s clock tower. By far, it is the best city that Ubisoft has created since Brotherhood’s Rome.

In addition to the two leads perhaps the biggest change to the standard Assassin’s Creed formula is the introduction of a rope launcher to aid traversal. Polygon’s Philip Kohler finds no problem with the new addition.

Syndicate also benefits from the introduction of a fantastic new means of traversal: the grappling hook-esque rope launcher. The rope launcher works both vertically and horizontally, letting Jacob or Evie quickly scale to the top of a building or cross a wide street without touching the ground. While this clearly takes heavy inspiration from similar devices in other open-world games, it’s a brilliant addition to the Assassin’s Creed arsenal.

Likewise Alexa Ray Corriea writing at Gamespot finds much to enjoy with the way the rope launcher impacts how you approach the game.

I can recall only using Syndicate’s fast travel points three times during my entire playthrough, because with the rope launcher in your toolbox, why would you take any other route through London? The setting is so lovely, and zipping across the city like a Victorian Spider-Man makes you truly feel like the city’s protector, dropping to the streets every so often to air assassinate someone. In addition to setting up aerial kills, using the rope launcher instead of fast travel allows you to organically stumble upon one of London’s many sidequests and make a pit stop for extra cash.  The rope launcher is the thing this franchise so desperately needed, and now that it’s here I don’t ever want to be without it.

However, Destructoid’s Brett Makedonski mourns the passing of the climbing mechanics that were a fundamental part of the series.

The grappling hook actually feels like cheating after spending eight games getting there the hard way. It’s easy to appreciate Ubisoft saving you a bit of time, but pulling back and reflecting after several hours of play will lead you to realize that you’ve scaled just a tiny fraction of what you have in past titles. Climbing is a major mechanic that drew a lot of people to Assassin’s Creed in the first place, so it’s sad seeing Syndicate relegate it to an afterthought.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate Review

Also revised for this instalment are the oft troublesome stealth mechanics. Writing at Gamesradar, Louise Blain finds the changes an improvement previous releases in the series.

Stealth too has had a major, not to mention welcome, overhaul. No longer mapped to a shoulder button, tapping x will switch out your top hat for a hood and put you into a crouch. While in sneak mode, cover is now automatic so you’ll finally stick to objects (in a good way this time) and it means infiltration is a far more slick experience. Whether you’re entering one of the child liberation missions from a skylight or sneaking into a gang stronghold through a window, this is the first Creed that feels like not getting detected is a real possibility.

One of the biggest criticisms of Assassin’s Creed Unity was its intrusive use of micro-transactions and so called ‘pay-to-win’ perks. Although they return in Syndicate Techradar’s James O’Malley finds their implementation much more palatable.

Micropayments, meanwhile, still exist in Syndicate, but are not promoted as egregiously as in Unity. The developers have insisted that all of the content in the game is fully accessible without extra payments. Payments are instead there for those players who can’t be bothered collecting every last hidden treasure, which feels more like an acceptable compromise.

By stripping back away many of Unity’s more bloated features the overall consensus is that Assassin’s Creed Syndicate offers a far more enjoyable – and much less buggy – adventure than its predecessor. That said, many commentators also suggest the series still has a way to go to offer a gameplay revolution comparable to the industrial equivalent that provides the backdrop the game. The Verge’s Andrew Webster summarises:

Almost every change is for the better, but the changes don’t go far enough; I spent a lot of time fighting against the same features I hated in past games. Syndicate encapsulates what I love about the franchise, and what I hate, but it also shows that Ubisoft is beginning course correction.

Buy Assassin’s Creed Syndicate on Amazon.

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