I’ve never really fallen out of favor for the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Granted, I chose to play the PC version of Assassin’s Creed Rogue instead of the heavily criticized Assassin’s Creed Unity last year, but beyond that I’ve enjoyed every single entry in the series (even III). Couple that with the updated engine that seems much more stable and the badass new venue of England at the turn of the 20th Century and I was intrigued for Syndicate. That is, until I played it.
Perhaps it’s stubbornness; I’m not that fond of change in controls or mechanics. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m being too hard on the developers; the tasks provided and AI seem no different than before. Whatever the reason, I can safely say I’m going to pass on Syndicate this holiday season. Granted, it looks fantastic with both razor sharp visuals and that notable spot-on art direction of jolly old England. It plays as sharp as they every have, although I still look like an idiot clumsily jumping up and down in front of walls and staring at a ledge my character refuses to climb up on. There are even sub-missions within each mission to make the final kill easier to accomplish and ultimately elongates the game by giving you tasks within tasks to perform. It’s the overall soul of the game that has me irked.
In order to assassinate your target in the demo, you have to sneak into a house that is heavily guarded and there is a full patrol of nearly 20-30 men also about on the grounds to keep you busy. Gone are any safe spots where you can blend into a crowd and climbing up the side of a building will get you seen almost immediately, but this is fine as long as you can break line of sight within 30 seconds or so. I wouldn’t recommend random killing either, because the whole guard will be at your back in an instant. Nope, you are going to have to do this the old fashioned way: pure stealth. My side quests netted me a key that could get into any door to the estate and an ally in a guard costume gave me a way to get inside in plain sight, which I managed to accomplish all without being seen. Of course when I went to enter a door there were two men standing outside and when I broke off the “captive” state with my ally to take care of the duo saw my buddy taking off without me. Worst of all I couldn’t get him to come back and play as my captor anymore, which of course resulted in a guard spotting me while I frantically slam down on the circle button following my useless AI “friend.” I’m sure anyone who has played these games has seen the results before – a massive army of men from all directions are chasing me as I charge into the house looking for my target. Since she knows I’m coming, I can no longer simply stab her in the back so the scene is me hacking away at this woman frantically while a group tries to intervene. I’m then also trying to deal with the minions and guards that have surrounded me and are attempting to attack, which normally I have no issues with but it appears the controls for combat may have been switched up. Either way, to my shock the game freezes for a moment and a cutscene plays. It turns out I eliminated my target. I guess I won.
It’s at this moment that I decided I may be tired of the formula. The rules for sneaking have changed and gotten more complicated, I think the combat is changed but I couldn’t get anyone to confirm that, and the 30 minutes to set up the perfect heist only to have it fall apart at the end is definitely here in full effect. For the first time in a long time I’m a stupid clumsy assassin that isn’t worthy of the title – which frankly has been the case for me in all of the games – but this time I care. It’s gotten too meticulous, too specific, and it feels like all the changes are removing the good things (like smooth combat) and leaving in all the bad things (like extreme enemy placement and pickiness). Perhaps this game will have a strong audience, but as for me, after eight games – nine if you count Syndicate – I’m finally tired of the formula. It was fun while it lasted.
I apologize for the lack of screens with this article. There were no assets released that showed off the gameplay in the demo and I wasn’t going to post screens of concept art and other shots that don’t look like the game running or this demo. I was also restricted to take photos of the screen, but I wouldn’t have wanted to use those as screenshots anyway.