Stick and Move
There was one major surprise while I was playing Syndicate: moving platforms and areas. Carriages form one part of this system; you can use carriages to get from one point to another quickly without fast travel, but the tops of each carriage also act as a space you can jump on top of. In addition to carriages, there's also trains and boats.
"Parkour is a very difficult, very demanding system," said Phillips. "It requires a lot of level design, level art, code, animation; every element in the game needs to come together very well for that system to feel and look good. Making that work in motion is something we've been working on for the entire project. It's something we're constantly refining."
The trains circumnavigate around the city on a looped track, so you can jump on top of train and simply let it carry you through each region. Trains also give the Frye Twins one of the coolest headquarters in the series: a specialized locomotive base they steal from the Templars. Your conductor, Agnes, keeps the train running and it's from here you plan your attacks, keep your trophies, and collect your periodic earnings.
Finally, there's the Thames, the iconic river which stretches across the center of the city map. The Thames is always full of moving ships, each of which is a large mobile platform. Getting across the Thames on foot requires jumping from ship to ship, some of which are stationary and others that are moving. (You can swim, but why would you?)
Moving platforms matter when you think about the idea of Templar control. Certain ships, trains, and boats are owned by the Templars and the game treats them like you entering any other hostile territory. I was jumping across the Thames without paying much attention and all of a sudden I was notified that I was in Blighters (the Templars' gang) territory. It was essentially a moving hideout, with guards and captains to take out using stealth. It's similar to the ships in Assassin's Creed: Black Flag and Rogue, but larger and spread out among a number of different elements.
It's worth noting that I'm still not feeling the carriages. My opinions of them as methods of transportation in tense combat remains unchanged from my E3 preview. If I'm in a tense mission, carriages and moving from carriage to carriage still feels imprecise and unwieldy. As a method of transportation outside of combat though, I find I have no issue with them. The key here will be how much Syndicate requires you to use them in combat. If they hold as great a prominence as the Batmobile did in Arkham Knight, then I'll have the same problem here as I did there. In the case of carriages, I'm feeling that less is more.
Sticking to the Shadows
The entire Stealth system has been redone again for Assassin's Creed Syndicate. Unity was the first Assassin's Creed on current generation consoles, so it tried something different with a dedicated cover button. Ubisoft Quebec decided that the cover button didn't work as well as it could've, so that's been scrapped. Instead, there's soft snap to cover in Syndicate: move close to available cover and your assassin will stick to it. I actually preferred the cover button in certain situations, but this is new (old?) direction the developer has chosen.
"Stealth was an area where we wanted to put a lot of focus. In terms of making the movement more fluid and not having a cover button, which we didn't feel like it worked as well as we'd like," said Phillips.
Outside of that, Syndicate reintroduces and adds a bunch of stealth options for setting up assassinations. For one, picking up bodies makes its return to Assassin's Creed. You can pick up downed opponents, hide their bodies, put their bodies gently down, or even throw them. Whistling is back as a method of luring guards around corners. Throwing knives now make noise, meaning you can throw a knife into a wall to distract an enemy. It's all about options. While I was infiltrating a house, I snuck in through a window and killed a guard on the second floor and threw his body out the window. When an enemy on the first floor went to investigate, I air assassinated him and then hid both bodies in a nearby hay bale. Good times.
Another change is how Eagle Vision works at its lowest level. Without improvements, Eagle Vision is completely vision-based (it's also an unlimited toggle, unlike Unity's temporary view). It tags enemies, highlighting them and showing you their basic level and any special capabilities, but you can only see an enemy if you can see them. Yeah, base Eagle Vision no longer sees through walls or around cover. I ended up rounding a corner and almost getting killed because there was a guard on the other side of my cover spot.
This changes how you play in stealth and use Eagle Vision, adding an element of caution back into the game. Since Eagle Vision isn't a complete view of every enemy in the area, I spent more time doing recon, checking out a situation from different angles before heading in. Sure, you can upgrade Eagle Vision with skill points to let you see through walls, but I think I enjoy the base version for a stealth game.
"You start out with the level 1 Eagle Vision and we want you to learn the mechanics early on," said Phillips. "How you should play stealth and use height to your advantage. Classic assassin techniques. Then we have the upgrade, that you can choose to spend your skill points on to make Eagle Vision go through walls. For me personally, tagging was another big element. There's been a lot of iterations of Eagle Vision throughout the franchise; I felt Black Flag was the cornerstone of how we wanted our Eagle Vision to work."
"We give you tools to play with the AI," he added. "Use knives to draw them to locations. Pick up bodies and throw them to draw enemies in. We wanted to give you a lot of tools that could interact with each other. If you want to use the whistle a lot, if you want to use bodies, there's a million different ways. What I want at the core is for the player to use Eagle Vision from a height as a planning tool."
Stealth in Assassin's Creed has always been softer than something like Splinter Cell, but the return of some older options means there's more chances to have fun with the AI.