The one who rules London, rules the world. Templar grandmaster Crawford Starrick knows this all too well - and tries to get everything he can get his dirty mitts on. Business, politics, medicine, and Maxwell Roth and his Blighters to control organised crime. Not the best of scenarios as Evie and Jacob Frye reach London for the first time. But it matters little. The city has no idea who came to take the city and why. For the Assassins. For their own father. For the oppressed people of London. Because they can...
The Order of the Assassins stands with its back to the wall, for nearly a century they've failed to get their foot in London. Enter Evie and Jacob. The two were trained since early childhood by the secretive order. Jacob grew to be an athletic fighter with a lot of heart, one who knows how to inspire people. Evie is fighting equally well and hard, but is smarter and has paid more attention to lessons in diplomacy. They make up a dynamic sibling duo that will enjoy a larger open-world setting with more options than ever before.
The game offers more of what we have been playing over the last decade. A large open-world adventure that lets us explore right from the start. You can explore freely, but you must be careful. The further you venture into unknown neighbourhoods, the more dangerous things get. There are policemen and gangsters waiting of a high enough challenge that you should wait before you tackle them.
There is seemingly never-ending side content. We meet Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx - and all of their associated tasks provide their own rewards and usually some money. We can buy, earn and improve weapons, as well as clothes and skills. We can also buy Helix credits for real money and use these to craft faster or buy better weapons or upgrade something. These include construction plans, as well as treasure maps of districts. It doesn't hurt to start collecting and upgrading right from the start.
We can find carriages that can be taken over much like a car in GTA, which is both hilarious and a bit stupid. The driving experience is utterly absurd, so outrageous that you'll want to drift through corners using a handbrake that obviously doesn't exist. A few James Bond-style missiles would have been a great way of clearing out traffic, but Alexander Graham Bell has not invented them, yet. But he has a sort of rope launcher that has been built into our Assassin's gloves. Thanks to these ropes we get access to completely new routes through the world, and vertical gameplay. The Palace of Westminster, for instance, can be scaled in a few short moments, all the way up to its highest points. This removes some of the importance of climbing, but speeds up the game. It's not that free running and climbing (which now works well for the most part) would thus become completely unnecessary, it's just that it is now a more specialised tool, and one we prefer over steering carriages through the streets, on any day of the week.
Outside of missions you can always use two clicks to switch between Jacob and Evie. Their respective missions are marked, but they share a common purse. Skill points are earned together, so each point can be used once by both Evie and Jacob. Therefore you can develop each character differently - which may be useful for future missions. Especially when it comes to completing one of the annoying escort missions, where one usually has to kidnap someone, take them somewhere, and still provide them protection. Evie can focus on stealth capabilities, allowing her to then perform these kind of missions quietly and easily. For a player who prefers stealth, such a mission may come across as more difficult and frustrating when played with Jacob.
Ubisoft wants to appeal to fans of the franchise right off the bat, so you chase Eden shards and engage in a conspiracy that's on a suitably epic scale. The story has not become more transparent over the years. If you know all the games and have invested yourself in the lore, you might find many things that confuse or enlighten you. Of course you can also just follow the story of Evie and Jacob, a narrative that seems very interesting in its own right. Both are strong characters, something that's accentuated with great voice acting. They trust each other as brother and sister, but each has their own perspective. The cutscenes catch an authentically styled London with the different boroughs sporting very distinct styles. It doesn't take long for the map to quickly fill up with lots of things to do.
However, more than ever before in the series, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate wants to focus on two different styles of play; action and stealth. Evie and Jacob can better disguise themselves and may also briefly be completely invisible in their surroundings. That facilitates many missions and makes stealth play less frustrating. The combat has initially been streamlined and simplified, but it can be fleshed out with skill points. When Jacob alternates between knives, batons and firearm before pulling off bloody finishers, you'll quickly begin to relish facing larger packs of enemies.
The siblings grow their own gangs and upgrade their minions, and these then rush to your aid when you're faced with overwhelming crowds. Even helper Henry Green isn't too shabby when helping you out in certain missions. We can send him out as a distraction, driving both lone enemies and small groups to the brink of madness when vanishing in a puff of smoke. Of course, we can use these smoke bombs as well, and drop down with deadly attacks from above via overhanging windowsills and the like. Quiet, deadly. Don't let the family theme fool you, this is still the ultimate assassination simulator.
There is still some time until release, and thus we encountered some issues. We played Sequence Three and Seven - self-contained memories that we have to decipher gradually. Again and again there were problems with the collision detection while climbing and racing. The camera can be annoying too. At times Evie finds herself hiding behind low resolution leaves in a tree, while sometimes Jacob had to fight covered by waving flags or beat opponents through invisible barriers. Of course the PS4 code we played was on a debug console and not yet final, but Ubisoft has signalled that the omission of multiplayer was so there would be a lot more focus on execution. Still there is clearly room for more polish.
Assassin's Creed: Syndicate is - beyond the new story - exactly what you've come to expect, and that's not a bad thing. Ubisoft relies on a well established and successful formula, taking something away here and there, adding this and that along with a new and exciting setting. There is definitely method to their work. Given the many, well-documented quality issues with Assassin's Creed: Unity, Ubisoft must deliver a quality experience straight out the gate, something to convince those burnt by Unity. Whether they'll succeed or not remains to be seen.