EGX 2015: Hands on with Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
We played the demo of Assassin's Creed Syndicate at EGX2015. Read on to learn what we thought...
Assassin’s Creed hasn’t had a good time of it lately. After the complaints about bugs that marred Unity’s launch, the next major instalment of Assassin’s Creed would need to be something special to get the fans back on side.
Syndicate moves the setting to Victorian London and tells the story of a brother and sister bringing the underclasses together to fight the establishment Templars. The narrow gaslit streets and rooftops of the period should make for some great environments to free-run through, and moving from the oppressive slums of the east end into the more opulent areas and landmarks should provide a good contrast.
Thematically, it’s an interesting period. There are a number of historical characters already known to be appearing, such as Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, and Jack the Ripper has already been confirmed to appear in a DLC pack. The rise of industry, social justice and the ever-growing gap between rich and poor are themes that should mix well into the storyline.
As for the game itself, we got to play a level set in the Tower of London. Evie Frye arrives by barge with a mission to infiltrate the tower and assassinate a Templar inside. We quickly gain entry using a new gadget in the assassin’s inventory – a grappling hook. This lets you scale walls where there are no clear handholds or create lines between buildings you can rappel across. It’s a gadget we found ourselves using several times during the demo and it adds a great sense of speed and freedom to your exploration.
Once inside, we snuck past a number of patrolling bearskin guards to a vantage point where we established our targets and options. First, we’d need to grab the master keys off the head Beefeater, as the Templar was behind locked doors inside the tower. There were then a number of optional objectives that could help us get inside. A number of characters around the tower were opposed to the Templars and if we could help them out, they’d return the favour.
Sneaking across the rooftops, we used Eagle Vision to spot which guard had the keys. Lucky for us, he was almost directly beneath us. We dropped to the floor and took him out in one quick move. We later discovered we could have simply snuck the keys off him, avoiding the need to kill an innocent.
It was at this point we realised another guard had seen this all happening. His reaction was rather surprising. “Someone ought to watch her,” he remarked to himself, seemingly unconcerned that he’d just witness a lady leap from a rooftop, stab his boss in the kidneys and steal the master keys to the Tower of London only a few feet in front of him.
We dashed back to the rooftops and circled around to where we knew the Templars were holding the captain of the guard captive. We climbed through an open window, which was slightly more fiddly than we hoped, and quickly took out a number of Templars patrolling the corridor outside his room. In gratitude for his freedom, he told us that some of the guards were still loyal to him and would help us out. In practice, what this meant was they wouldn’t attack us on sight or raise the alarm.
This proved useful as, when we climbed the top of the White Tower, we discovered the guards stationed up there weren’t big fans of the Templars. It was a simple case of dashing past them while one remarked “What’s going on here?” and we were in.
Speedily dispatching two Templar thugs, we used the master key to unlock the area where our target waited. We snuck past a couple of her guards before spotting her in an opulent chamber. Using the pillars as cover, we snuck up behind and avoided her many bodyguards. A simple knife from the shadows later and our contract was complete.
The good news is the demo plays really well. It looks great and there were no signs of the horrific graphical bugs we saw with Unity. The Tower of London was very clearly recognisable and there were plenty of alternative routes in and around the level. The controls were smooth and responsive, once you got used to the new layout, and the grappling hook worked well.
The AI’s reaction to witnessing a murder was a little odd, and the enemies in general seemed to have quite a hard time spotting you even when you were running straight at them. However, this may just be to make the demo a smoother experience.
Our biggest complaint is that apart from the accents and visual cues, this didn’t really feel like Victorian London. Although there were many clearly recognisable locations within the level, once we got inside the White Tower we felt we could have been anywhere. Of course, this was an isolated level without any of the story or city that is so important in building atmosphere and a sense of place.
Overall, things are looking good for Assassins Creed. We look forward to the official release at the end of October and hope Syndicate proves to be a return to form.