Bloody Nora. Another year, another Assassin’s Creed.
Back when Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood were quietly setting the template for every open-world game that would follow, players often suggested a wish-list of locations for the series.
Almost every time and place you could think of got a mention, but one was always top of the list: Victorian London.
And here we are. After many a bump in the franchise’s cobbled road Assassin’s Creed finally arrives in the place we always wanted. And the immediate takeaway is…
It’s a bit like Paris.
Not that this is a bad thing necessarily. Last year’s Assassin’s Creed Unity was rightly pilloried for being in a terrible state at launch. And although the bugs were eventually fixed – allowing a fun game to shine through – they nonetheless diverted attention from the small steps of progress the series had made.
Traversal was one of the key improvements and this is continued in the Alpha build of Syndicate being shown at E3.
Tasked with a short mission to ‘locate and kill Bloody Nora’ it feels that Unity was a useful bedding-in process for Ubisoft, if nothing else. Everything, from running across the rooftops of London, to knocking out opponents in a brawling side-mission feels a few percentage points better than last year. It’s hard to tell if this is due to animation tweaks or control fidelity, but it’s there, and it feels good.
The depiction of London is also impressive, if a little too colourful and sunny to be truly representative. It’s also rather spacious in comparison to the real thing, but this does allow for the big new feature; stage-coaches. Careering through the streets is a little pernickety but it injects some welcome action and speed to proceedings making for an enjoyable change of pace.
There’s plenty of life and squalor in the well modelled streets too, but close inspection reveals it to be of the theme park variety, rather than from the pages of history. And considering how last year’s Paris was weirdly populated with British accents, it’s disconcerting to find London’s streets populated by a cast of Dick Van Dykes.
On the whole this would be mightily impressive demo where it not for the fact that after nine games it feels just so damned familiar. As a born and bred Londoner I will get a huge thrill from exploring a simulation of the city I know and love. For everyone else, it might be too similar to distinguish itself from last year’s game.
The Assassin’s Creed franchise is built on baby steps. Each iteration shuffling a little forward. It’s a model that works to a point, but if you are a dyed in the wool Assassin’s Creed player this doesn’t look like being the game that will revolutionise the series in the way it probably needs.