Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: The Good, The Bad, The Potentially Ugly

 

THE BAD

To quote this article here from Kotaku, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate “still had some of the technical awkwardness—fidgety controls, easily confused enemy AI—that had become accepted as part of the annual, not-fully-polished Assassin’s Creed norm”. They also have their own review up, which tackles more of its issues.

Outside of their take on the series, I do have some of my own. There are also several REALLY annoying glitches, with the most major one being how the Train Hideout for the Rooks will disappear from the map completely until you toggle a Viewpoint. You may also find Jacob and Evie falling into the landscape or perform a fatal misfire with that grappling hook at inopportune times.

Bugs aside, though, there’s also the fact that the gameplay – even with all of its shiny new bells and whistles – continues to be redundant at its core. While casual players might be fine with this, players who are looking for something more interesting may be bored to tears by how Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is simply not challenging. I don’t mind this so much, especially since I’ve always been more interested in the franchise as alternative historical fiction over it being a ludogically innovative game. However, I can still see why a lot of people abandoned the franchise after a couple of games.

On that note, while some players stopped following Assassin’s Creed because the gameplay got boring, other players ragequit over the overarching plot. While the pirate fun of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag managed to salvage a bit of the story in the wake of Desmond Miles’ death, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate still doesn’t have the emotional resonance of its predecessors due to the lack of a protagonist. I understand, on a metafictional level, that they are trying to be smart by implying that you, as player, are an Initiate of the Brotherhood. Unfortunately, the most I can give them is a token pat on the head for the effort, and maybe another one for trying to place the spotlight on new 21st Century Assassins and the surviving members of Desmond’s team.

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Finally, the franchise’s major illness continues to plague Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. In a market rife with game worlds where player agency is almost totally reduced to taking violent action, Syndicate ended up falling into the same trap as about 90% of the games on sale right now. I’ve mentioned how there is a whole lot of extra stuff to do in the game, but MOST of that extra stuff STILL involves violence. Sure, there are ways to avoid it. When you’re itching to get to the next part of the sequence, though, it’s still so much easier to just go on a killing spree. Furthermore, the few parts that DO force you to not kill anyone are plain out boring, or they involve unnecessarily high levels of aggravation. The saving grace could have been the Dreadful Crimes, but they’re not part of the main story.

 

THE POTENTIALLY UGLY

And all of that brings us back to my original point about Assassin’s Creed and glass ceilings. Overall, Syndicate is an excellent game, but it pretty much reveals how Ubisoft may have reached the limits of its creativity. They could continue to churn out games for the franchise at this level, but it may feel less like an attempt at selling us a compelling interactive story and more like a blatant money-making venture for the company.

A conversation that I had with two of my fellow admin at What’s a Geek solidified my views on how Assassin’s Creed might redeem itself. At this point, the franchise either has to stick to expanding its universe in comic books, or it needs to radically shift its orientation. Sure, they’ve attempted to explore new mechanics and stories in their sidescrollers, but those have pretty much gone out with a whimper. Besides, many reviews for them say that they’re not nearly as clever or as beautiful as they’ve been made out to be.

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This honestly saddens me. I’m a scholar who’s keenly interested in pop culture, and I’ve got a lady boner for world history. Assassin’s Creed has always given us what many of our history teachers can’t: a vivid, living, interactive space from the past that can show us reflections of What Once Was. Losing Assassin’s Creed to its flaws means losing a franchise that has an important place in the history of video game development, and also puts us down one series of games that could have been awesome if it had kept growing.

Advances in technology for game design mean that there’s high potential for creative games that display amazing levels of player agency, with narratives that can tell a story without relying so heavily on the “stab this guy, get cookies” rote. Let’s hope that the break Ubisoft will be taking means that the company will take the time out to get behind this movement before it’s too late.

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Pam Punzalan
Pam Punzalan
29, female, not in Narnia about anything. Games, teaches, writes, reads, flails, smokes, occasionally drinks, loves cats. Answers to Kae, Pamela, Pam, Pam-Pam, Pammy, Pammeth. Pamera, and Pammu. Also part of the admin team of Girls Got Game, over at http://girlsgotgame.org/!
Pam Punzalan

Pam Punzalan

29, female, not in Narnia about anything. Games, teaches, writes, reads, flails, smokes, occasionally drinks, loves cats. Answers to Kae, Pamela, Pam, Pam-Pam, Pammy, Pammeth. Pamera, and Pammu. Also part of the admin team of Girls Got Game, over at http://girlsgotgame.org/!

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