What was once rumored to be Assassin's Creed Victory, stands revealed as Assassin's Creed Syndicate. This year's entry takes place in Victorian England, at the beginning of the 19th century. London is a city of industry and civilization, but it's also a city of intense poverty. As always, the Templars control the city and it's up to the Brotherhood to take it back.
You're still a rampant murderer ostensibly on the side of good, but the series has long since worn away the line between Assassin and Templar. Parkour is still your primary method of movement, taking to the alleys and rooftops to get around. The hidden blade is still your primary method of dealing death. You still have to fight to take city districts from Templar control.
We have a pair of assassins this time around, twins Jacob and Evie Frye. Jacob seems to be the muscle, brash and to the point, while Evie is the brains, sticking closer to the original assassin ideal. The "syndicate" in the title is the Frye Twins method of fighting the Templars. Together, they're uniting the city's gangs of poor and downtrodden citizens. (Despite being active during the French Revolution, Unity's Arno wasn't all that interested in the plight of the common man.) The gangs feed into the all-new gang combat system, pitting your group against others in all-out city brawls. Combat has been sped up and the pair have access to weapons like brass knuckles, a cane sword, and the kukri knife.
"Upon arriving in London, Jacob and Evie soon take the side of the impoverished majority, though not necessarily for the same reasons," historian Jean-Vincent Roy told the UbiBlog. "Evie is much more idealistic and closer to the Creed, and Jacob perceives the rugged London poor as natural allies to the cause."
A few things have changed. Ubisoft hasn't said anything about removing the Parkour Up and Down movement system from Unity, so I'm assuming it's still in, letting you easily get across the city in day or night (a Game Informer interview mentions that the game has a day-night cycle now). The new rope launcher allows you to quickly ascend buildings and works like a mobile zipline. Carriages and trains provide alternate methods of getting around the city; you can hijack and drive carriages around to chase enemies or reach a far-off destinations. Cover has switched from Unity's hard cover lock to softer one allowing players to break cover easier and the gameplay video shows Jacob switching from a top hat-wearing normal mode to a hood-wearing stealth mode. And whistling is back! Huzzah!
Syndicate is also dropping Unity's co-op multiplayer completely, providing a single-player only experience this year. Honestly, I think most players won't have a problem with that.
Most importantly, Ubisoft seems to have taken some of the criticism lobbed at Assassin's Creed Unity to heart. Jacob and Evie are both playable this time around.
"Jacob and Evie represent a different side of the English persona," creative director Marc-Alexis Cote told the UbiBlog. "Jacob is a charismatic brawler. He's going to be the leader of London's criminal underworld. Evie is much stealthier. She's really, really intelligent and witty. One of the things I really like about our two characters is how they bounce off each other."
It looks like Evie came late to the party though. Ubisoft has confirmed that she's playable, but the promotional art, screenshots, trailers, and gameplay footage all focus heavily on Jacob. It feels like Evie being a playable character was an idea added later in the development process, possibly after the reception of Unity. She feels like an afterthought, a character who has gained greater prominence after the fact.
The thing is, it is progress. The AC series tends to be male-led, despite featuring women who can do equal assassinating; Unity could've stood to let players control Elise once or twice. Ubisoft has yet to show us how Evie factors in as a playable character, but an earlier rumor by Kotaku mentioned that outside of primary missions you can potentially choose between either character. The rumor further stated that within story missions, Jacob is usually the playable character, but Evie would have some story missions of her own. That seems to be backed up by everything we've seen so far.
Progress is moved further forward with the addition of female enemies, one of the things missing from many games. The gameplay video shows gang members on both sides as male or female, with both genders being able to dish out or take the pain. Games have generally avoided female enemies, potentially worried about how players and society will perceive violence against women. But equality means that men and women can be heroes and villains, royalty and paupers, soldiers and gang members. While we're looking for a greater number of female leading roles in the industry, it's good to also remember that women can be the average henchperson as well.
It's all a part of a larger shift in the industry. Ubisoft itself released the series spinoff Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China starring female assassin Shao Jun last month. Call of Duty: Black Ops III will allow players to choose between a male and female protagonist for the first time, assuming if your hero is completely non-descript, why not let players pick their gender? If you're not telling the story of a specific character, why not open things up a bit? Choice is awesome and gender is another valuable choice.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate is coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on October 23, 2015. The PC version will suffer the old Ubisoft curse, so it's coming out in the blanket Autumn 2015 window. Syndicate is more Assassin's Creed. At this point, either you're on this train or you're not. You know in your heart where you stand.