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Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Assassin's Creed: Syndicate.


Assassin's Creed: Syndicate.

My tale with Assassin's Creed is a common one: I adored it up until about Revelations, and then my love for it faded, due to a combination of just sheer exhaustion over yearly (and now multiple-times-a-year-ly) releases, frustration over the increasingly all-things-to-all-people gameplay, and a shift to much more boring time periods and locations (the American Revolution might be the most boring time period they could have done, and Victorian London is only marginally better).

Thus it was without much excitement that I rented Syndicate, the latest entry in the franchise. I hadn't played Unity at all, although I might at some point in the future, so I was coming back to the series after having only played up until Black Flag, itself kind of an odd outlier in the franchise. Incidentally, that was also one of my very first reviews on this blog.

Set in Victorian London, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate follows Jacob and Evie Frye, assassin siblings who have headed to London to free it from the control of businessman, gangster, and templar Starrick. As the two chip away at the man's business and criminal empire, they also go hunting for one of the elusive Pieces of Eden: A Shroud, hidden somewhere within London, that boasts extraordinary healing powers. 

Trains play a large part in this game.

While it's the same basic formula as previous Assassin's Creed, there's been an obvious push to streamline the whole thing. Instead of a tutorial strung out over the first three hours of the game, you now have a significantly less in-depth tutorial strung out over the first half hour; gameplay elements have been reduced and simplified to create an experience that reeks a lot less of 'let's put every gameplay element we can think of in'; the plot can be summed up in about two sentences, and while smaller mission plots often suffer from the Assassin's Creed problem of 'I have no idea what's going on here', it's generally always obvious how it relates to your eventual end goal. Missions are more fast-paced, with focus shifted onto assassinating your way through a building, as opposed to interminable 'trail this character without being seen' sequences that were the bread and butter of, say, Black Flag.

It makes for a sharper, smoother experience, trimming away some of the fat that previous entries in the series had built up, and the result is a better game for it. I actually found myself enjoying this game, something I've not been able to say about a game in this franchise for quite a while.

The thing is, while I enjoyed it, I didn't enjoy it that much. As soon as another game came along, my attention was dragged away from Assassin's Creed, and it was difficult to wrench it back. My enjoyment of the game could only survive in an environment where it was the only video game available, and I feel like that describes it perfectly. It's fun, sure, but it's not especially engaging, and it doesn't bring anything new to the table that might serve to keep my interest - in fact, once you've played about three hours of it, you've played it all. Every gameplay feature, setting, enemy type, every gameplay mode, every innovation in it, and nearly every pieces of interesting equipment - you'll get them in the first two hours, and after that, the game is out of carrots to dangle in front of your face.

Also, you can murder innocent beef eaters and policemen. Heroically.

After a certain point, I was unwilling to commit any more time to it, because all it could offer me at that point was a parade of famous faces. That seems more cringeworthy than usual, too: I was fine when Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens showed up, but by the time Florence Nightingale had appeared my eyes were rolling around in my head every time a famous face appeared. Has Assassin's Creed always been this egregious with their use of famous historical figures? It feels like they have, but I'd never noticed it quite this much before.

Ultimately, this game just doesn't bring enough to the table to sustain itself, and it feels like it's half-baked because of it - a set of gameplay features and plot developments that never manage to be quite interesting enough to keep a player's attention over a long period of time, and never grow or change in a way that makes playing it all the way through worthwhile. Even the open world elements grow stale quickly, especially as it swiftly becomes apparent that most of the open world missions are actually quite awkward to play, and very much not helped by the lack of a real fast-travel system.

Kicking. Which almost never manages to push anyone off anything.

All in all, this is a fun game in short bursts, but in longer bursts it rapidly starts to show its flaws. It's technically well made, but not interesting enough to stand out in a very competitive market, and that, in a way, is the most damning thing I can say about it. It's time for the franchise to stop, or at least take a break, and while it would be a shame to see a game franchise I used to love end like that, it's probably better than seeing it wither and die over the span of another decade.

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