Struggling with Innovation of an Old Formula in ‘Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’

Since the release of the first game in the franchise back in 2007, I have been a big fan of Assassin’s Creed.

I was blown away by the originality of its design, both in terms of mechanics like its trademark free-running system, along with its beautiful visual style and the clever meta-fictive qualities of its split narrative, which tasks the player with playing as a character in the present, who is playing the life of another character in the past.

As a result of my acquired super-fandom, I’ve played through to the conclusion of every major installment that the series has had to offer since the first game, though in that time Ubisoft has been rather inconsistent in their craftsmanship. While I had a blast with games like “Assassin’s Creed 2” and “Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag,” I’ve also slogged my way through bloated and broken messes like “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations” and last year’s “Assassin’s Creed Unity.”

In this regard, I consider my experience with this year’s entry in the franchise, “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate,” to land somewhere between my best and worst encounters with the series.

This new chapter takes the player to the streets of Victorian London, where they follow the adventures of assassins Evie and Jacob Frye as they battle the oppressive regime of a secret Illuminati-esque society referred to as “the Templers”.

In many ways, I felt like the game made some interesting changes and improvements to the well-established formula that has defined the series up until this point.

Until now, Assassin’s Creed has almost exclusively featured male protagonists. The few times Ubisoft has deviated from this pattern has been unmemorable, both because of their decision to do so outside of the major console releases and the general blandness in their treatment of their female leads. However, “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate” provides a long-awaited break from this trend, with the player being able to play through the story as either Evie or Jacob, both of whom are very well designed and are excellent additions to the roster of assassins in the series so far.

There are also some great new additions made to the mechanics of the game as well.The introduction of a grappling gun makes movement throughout the environment significantly more fluid, while still incorporating the traditional free-running system that the series is known for.

The introduction of two protagonists also provides interesting opportunities for character customization, with the player being able to develop Evie and Jacob’s skill trees and load-outs for diverse mission types, which in turn further encourages swapping between the two of them on a regular basis throughout one’s play through.

However, while there are many things to enjoy in “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate,” my overall experience felt somewhat stale.

As much as I enjoyed the introduction of Evie and Jacob into the world of Assassin’s Creed, the story that these two characters are placed in doesn’t share the same originality and craftsmanship that went into making them so interesting.

While for the most part this series has never been known for its villains, after playing eight games in the last ten years I’ve grown rather tired of being pitted against two-dimensional antagonists whose motives begin and end at the acquisition of power for its own sake, and thus become little more than caricatures of tyranny or corruption. Unfortunately, this game does nothing to break this trend, and thus the story falls into the worn out formula of tasking our heroes with ending the reign of such a corrupt figure as means of restoring liberty and justice to the world that they would oppress.

Also, while there have been many new additions to the mechanics of the game, there is also a great deal of gameplay that continues to be recycled from earlier entries in the series, such as the gang building system and economy simulator which have both been around since the second and third games in the franchise.

Ultimately, while I love Assassin’s Creed and the traditional formula that has come to define it, what attracted me to the series in the first place was its originality of design, both in narrative and mechanics.

While I still enjoyed “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate,” I’m holding out hope that this series will return to its roots by leaving some of them behind.

Paul Grosskopf


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