There have been nine Assassin’s Creed games since the original launched in 2007, which fans of maths will know works out to one and a bit games every year. That wearisome annual churn has reduced a once proud series to something familiar and formulaic, and Syndicate makes only a small attempt to buck this downward trend.
Set in late 19th century London, Syndicate’s environment can’t be faulted. Horse-drawn carriages trundle along cobbled streets, mucky faced urchins throw themselves into the gnashing gears of ironworks, and top hat wearing fancymen toodle-pip their way about foggy Westminster. It feels starkly authentic, even when Dickens and Darwin show up to send you on missions.
Switching between the two main characters – brother and sister assassins who seek to liberate the capital from the clutches of a very bad man by free-running around the city and stabbing lots of lesser bad men – does a lot to alleviate the repetition in mission design, but clunky combat and frustrating difficulty spikes are harder to forgive. Mindlessly battling overpowered enemies who can block bullets with their elbows, for instance, is a bore.
Syndicate will feel disappointingly by-the-numbers for Assassin’s Creed fans, and nigh-on impenetrable for newcomers. Even without quite so many collectibles as previous iterations, it feels bloated, with too many features included for inclusion’s sake, such as the ability to build up a gang to conquer boroughs. Creating an evocative vision of industrial-era London isn’t enough: Assassin’s Creed is in desperate need of a reboot, and a shoe-shine, guv’nor.