Its been a couple of weeks, so Ubisoft released a new “Assassin’s Creed“, presumably from one of their 892 side studios, like Ubisoft New York or Ubisoft Delaware or something; and, of course, I had to purchase it, even after the unholy hell that was Unity.
I’ve been an Assassin’s Creed fan for a long time. I remember seeing the very first advertisements for the original game. I remember playing that game over and over and over. I can actually recall the exact moment I realized it was one of my favorite games ever: I was parkouring around the Holy Land as Altair, wondering why he had such an Upstate New York accent, when I came upon one of the “protect a citizen” side events. I was on top of a building, looking down on the event. There were four or five bad guys to kill. I took a moment, prepared myself, then proclaimed, “I’m Batman.” I then flew down on top of the baddies and proceeded to execute each and every one with ruthless efficiency. I then disappeared into the city, undetected.
It was an amazing moment in gaming for me.
Now, 8 years later, we’re on the… what, 9th iteration of Ubisoft’s flagship series? Not counting mobile games and spinoffs, main series only, and I’m forced to wonder, what happened to that premise? What has this series become exactly? Maybe it’s because Ubisoft decided to treat series creator Patrice Désilets like shit by firing him off the series once (during the completion of the third game, Brotherhood), then buying the developer he moved to (THQ), canceling his game there, and firing him again, this time forcibly removing him from the building without provocation. Considering how far the series quality has dipped since the release of Brotherhood (save Black Flag, which is one of my favorites), I’d think this is probably a major factor in the quality drop.
So how does one review a game that is, essentially, another cash grab from an ADD company that can’t decide where it wants its series to go? Well, I’ll do my best to describe some of my experience.
First and foremost, Assassin’s Creed’s most prominent feature makes a stupendous return: bugs. Goddamn, this game is buggy. So far, I’ve had missions crash, found myself stuck on multiple environmental objects (mostly trees, Assassin’s Creed’s biggest downfall, as featured in part 3), moving in the opposite direction you intended, interacting with something you weren’t even close to causing a mission failure, having horses fall through the world while driving them, falling through the world myself, frozen animations, extreme frustration, enemies who can’t lose health, assassinations that don’t trigger the end of the level… the list is long. Really long. Despite all this, I actually really like the game, and find it to be the best since AC4: Black Flag, and before that, Brotherhood.
The story this time revolves around two assassins: Jacob and Evie Frye, though they may as well be the same character with skin swaps. The game tries its best to make Jacob a brawler and Evie the stealthy assassin, but then force you to play as Jacob in the memory-ending assassin stages. All I kept thinking was how much I’d rather be playing as the actual stealthy assassin in the stealthy assassin parts, but I’m guessing the massive inclusion of women in this game for literally no reason has something to do with the current state of sexism in gaming. It’s like Ubisoft is trying to throw feminists a bone (heh heh), but in doing so, only proves that all of these characters are essentially blank slates and it simply doesn’t matter what sex they are.
That seems to be one of the main issues with Assassin’s Creed of late: the series is more interested in mechanics (which are still poor with a lot of the new and removed control tweaks), gimmicks (Sail a boat! Control a gang! Go hunting! And only do it in this game, because you’ll never see this mechanic again, so we can’t improve upon where we messed it up!), and-most notably-monetization. Usually in the form of tablet and phone apps where you can buy credits to improve your app experience which then allows you to have a better game experience, Syndicate essentially eschews the whole app thing and straight up tells you to buy credits so you can buy in-game credits. Introduced in Unity, Helix credits are a currency you buy with real money in order to purchase in-game items. It’s kind of like how Guild Wars works, only you aren’t playing with a bunch of friends and the stuff you can do is finite. I bought them, curious as to how it would improve the experience. It did, and I felt gross for doing so. I felt ashamed. I felt like I’d cheated. This is a completely philosophical, opinion-based feeling, yes, but it’s still what I felt.
Syndicate’s big new gimmick (other than gangs, which feels like a shitty version of Brotherhood), is the zipline. When I first got it, I though, “AWESOME. Finally, I can traverse the city with a little more ease.” The problem with the zipline is Batman, bringing it all back to that first amazing moment I had with Assassin’s Creed.
There’s also cart racing, hijacking, and other cart related things! You know, like GTA!
See, Assassin’s Creed was, in my opinion, the first perfect release of a burgeoning genre: the open-world third person questing and side-questing action-rpg genre. I don’t know what else to call it. However, when Batman: Arkham Asylum came out, it blew everyone away. First, it was Batman. Second, the combat was so fluid, so perfect, as easy or complex as you wanted it to be, it made Assassin’s Creed-whose combat has always been a bit of a problem in the series-look shoddy at best. Then Arkham City came out, allowing you to fly around the city easily, traversing wide distances without making the world feel small, it was a fantastic achievement and probably the best in the genre. You could zip your way up to the top of a building, then fly across the tops, only to glide back down. It all worked so effortlessly, it’s no wonder Arkham City was such a hit.
More than likely, the zipline was added to Syndicate for three reasons: one, because Ubisoft is jealous of Batman. Two, because they still haven’t fixed climbing in the more recent releases. Three, so you could traverse wide distances more quickly. So, you’d think it would be an improvement. Sadly, Ubisoft essentially forces you to use it, first by reducing the number of synchronize points (the eagle spots, where you get to see the whole city and unlock where stuff is on your map), and second, by making it as hard as possible to get around without it. The problem with the zipline is that it doesn’t let you use it wherever you want like Batman does. You have to be positioned to absolute perfection to even get that L1 icon to show up indicating you can use it, slowing the game to an absolute crawl. Even though it took longer, when I was climbing buildings and running across cities as Altair or Ezio, I was still doing something. Now, you have to find exactly which part of a building you want to go to (if you’re allowed to), sitting there, looking around, then hitting L1 and zipping across. Rinse. Repeat. This may be the first Assassin’s Creed where I preferred traveling via ground transportation as opposed to building-hopping, because the carts just end up being quicker and they actually give you something to do. I hate the zipline. It should be good. Batman already proved a zipline is great in games like this. And yet, it still sucks.
So, with all these glaring issues, why would I say I actually like the game, even though it won’t even let you jump (yes, you are not allowed to make death-leaps anymore)? Because there are still moments like this:
That’s fun as shit. I really enjoyed that. And, unlike Unity, the bugs are not game-breaking. I gave Unity 10 hours before I gave up on it entirely. I’m still playing Syndicate.
Ultimately, it is my opinion that the Assassin’s Creed series is seeing major fatigue. Like, Call of Duty fatigue. As much as I enjoy Syndicate, I can only recommend it to fans of the series, simply because a lot of the bugs will turn off other players. It doesn’t have the staying power of Brotherhood or Black Flag, nor a sense of “newness” that the original had. It’s more of the same, with some new mechanics. And when the next game is released, the new mechanics will be forgotten, in favor of NEWER mechanics, and the old problems still won’t be fixed. Syndicate may be a decent game, but it doesn’t matter. It may be about time to retire the series for a bit. The year-by-year release schedule is not helping.
Or just give us an Assassin’s Creed in Japan in the main series, for god’s sake. We’ve wanted to play as samurai or ninja since the first game, just freaking do it already!
The problem is, the series is such a mainstay at this point that I, like other fans, will keep buying and playing, which means Ubisoft will keep making them, without the need to really repair problems that were introduced like 5 games ago. Maybe the bad sales of Syndicate will help them rethink that prospect, maybe not. Either way, something’s got to give.