Assassin's Creed Syndicate - FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Markuz, June 24, 2015
Translated by: Stefania

Here we are again to continue our special E3 coverage and this time, finally, we can talk about the new chapter of the saga for consoles and PC: Assassin's Creed Syndicate.

Also, in this case, I had the chance to try the game more than once at the Uplay Lounge (together with François Daubet, Game Director) and at the Ubisoft booth inside the Los Angeles Convention Center. In both cases the demo was the same one showed many times on the official channels since the announcement of Syndicate, in which, playing as Jacob, you need to save some Rooks imprisoned in a Gang Stronghold, drive out the Templar Bloody Nora and chase her using the carriages in the streets of London, until you come to the final Gangs of New York-style battle between the Rooks and Nora’s gang.

The demo, as you may already know, starts with Jacob and Evie talking with Henry about how to take back London from the Templars’ clutches and with "Clara", the little girl working at the Seven Bells tavern, who informs them about the location of the Blighters, the new enemies in Syndicate, and their leader, Bloody Nora. So, Jacob decides to reach that location and leaves the tavern. Here the gameplay starts and here started my experience as well.
Initially the first element that impressed me was the graphics. I played the demo on PS4 and, in my opinion, sometimes the details were even better than in Unity. Once Jacob leaves the tavern, he finds himself in one of the streets of London, filled with carriages in the middle and people on the sidewalks, as often declared by the Creative Director, Marc-Alexis Côté. London seems to have been recreated with the same attention to details used for the Paris of Unity, with posters, signs, NPCs busy with their own lives and spectacular monuments (which in the demo couldn’t be visited). Speaking of London, while I was exploring it, François told me that, although the map is bigger than the Paris one, the number of interiors has been reduced to optimize the game and have fewer problems with the calculation capacity of the game. In this sense, I agree with the decision of Ubisoft Quebec: considering the problems Unity suffered last year at launch, I’d prefer an optimized and better functioning game since the beginning, even at the cost of having fewer interiors (which, anyway, in Unity, didn’t always contain a mission or a practical reason to be visited).

As in the past chapters of AC, there’s a symbol indicating the location of the gang stronghold (and, at the same time, in the HUD, you can see a golden hexagonal icon with Jacob’s stylised face, an icon that reminds of the ACInitiates badges) and for this reason the demo allowed you to become acquainted both with the rope launcher, to reach the rooftops and move across them, and the carriages, so far one of the main innovations of Syndicate.

Jacob Frye
As for the rope launcher, it’ll be possible to use it every time you are near the base of a building that has edges or corners on the roof. In this case, the part on which the rope launcher can be used will have the icon of the button you need to push to activate it (“L1" on PS4). The player, therefore, can look around and the “L1” icon will appear every time the rope launcher can be used. The same happens when the player is on rooftops and try to decide what direction to take. So it will be possible, especially from the edge of roofs, to see once again the “L1" icon, this time on the buildings on the other side of the street.
The use of the rope launcher is immediate and smooth. The same can be said for the ascending animations (if there are protruding signs, Jacob will avoid them or use them to assist his ascent) and for the horizontal movements between building. As for this last activity, after activating the rope launcher, the player needs to move Jacob using the analog stick. This is useful for better positioning Jacob on the rope for air assassinations (so the zipline assassinations of Revelations are back), and also, in case there are guards on the building you’re trying to reach, for turning back (all while Jacob is hanging from the rope).
As for the rope launcher, I asked François a pretty popular question: doesn’t the rope launcher risk to eliminate or strongly reduce the use of parkour? Probably François was expecting this question, because he immediately answered: no, the parkour won’t be eliminated, because the rope launcher simply gives the player an additional tool that the developers introduced considering that the Victorian London has buildings that can be 8-story tall. We’ll see if it’s really like that.

As for carriages, it seems they are the main means of transport of the game, or at least the fastest one. As often stated, you can hijack a carriage at any time, whether it’s parked at the side of the road or someone is driving it (someone who will be badly thrown to the ground or even beaten up if he/she belongs to the opposing faction). In the demo for PS4, you simply need to press the circle button to get on or off the carriages, while the true action can be evaluated when the carriage is moving. You can spur the horses repeatedly pressing the “X” button to increase speed and the player also can ram the enemy carriages pushing the “square” button together with the direction where he/she wants to go. Also, as we already saw in the screenshots released by Kotaku when Syndicate was still called Victory, if the carriage is moving, you can press the circle button to climb on top of it: from here, Jacob can jump (and probably use the rope launcher) or come to blows with the enemies or even, during the pursuits, shoot the horses of the enemy carriages to stop them (not exactly the greatest for animal rights activists...). All, except maybe the latter, can be executed by enemies as well, who, during pursuits, will try to ram, hit or punch us on top of carriages and so on.

Whatever way you choose to reach your destination, the demo continues with the arrival at the gang stronghold (during one of my attempts, while I was trying to reach it, I met some children: developers didn’t want to talk about them, but they pointed out that at that time children were used as chimney sweeps). The “stronghold” of the demo was an area with houses and alleys in which you could find the ten enemies belonging to the Bloody Nora’s gang to assassinate. A perfect setting to test parkour, stealth and Jacob’s equipment.

