Well, it finally happened. The Assassin’s Creed fan base finally got its wish.
After years of calling for the secret war between the Assassins and the Templars to move to Victorian London – so much so that some segments of the faithful have started to turn their collective nose up at the idea – the newest installment in the series is set in (and above) the foggy streets of The Big Smoke circa 1868.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate almost feel like a natural extension of an audience’s desires, rather than a direction Ubisoft would have taken it in if left to its own devices.
That having been said, it’s clear that the developers have been gearing up for a game set in Queen Vic’s London for quite some time now. This fact is evident from the starkly beautiful way in which Syndicate is presented; Assassin’s Creed has never been a slouch in the visuals department, but in Syndicate, the developers seem to have outdone themselves.
As the GamesCom demo opens, we’re enveloped by the majesty and murky atmosphere of gas-lit Victorian London. The opening of the level we’re to play takes us down the Thames past Traitor’s Gate outside The Tower Of London. Every inch of its visual representation is note perfect from the grey, imposing exterior to the dress style of the crowds bustling outside the Tower’s walls.
In Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, players will apparently be taking control of one of two siblings at different stages of the plot and both have different abilities to give them the edge in the war against the Templars. Jacob Frye’s speciality is brawling; using a combination of brass knuckles and a cane-sword, Jacob is able to dish out eye-wateringly brutal hand-to-hand damage.
His sister, Evie – who also happens to be the protagonists in the level demoed at GamesCom – is able to cloak herself in shadows and, if she moves slowly, nearby guards can’t hear her at all. This is useful when one is tasked with breaking into the Tower Of London as both its battlements and grounds are teaming with Beefeaters.
The mission is structured in the same way as many of the black box quests in Assassin’s Creed: Unity; players are presented with an area containing a target, notified of a couple of characters in their vicinity they may be able to use to aid them and then are simply allowed to get on with the business of killing.
In this instance, Evie is told that the Templar guards have arrested a constable, who if freed, may grant her safe passage through the Tower. Also, one of the Beefeaters is in league with the Assassins and if Evie is able to take out the Templar guards who know about him, he may be able to get her an up close and personal audience with her target, Lady Thorne, by pretending Evie’s his prisoner.
Since time is pressing in the demo, we opted for the latter choice and proceeded to scale the side of the Tower and move to our contact’s location on the grounds. Climbing up the side of sheer walls has been made quite a lot easier in Syndicate, since Evie has a wrist-mounted cross-bow that fires a grappling hook. Fired from the ground, it provides her with a quick way to zip up the side of a building. Fired between to rooftops and it gives her a zip-line she can move either up or down.
Once on the roofs, if players hit the X button on the PS4’s control pad (and we’re assuming the A button on the Xbox One control pad) Evie takes a crouching posture and turns briefly translucent, indicating that as long as the player moves slowly, the guards won’t be able to see her.
The game’s Eagle View has been tweaked a little; when players activate it, they light up all of the AI-controlled characters in Evie’s vicinity that may pose a threat to her. It also shades certain targets a different colour, depending on whether they’re genuine Royal Guards or Templars in disguise.
Once the Templars were dispatched, we turned ourselves over to the ally guard and were ‘escorted’ into the Tower and up to the room where Lady Thorne was holding court. We still had to move quite slowly – any sudden or quick movements would’ve telegraphed to the surrounding guards that Evie wasn’t actually in custody. The method we’d taken to Lady Thorne also resulted in a unique (and rather grisly) kill animation.
Plot details at this point are very vague – as should be the case since Assassin’s Creed games live and die on their storylines – but there was enough in the GamesCom demo to make Syndicate feel like an enticing prospect. The gloomy and rain-swept streets of London have never seemed so welcoming…