A new year, a new Assassin's Creed. This year, Ubisoft open-world action series is heading to London, England. More specifically, the English Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, a time when London became a booming urban landscape. Into the industrial hustle jumps the Frye twins, trained assassins looking to take the city back from the Templars who form London's elite ruling class. To do this, the twins attempt to unite the city's gangs under their gang, the Rooks.
Younger twin Jacob is the brash, impetuous type. He's the visual head of the Rooks and is always willing to get into a fight. His elder sister Evie is the consummate Master Assassin. She's the one who does things like assassins are supposed to: quiet and unseen. Evie is the blade in the darkness; Jacob is the fist in the light.
The twins don't necessarily agree on how to fight the Templars, but they're aligned in a common goal and bond. Both are playable in the game, with some caveats. If you're putzing around in the open-world collecting stuff or doing side-missions, you can choose between Evie or Jacob. If you're tackling a story mission, you'll either be playing Jacob or Evie depending on the content. From everything I've seen so far, Jacob is the primary driver of Assassin's Creed Syndicate. Many of the trailers, gameplay sequences, and the demo I played focus mainly on Jacob.
Getting into the game itself, if you've played Assassin's Creed, you're prepared for this. Combat is mostly the same, leaning towards Unity's version of the counter indicator. Stealth is softer than the hard cover lock found in the previous entry. Moving into areas of cover will cause your assassin to snap to cover, pulling away will end the snap. There's also a clear toggle between stealth and visible mode now: Jacob wears the top hat in his visual mode, and he stows it away and pulls on his assassin's hood in stealth mode. Movement in Assassin's Creed Syndicate continues the lineage of Unity, with Parkour Up/Down being your primary method of getting around the city.
In Assassin's Creed, I always feel like there's a perfect line or road forward. That a designer thought about where I might jump next and provided options to keep me moving. At its best, there's a flow to Assassin's Creed, where you feel like you're efficiently moving your way through the environment, almost like real parkour. It's one of the things I love about the series.
The biggest change in my short time with Syndicate was how the city has almost grown beyond this style. London in the 19th century is expanding, becoming a major city, and this means things like highways are beginning to appear. In my demo, running across a rooftop in one direction and not having an immediate building or wire to jump toward was more common. Nobody's jumping across a major thoroughfare because it's far too wide. AC Syndicate's London feels like jumping across island clusters made of wood, concrete, and shingle; eventually, you'll have to cross that ocean. Assassin's Creed's cities have grown taller before. The regions they inhabit have gotten bigger. This is the first time I feel the cities themselves are simply wider.
Into this comes the new rope launcher. This tool forms a large part of how you'll play the game. For one, it helps you scale tall buildings much quicker than you could before. No, it's not as fast Batman's grappling hook in the Arkham series; Jacob and Evie still have to do some rappelling to reach their destination. The added benefit of the rope launcher is the ability to zip line between those wider gaps I was talking about earlier. A tap of a button (L1 on the PlayStation 4 demo I played) creates a line from point A to point B and the Frye twins can simply shimmy across. I didn't have time to integrate the rope launcher completely into my normal assassin parkour flow, so I can't tell you if it's a perfect addition or not. Currently, I think it's a necessary one for getting around Syndicate's London.
There's also a new method of transportation. Those major roads I mentioned before were widened to allow for carriages, which are everywhere in Assassin's Creed Syndicate. You can hijack one at any time, GTA-style, taking the reins and tearing around the city. (Don't run into the cops, Yes, there are cops.) These carriages are integrated into story missions, like a chase scene I tackled in the demo. In pursuit of my target, I careened around the London streets, ramming opposing carriages who were following me.
Carriage combat is a cool concept, but one I'm not jivving with yet. At any point, you can move to the carriage's hard top and the AI will take over driving your carriage in the correct direction. This is necessary to fight off boarders, but also to board enemy carriages yourself. I am not good at this. See, each carriage hardtop is treated like a moving platform, you jump from one to the other. The first time I tried it, I missed, sending Jacob tumbling to the street. No, it doesn't kill you - that's a pretty small drop for an assassin - but the chase speeds off in the distance while you need to hijack another carriage.
I could grow to enjoy it, but I'm not sold on carriage combat. I simply haven't had enough time to work with it.
That's pretty much where I am with Syndicate. This is an evolution of the foundation laid down in Assassin's Creed Unity. I enjoy that foundation, but I'm not completely comfortable with the additions yet. I don't see how I could be in a short 15 minute segment with the title. I am looking forward to seeing if I can incorporate them into my Assassin's Creed playstyle, but for that, I need more time.