As already mentioned in the past, for the first time it’ll be possible, with the push of a button, to remove and put on the hood of our protagonist, although it will be mandatory during stealth sections, which make a return. These sections, in particular, are very similar to the ones in Unity, but this time it won’t be possible to slide into cover with a single button: indeed it happens automatically when the player goes near a wall. As for me, this system didn’t “physically” worked every time (Jacob doesn’t always slide into cover when he’s near a wall), but cover kills worked anyway: we have to see if the final version will activate cover kills even when Jacob doesn’t hide behind cover or if this function needs to be refined since that was an alpha version of the game.

During this part of the demo, it was possible to approach enemies using Jacob’s tools. You could use the pistol, obviously recommended if our opponent is alone, otherwise the noise will draw the attention of the other enemies. You also could use the hallucinogenic darts, which are similar to the "berserk dart" in Unity if used on a single enemy, but they’re way more efficient if fired into an open flame, since in this way they can affect multiple enemies at once. Lastly, also the throwing knives are back (in the demo you could carry 5 knives, contrary to the single piece in AC4: Black Flag), a silent and lethal, if you hit the enemy’s head, weapon that in Syndicate can also be used to cut the ropes securing crates or barrels dangling above the opponents’ heads. Finally I can’t help but highlight the return of the much-appreciated whistle, which replaces the cherry bombs, to lure the enemies to the protagonist’s hiding spot.

In addition to the equipment, this part of the demo allowed me to get additional information on enemies and their archetypes, on the combat and the escape system.
Using the Eagle Vision (which is obviously present in Syndicate too) it’s possible not only to locate nearby enemies but also to identify they archetypes, thanks to the icons above their heads. Specifically the icons (at least the ones showed in the demo) were similar to the ones in Far Cry 3: a sort of thunder for fast enemies, a shield for tanks, and an eye for sentinels. As usual, sentries can see you from afar and in Syndicate they’ll be able to call the attention of other guards if they spot the player.
Also, if the player is identified and chooses to escape, Jacob will be surrounded by a red circle with arrows indicating from where enemies are coming and shooting - in this last case it’s possible to dodge projectiles simply pushing a button.
Finally, the last known position will be back with the same virtues and vices we saw in Unity, specifically the limited AI of guards when they inspect the places in which the player may hide (as our friend Gianandrea pointed out here). In particular, in the demo the “ghost” of the last known position showed Jacob with the hat, even though he disappeared from sight wearing the hood. Lastly, in the case enemies prevail, the player will see the White Room of Syndicate (considered by many fans a welcome comeback), which this time is coloured in white and blue and made up of various parallelepipeds under Jacob, with shadows of buildings in the background.

The White Room - by Loomer

Once the enemies have been defeated - as François told me, when there are only three enemies left, their position is showed on the map, so the player doesn’t waste time looking for them - we can watch a cutscene in which the Rooks freed by Jacob set fire to the enemy gang’s flag and the scene stops for a moment
Risults of the mission
by Playstation Access
to show the results of the mission (this can’t be seen in the official video of the demo, but fortunately Playstation Access comes to our aid). As we can see, the box shows the secondary activities of the mission (“Free all the Rooks”), the experience points (we can suppose there will be an experience system), the money gained, and some icons showing weapons near the avatar of Henry Green. I asked why, and François explained that Henry Green is the "associate", so an ally of Jacob and Evie linked with the gang strongholds. Every time you free one of these strongholds, he gets experience. Increasing his experience, as the image shows, will sometimes unlock weapons for the protagonists (in this case the Ruby Kukri) and other elements, maybe abilities, symbolised by the other icons.

Immediately, as you can see in the video of the demo, also the map shows the liberated area. We can see how the map changed since Unity: now the map shows 3D miniatures of the buildings, using their original colors instead of that sort of “hologram” we saw in the last AC game

London Map in ACSyndicate - by Playstation Access

At this point Bloody Nora appears and Jacob tries to chase her. In the video, Nora escapes using a carriage and Jacob does the same to pursue her, but when I played the demo at the Ubisoft booth at E3, the developer who was with me challenged me to hit Nora before she reached the carriage and escaped. Obviously I lost.

In any case, this is the part of the demo that allows you to try the various functions of carriages (ramming, fighting on top, jumping on other people’s carriage and stealing them...) and also the possibility of damaging the surroundings (crushing poles, lampposts, people...). Also, as the developers suggested, during the pursuits, you also can find shortcuts that allow you to reach your target.

Finally, as many of you may know already, the demo ends with the battle between the Rooks and Bloody Nora’s gang. The combat is remarkable, fast but intense, and for the first time combos are counted (the number of hits in succession without interruptions). In this case, François also told me the counter has been included for a reason: in his opinion, probably when you reach a certain limit, you get a bonus XP, but that hasn't been confirmed yet. Also in this AC you can use the secondary equipment during combat, especially the pistol, useful to get rid of enemies during the gang fight (like the pistols of Edward Kenway when you assaulted the enemy ships).

The end of the demo, with the victory of the Rooks over Nora’s gang, coincides with the end of our article dedicated to the first impressions about the game.
What do you think about it? In your opinion, are these solid foundations in view of the release on October 23? Are you expecting something different from Syndicate?
Let us hear your voice in the comments and stay synchronized!

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