E3 2015 Hands-On: Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play on a level of the upcoming entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. While I was playing, a developer from Ubisoft walked me through the level and pointed out the design changes and new features they added to the game, which were numerous and readily apparent.

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The preview level was shown at the Ubisoft booth, which was arranged in a semi-circle of large displays, PS4s, and headphones. I have played all the previous Assassin’s Creed games on the Xbox, so adjusting to the feel of the controls on the PS4 was a small challenge, even though they’re very close to the same. Once I got a feel for what I was doing, I immediately jumped ahead of his walkthrough by accidentally pressing the button for the new grappling hook. The new protagonist, Jacob Frye, immediately rocketed off the ground and to the top of the nearest building.

“Ok, you’ve found the grapple button.” My guide chuckled and segued into that part of his presentation. The grappling hook allowed you to scale buildings in a fraction of the time as normal, and you’re able to launch yourself across streets as well, making your way where there previously was none. “Target an enemy and hit the grapple button,” he commanded. Once I did, my character flew towards the NPC and kicked him off a ledge – it was extremely satisfying!

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Combat remains largely unchanged – you follow through with the usual combos and assassinations, but it felt much smoother. Jacob slid between each separate enemy with a fluidity that the previous incarnations lacked. Changes to the environment have added a lot of new options to your encounters as well, including the ability to drop or push objects onto your enemy. “Get in position, select your throwing knives, and hit that pallet.” Once I did, the rope from the pallet was severed, and it fell onto an enemy who was crushed. I remarked about his crumpled form and puddle of blood since I don’t seem to recall the bodies looking like that before. “Well he was just crushed!” my guide laughed.

The hallucinogenic darts are returning, but there’s a fun new way you use them – any fire you see in the city, whether it’s a bon fire, camp fire, torch – can be used to ignite your dart and create a cloud of hallucinogenic smoke that affects everyone in it. I found out the hard way that this includes allies, as my cloud enveloped the captured friend I was tasked with saving. “Whoops, you got your guy too,” I asked if it wears off, or if the only cure is a merciful knife. “No, once someone is shot with a dart or gassed, it’s permanent.” Remember that folks!

The demo continues with a carriage chase – you’re following the female leader down and she takes off in her own carriage. You commandeer a poor citizen’s horses, and you’re off. I truly felt like a moron during this chase, because the controls are incredibly slippery, and my carriage was veering wildly across the entire map. Don’t get me wrong, I believe once a player has used a carriage a couple times they can adapt easily, but the first few times may be a bit rough. My guide was quick to point out the cooler parts of the new carriage chases – in most games, whether you’re driving a car or riding a horse, if you hop out or off your vehicle, it comes to a halt and you move on. Not so with these horses. “You’ll find that you’re outnumbered on some of the carriage chases, and you need to thin the enemies out. You can attack them by getting on top of your carriages, and the horses will still be running.” What about their direction, I inquired. “You won’t be able to tell them where to go, but they won’t into things and they won’t get themselves killed.” Neat!

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The preview closes with a gang war as you attempt to control this district of the city. Once the screen faded to black, I was asked for my opinion. Honestly, I was impressed! Assassin’s Creed hit an awful stumbling block last year with the release of Unity and the subsequent buggy disasters most players encountered. The reputation of the series took a serious blow, and I was concerned that while playing Syndicate, I would find some of the same problems that plagued Unity.

I’m pleased to report that not only did I not encounter a single bug – visually or gameplay-wise – but that the fluidity of motion I was hoping for in Unity is finally present in Syndicate. The characters look like they’re part of the environment, not just navigating it, and it’s a much more natural look and feel. A 15-minute demo is obviously not enough to judge an entire game by, but I’m looking forward to Syndicate now much more than I was before I got the chance to play.

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