The modernity of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate presents some of the biggest changes the series has seen since ACIV’s pirate ships. As the time period shifts from the 18th century to the 19th, the three central pillars of Assassin’s Creed’s gameplay – combat, navigation and stealth – are evolving to fit the changing times. What’s ahead as Jacob and Evie step into the spotlight?
An inveterate brawler, Jacob relies largely on a pair of brass knuckles to put the hurt on Templar stooges. “Jacob’s really about close combat,” says Marc-Alexis Coté, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s creative director. “You’ll see him breaking bones and really putting enemies on the ground and taking them down very, very efficiently.”
Fistfights are nothing new, but in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, they’re faster and more brutal than ever, as Jacob overwhelms his enemies with wicked flurries of metal-enhanced punches, and quickly dodges and parries enemy counterattacks. If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed Unity, Jacob’s attacks, dodges and stuns will feel familiar, but the brawls they enable feel a lot quicker and much more brutal than ACU’s swordfights. The new combat system also introduces a few entirely new twists, like contextual kills that let you do things like stomp and break an enemy’s leg before smashing his face repeatedly into a wall. It’s also possible to stun multiple opponents and chain together a rapid series of kills while they’re staggered.
“We’re making sure that the combat is faster,” adds Coté. “We’ve cut the latency of the fight in half to make it more responsive for our players as they jump from one target to the other.”
When things get deadly serious, Jacob can rely on a sword cane, his revolver, and of course his Hidden Blade. He can also switch quickly from punching to delivering lethal strikes. His most unique weapon, however, is a curved kukri blade, an outsized knife with its own unique place in the history of the British Empire.
“It is absolutely exotic,” says Jean-Vincent Roy, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s historian. “Right before the period of the game, the British army encountered Gurkhas in Nepal, and they came to know this particular knife intimately, and they actually hired the Gurkhas for the British army, because these guys were so fierce. This particular weapon would probably end up in London as a trophy, an extremely rare trophy.”
Victorian London is a huge city, and we’re not just talking landmass. In the 19th century, the demands of industry and commerce reshaped it into a sprawl of broad streets and immense structures, and those present new challenges – and opportunities – for a series that has traditionally revolved around climbing pre-industrial buildings and leaping between rooftops.
“The buildings of Victorian London are taller and the streets are wider than any we’ve featured in the series before,” says Coté. To help Jacob and Evie quickly get around these larger spaces, Syndicate introduces the rope launcher, which lets the heroes rapidly ascend to high ledges and create ziplines across wide gaps.
Like the pulley lifts in previous games, the rope launcher isn’t meant to replace traditional Assassin’s Creed parkour, but to enhance it. “This is another tool that will allow the player to use a lot of creativity and quickly chase down their targets,” says Coté.” In terms of navigation, we’re really focusing on fluidity of movement, of parkour, on making it super accessible and making sure that the Assassin goes where the player intends to, and doesn’t hang on every object or obstacle.
“It’s really about maintaining the player’s movement throughout the environment,” he adds.
In practice, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s parkour has a comfortable familiarity. It looks as fluid as ACU’s free-running, and retains the ascending/descending controls that ACU introduced, but navigating the angled rooftops of London’s huge buildings feels noticeably smoother (and just a little quicker) than getting around in Revolution-era Paris.
The rope launcher, meanwhile, is more of a game-changer than we expected; just walk up to any wall, and you’ll see an L1 button prompt (on PS4) that lets Jacob launch himself straight up to the roof. It also works for crossing long horizontal distances; just point the camera at a faraway ledge or outcropping, and if the button prompt appears, then you can create a zipline and move hand-over-hand to your destination. It’s a natural addition to the parkour, and especially useful for when you don’t want to pick your way up the side of a ramshackle flophouse – or worse, drop down to street level and climb back up again just to cross a road.
Then there are the carriages, which introduce challenges of their own, like driving on the left and constant interference from Templars. “If enemies see you hijacking a vehicle,” says Coté, “they’ll hijack one themselves and chase you, jump over, pull you out of the driver’s seat and fight with you on top of the vehicle – which is going to keep moving, because it’s drawn by a horse.”
“The buildings are taller and the streets are wider than any we’ve featured in the series before.” – Marc-Alexis Coté
Of course, if they can do it, so can you. “Players will be able to jump from one vehicle to another vehicle while they’re in motion,” says Coté. “You’ll be able to hide in those vehicles, or coerce people into the vehicle, so you can abduct targets or people on the streets, put them into those vehicles, and drive them around the city.”
Sneaking in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is as easy as tapping a button to enter stealth mode, at which point Jacob doffs his top hat, pulls up his hood, and drops into a crouch. In some ways, stealth hasn’t changed much since ACU and Assassin’s Creed Rogue; it still plays an important role, as you use Eagle Vision to pick out targets and silently execute them. Just like their predecessors, the Frye twins can sneak up on Templar scum while hiding behind cover, or drop from roof ledges – as well as from ziplines – to bury his Hidden Blade in an unsuspecting enemy’s neck. But there have been a few small but notable changes intended to make the experience a little smoother.
“We’re getting rid of the hard snap that we had on the cover,” says Coté, “so we’re moving to a more modern, softer snap, so it feels more natural to transition from stealth to navigation. But we’re bringing back the whistle, which I know was one of the fans’ favorite features.”
Whistling, activated by tapping down on the d-pad, is just as useful as ever, as we found when we used it to lure a gang member to our hiding spot for a quick, clean kill from cover. Speaking of which, the ability to carry and hide bodies is making a comeback as well, meaning that you won’t have to leave messes for enemies to discover if your sneaking turns lethal.
“We’re also giving the players more tools to manipulate their environment, to lay traps for enemies,” says Coté. Throwing knives, for example, are good for more than just quietly eliminating foes from a distance; they can also be free-aimed and tossed at objects to create distractions. Or to cut the ropes securing heavy objects that dangle precariously above your enemies’ heads. Meanwhile, hallucinogenic darts can drive individual foes into a homicidal rage, and can also affect multiple enemies if you fire them into an open flame.
We’re only beginning to see how Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is changing, but it’s already clear that it’s making some impressive changes – and we’re likely to see even more as we approach its October 23 release date on PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One.
For more on Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and other E3 2015 features and news, check out our E3 hub.