9 October 2015

Hands on with Assassin's Creed Syndicate

I'm not really big on Assassin's Creed. I haven't played an Assassin's Creed game since Assassin's Creed 2 (despite owning most of them on Steam) and I've never been overly impressed with them anyway - fun free running mechanic and historical settings aside, I've never really found anything about them to be particularly enjoyable, from the repetitive combat to the dull present day parts of the story that focus on Desmond.

Maybe I'm not the best person to be doing this.

Regardless, I had the opportunity to play Assassin's Creed Syndicate on PS4 at the
2015 Eurogamer Expo (more commonly known as EGX), spending about 15 minutes on an assassination mission that gave me a couple of different ways of approaching my target. Naturally, I tried to do it sneaky - under the guise of having been caught by a guard (who was secretly on my side) I started to work my way through the building, avoiding getting too close to enemies who would be able to tell I wasn't really a prisoner, focusing on remaining undetected and slowly but surely making progress towards my target before finally pouncing on her. That failed and I died though, so I ended up punching my way through with ease.

It was a very limited demo, but it hasn't done anything at all to persuade me that Assassin's Creed Syndicate will manage to fix what I see as the series' biggest flaw - the lack of stealth in a game that should quite clearly be a stealth game. Despite the aforementioned 'stealth option' in he mission I tried and the inclusion of a new stealth mode that your character can enter with the X button, the game was still quite clearly designed with combat in mind and little more - it seemed that no matter what I did the game tried it's hardest to make me fight someone.

A game wanting you to play it in a certain way isn't even inherently bad, but there isn't anything special about the combat that Assassin's Creed Syndicate forces you into. It's the exact same combat as it always has been since the original Assassin's Creed, the same system that has been improved upon and mimicked in countless other games by now. What was once an inventive and genuinely fresh combat system is now nothing more than standard - and it seems that Assassin's Creed Syndicate hasn't realised that yet, meaning that for much of my time with the game I was stuck trying out a combat system that I have used literally dozens of times before. A great first impression that ain't.

Also immediately obvious and off-putting about Assassin's Creed Syndicate was the games performance. I was willing to give the game some leeway being as it was running on a PS4 (as far as I could tell at least), but a choppy and inconsistent frame rate stopped me from becoming invested in the game for any significant length of time, never mind the demo's numerous texture glitches. I get it - it's a demo and things like this are to be expected from time to time, but after the horrendously buggy Assassin's Creed Unity I was curious to see if Assassin's Creed Syndicate showed any signs of repeating that mistake, and I'm disappointed to say that I've seen nothing to indicate that it won't.

Something that is new (at least, I think) is the grappling hook that allows the player to quickly get from one place to another. No, it's not original in the slightest (I think it's been taken nearly directly from the Batman Arkham games) but it did make it easier to get to where I wanted to be. On the one hand, I'm sure that there will be a lot of regular Assassin's Creed players who welcome the ability to get around faster - but on the other hand, half the fun of the Assassin's Creed games seems to be using the free running mechanics to try an escape guards that you may have alerted, and anything that makes that easier and as such less exciting doesn't seem like a good change.

One thing I did enjoy though was the Victorian setting. In the mission I played I was in control of Evie Frye, the new female protagonist that totally isn't a reaction to the backlash around the lack of female characters in Assassin's Creed Unity you guys, and I'll admit to being impressed with her design. Gone is the white hooded cloak, at least while I was playing - Evie really looks like she fits into the setting she is meant to be a part of, the most obvious example of this being the lack of a sword. Instead she uses a cane to beat her enemies senseless - a thoroughly meaningless change on every level other than graphical, but still one I still enjoyed far more than I probably should have.

It's clear that the Assassin's Creed franchise never should have committed itself to a yearly release schedule, at least in my eyes - despite having played it, I still have no interest in the game thanks to the fact that it looks and feels exactly that same as all the others that I've played, and I know full well how buggy it is likely to be on release thanks to the shit show that was the Assassin's Creed Unity launch. Regardless, I'm sure that Assassin's Creed Syndicate will please existing fans of the franchise thanks to its apparent adherence to it's own tried and tested mechanics - but I can't see it creating any new ones.

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