To say that last year?s Assassin?s Creed Unity had issues when it launched would be an understatement. But for as many problems as it had, there were a few glimmers of good gameplay that the folks at Ubisoft Quebec have polished up and are re-implementing in their freshman effort, Assassin?s Creed Syndicate. Of these returning ideas, the most significant one might be the Blackbox assassination missions.
These open-ended efforts still task players with assassinating a high value Templar target and continue to offer up multiple paths to do so. You can take your time and use all of the extra distractions to your advantage for a cake-walk assassination, employ a few that better fit your fancy and your playstyle, or ignore them completely and charge head first into the fray, causing as much chaos as possible.
During my hands-on time with the Gamescom demo of Assassin?s Creed Syndicate, I had a chance to play one of these missions and?for the first time?take control of Evie Frye, the more level-headed of the twins that serve as Syndicate?s protagonists. Evie interestingly plays far more differently from her brother, Jacob, than I ever would have expected. While she still has the trademark tools of an assassin of the era, she carries more throwing knives than her brother, sports a special ?Voltaic Bomb? that acts as a type of stun grenade when it explodes into electrified shrapnel, and can utilize a unique ?Chameleon Skill? that allows her to completely blend into her environment, even seemingly out in the open, when she remains perfectly still.
More throwing knives make sense, and I didn?t mind the Voltaic Bomb (even if it did seem to be a bit of a stretch for the era) but I worry about the Chameleon Skill being almost game-breaking. Unfortunately, the demo was brief enough that I didn?t really get to put the Chameleon Skill through its paces to know for sure. Still, considering how important fixed hiding points have been in the past in Assassin?s Creed games, I?m hesitant about what on-demand invisibility might do to the balance of the game?s stealth.
In regards to the mission itself, Evie had to infiltrate a castle to find her target and hopefully obtain more info on the Shroud of Turin, a Piece of Eden she was hunting while Jacob was building his gangland army. There were three possible paths before her. The first would have her try to steal the keys from one of the castle guards, which would allow her access through each and every door. A second route would see her free a captured constable, who would then call police reinforcements to cause a ruckus and result in the perfect distraction. The third?and my personal favorite?method was for Evie to befriend a castle guard and pretend to be captured, allowing her to walk right up to her target to deliver the killing blow.
No matter the method I tried (I sampled all three), I found myself relying on the rope launcher far more than even I had originally expected to, since it provides such quick access around environments. And since it seems no one ever looks up in an Assassin?s Creed game, I was able to launch Evie across wide open courtyards, from tower to tower, to almost always put myself in the best position possible to make my kill.
The only time I got into trouble was when I botched the assassination of a guard I needed to remove before I attempted the fake capture plot. Another guard that I?d failed to notice turned a corner and saw me just as I finished stabbed his cohort in the neck. Needing a quick escape, I naturally wanted to turn back to the rope launcher. In the heat of the moment, however, I found myself fumbling over the brief window of time it takes to line up shots with the gadget?although I would finally recover and make my getaway on foot.
Now, I hate comparing two unrelated games, but I couldn?t shake the feeling that I?d been ruined by the simplicity of Batman?s grappling hook in the Arkham games. I was so used to just pressing a button and launching to the nearest perch, away from danger, that aiming to line up my escape felt foreign. I?m sure that once I?ve spent more time with Syndicate, I?ll be able to unlearn my habits and use the rope launcher as intended, but for the moment I feel like the manual aiming could wind up leaving it a clunkier imitator of a feature we?ve already seen.
Rope launcher quibbles aside, it felt great to jump back into an assassination mission like this. Evie has a flourish all her own that makes her truly stand apart from how her brother plays. Jacob?s clear emphasis on fisticuffs from when I played the E3 demo and Evie?s penchant for stealth here are so obviously defined that each player should have an easy decision when they choose who to play as in the open world. And considering you?ll get a taste of both when you follow the main story, I wouldn?t be surprised if at least a few gamers find whole new ways to play and enjoy an Assassin?s Creed game when Syndicate drops on October 23.