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Friday, 8 January 2016

Assassin's Creed: Syndicate - Jack the Ripper


Assassin's Creed: Syndicate
Jack the Ripper.



Well, I probably shouldn't be surprised. Frankly, it was more surprising that the base game didn't have Jack the Ripper in it, given the general fascination with him. It's a little disappointing, all told, but, as the DLC to a rather unimaginative and uninspired game, I suppose it's fitting that the DLC should take the most unimaginative and uninspired story route.

Set twenty years after the events of the main game, Jack the Ripper sees Evie Frye return to London from India, summoned by her brother Jacob as a vicious serial killer stalks the streets of Whitechapel. When Evie arrives, though, Jacob is missing, and Evie is left on her own to pursue Jack, a former assassin and student of Jacob's, and dismantle his criminal empire. Standing in her way are her and Jacob's own Rooks, now Jack's servants, and the police, who grow more suspicious of and hostile to Evie with every murder.

Okay, first off, wow, they really distorted and expanded the whole Jack the Ripper thing to make it fit an entire story DLC, didn't they. No longer is he just a serial killer with five victims, no, now he's a former assassin with a vast criminal empire, a massive blackmailing operation that ensures his power amongst the wealthy of London, and access to a fear toxin - of all things - that terrifies people around him.

Evie, on a boat.

It all kind of reeks of glamourisation, to be honest, and the DLC does not do anything to assuage that fear, putting you in Jack's shoes several times and encouraging you to perform 'brutal takedowns', three or four minute long quick time event where he stabs, punches, and gorelessly tears people apart. There's something slightly gauche about taking an infamous killer of vulnerable women and framing him as 'lulz super cool grimdark assassin gang leader', and the late DLC's attempts to counterbalance this by framing him as a sad and pathetic madman never quite pan out, if only because the writers never quite manage to tear themselves away from the idea that he should be 'cool', and so are constantly going 'He's such a sad, unenviable figure but also totally radical, bro.'

The DLC also provides a great example of ludonarrative dissonance, as Evie's big character arc in the DLC is about how she's 'nothing like Jack', despite gameplay for the two of them being functionally identical, right down to Evie being able to (and encouraged to) use fear toxins and brutal takedowns that are nearly identical to Jack's. Again, the game tries to counterbalance this at points, by making Evie unable to attack policemen while Jack can, but that just comes across as strange, given that in the main game, you can murder every policeman you encounter, should it please you.

The fear mechanic is really the only card the DLC can play, though, at least in terms of gameplay, since otherwise, this DLC plays identically to the main game. As I established in my review of the game, Syndicate's gameplay is not exactly massively interesting and varied, and adding a fear mechanic on top of it doesn't make it any moreso. You get several forensic investigation sections, too, but they are exactly alike the one or two investigation sections you got in Syndicate, which are in turn basically the same as assassinations: Use Eagle Vision, find things highlighted in gold, go up to them, and either look or stab depending on whether you're investigating or killing.

Jack, chasing Jacob.

The DLC clamours to be interesting, throwing in occasional diversions in the form of short sections where you play as Jack (who plays as functionally the same as Evie, except every thirty seconds words flash on the screen and eye-hurting static appears like your television is breaking - no, I'm not joking), but it always fails. The novelty of the DLC wears off in about thirty minutes, and the remaining one-and-a-half-hours-plus of story and six hours of extra sidequests are just an endless exercise in repetition.

There's a lot to take in here.

With a more interesting story, that might have been forgivable, and while the story does have some interesting beats as you explore the depths of Jack's depravity (although seriously, if you wanted a super-cool invincible god mode stu sadist crime lord, just make one up, Ubisoft, don't use Jack the Goshdarn Ripper for it), it is for the most part predictable, bland fare. The game goes so far as to tell you who Jack is within the first twenty minutes (he's Some Dude you've never encountered before), thus removing any element of mystery from the plotline.

Overall, a very disappointing DLC to a very disappointing game, and just - it's time to stop, Ubisoft. It's time to let Assassin's Creed rest for a while, okay? Do we have an understanding? Okay.

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