Another year. Another thirty-ish hours of my life. Another Assassin's Creed.
It's tempting to call Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate a “return to form” because, well, it is. It's the best Assassin's Creed since Black Flag, which was in turn the best since Brotherhood, and on we go back to 2007 when this whole series started and the idea seemed so fresh and intriguing. I miss those days.
Because the truth is even a great Assassin's Creed game feels pretty rote in 2015. Syndicate keeps the dialogue light and snappy, ditches the stupid companion app and all the weird “These missions happen in real-time” mobile fodder, pares back (a bit) the amount of pointless filler missions, and shows off a breathtaking rendition of Victorian London.
But it's...well, it's still Assassin's Creed. You climb buildings. You leap into haystacks. You stab people with your hidden blade. Someone finds yet another Piece of Eden. The Templars get angry. The Assassins kill Templars. The sun rises. The sun sets. It's been eight years and we've played this game nine times now.
Burning the candle at both ends
If Syndicate is saved from mediocrity it's because of the quality of its lead characters, the brother/sister Assassin duo of Jacob and Evie Frye. Jacob plays the now familiar role of “Ezio-In-A-Different-Time-Period,” wisecracking his way through situations and generally not giving half a damn about the Creed part of Assassin's Creed, while Evie is more levelheaded and focused on the brotherhood's teachings.
Their sibling rivalry leads to Syndicate's best moments, the pair leveling barbs at each other and adding some much-needed levity to the proceedings—something the self-serious Assassin’s Creed Unity was sorely missing. Even Evie, the more “practical” of the two, is full of witty one-liners, always equipped with a sigh and a snide jab when Jacob inevitably screws up.
It's not the most unique dynamic, but it keeps Syndicate moving.
The rest of the cast is less successful, with cameos that often go nowhere and feel largely interchangeable. Alexander Graham Bell shows up, for instance—and then disappears from the story after you do some menial tasks for him. Charles Dickens stays around for slightly longer so you can hunt London's “ghosts,” giving them a “I would've gotten away with it too, if it weren't for that assassin and his/her hidden blade” moment.
But Dickens's side missions (and those for fellow “It's a Famous Person!” quest givers Marx and Darwin) suffer at the hands of some poor pacing and Assassin's Creed's limited, stale set of missions. You know: Follow this guy, kill this one, chase this one, steal a thing. Syndicate even feels like a step backward from Unity in this regard, where the French Revolution's murder “mysteries” broke up the proceedings a bit.
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