I went to Canada last weekend to see a brand new video game. Quebec is really nice – I met a really cool dog called Julien, and got tons of new details on Ubisoft's next entry in their Assassin's Creed series, Syndicate. Here's what I am permitted to tell you without triple-A lawyers demolishing my house with me inside of it.
Yes, it's set in London
This detail leaked a few months back when everyone thought the game was going to be called Assassin's Creed: Victory, but now the location is confirmed it's become even more tantalising. Syndicate takes place in 1868, during the industrial revolution that transformed Britain, making this game's atmosphere very different to previous entries in the long-running franchise. Even though Syndicate takes place just 75 years after the French Revolution of last year's Paris-set Assassin's Creed: Unity, a lot has changed. The buildings are much taller, and there's order in the streets with actual pavements rubbing up against the roads. The advent of advertising has resulted in brand billboards spreading across the city, and you can see the open foundations of the London Underground being constructed. It's brilliant, and promises to continue adding to the dark yet colourful history the AC series is so well known for.
There are two main playable characters, and one is female
Along with a new time period and setting comes not one but two brand new assassins for the player to control. Jacob and Evie Frye are young twins hell-bent on bringing down the Templar reign in London. The war between the two factions, the Assassins and the Templars, is technically over at this point in time, but while the masses suffer in the infernal workhouse that is the industrial underbelly of England's capital, the one percent at the top profits to live a life of luxury. And, surprise surprise, they're Templars.
Jacob is the character I saw during the announcement demo, and the developers tell me he's the more volatile and hot headed of the siblings. Evie, surprisingly, was barely spoken about – and she doesn't appear in the trailer, either, which is an odd decision – but Ubisoft has offered assurances that she will become a heavier focus of the game's marketing as we get closer to its release. The most interesting thing will be how this dual-protagonist approach effects the nature of the storytelling – will we be able to switch between the two during play, and will it add different perspectives to large-scale missions and assassinations?
The industrial revolution was brutal
For Syndicate's epic story, Ubisoft Quebec is concentrating on the masses. Of course, there will be iconic historical figures popping up along the way – we've already had Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin confirmed – but the emphasis will always be on the common folk of London. As part of a street gang called The Rooks, Jacob and Evie will have to unite the people under one banner to rise up against the oppressive rule of the Templars. We got a bit of insight into the kind of gang warfare that'll be dominating a lot of your time – think outposts from Far Cry, and as you complete certain takeovers you begin to dominate more of the game map. You'll also get a look at how deep the corruption runs, with other street gangs and the Templars getting in your way.
How you travel is changing
Player-controlled vehicles will feature in Syndicate. The only confirmed examples shown were horse-drawn carriages, which can be hijacked Grand Theft Auto style and taken on a joyride through the streets of London, but more will be announced, including trains and boats. I'm pretty dubious about how these will work, as Assassin's Creed has always struggled with navigational controls, but it's an interesting way to get around town. In the demo I saw, there was also a climactic horse carriage chase through the more salubrious streets of the city, and while it didn't look entirely perfect at this stage, it's definitely a different kind of pursuit sequence from the ones we're so used to.
Combat has moved with the times
You couldn't cut around Victorian London with a load of swords, axes and whatever else strapped to your back without drawing unwanted attention from the rozzers. Part of the modernisation that Ubisoft Quebec is aiming for brings a sense of British sophistication to proceedings – assuming you consider knuckle-dusters sophisticated. The combat in Syndicate is much more about hand-to-hand brawling. In the demo there was some fantastic fisticuffs bolstered with a short Indian blade called a Kukri and a snubby revolver that's perfect for dealing with the drivers of other carriages when you're darting around in your own. But the visuals are no less brutal than before, thanks to some gloriously violent contextual kills that change depending on your environmental surroundings.
'Assassin's Creed: Syndicate' debut trailer
You're basically Batman
New to your arsenal is the assassin's gauntlet, fitted with a grappling hook that allows rapid ascension of every building in the environment. It can also be used as a portable horizontal zip wire that gives you the ability to create your own aerial assassinations, even if there are no buildings nearby. It's clearly been influenced heavily by Rocksteady's Arkham series, but that's no bad thing. In the demos we saw, the L1 button on the PS4 pad was tapped to attach to buildings and shoot skywards. It'll be most interesting to see if, coupled with the new horse and carriages, whether the traditional parkour traversal of Assassin's Creed games is left in the dust with these new ways to get around. That's modernisation, I guess, but I'll be sad nonetheless.
Ubisoft have learned important lessons from Unity
During my time in the studio, both the creative director and executive producer were firm and confident about the time and effort that's being put into making sure that Syndicate is properly polished when it releases later this year. That's a big deal after the disastrous/hilarious problems (delete as appropriate) that Unity suffered from in 2014. They can't be repeated by Ubisoft, ever again, or this series will nosedive. Fingers crossed, then.
It's out on the 23rd of October
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