Special Series Playthrough - Assassin’s Creed
I’ve lost count of how many AC games I’ve played but I know the number of females I’ve been; one, and that was in a DLC. Syndicate attempts to half-address the balance.
Part 8; Syndicate
It was becoming uncomfortable how boys club-like the Assassins were and Unity not even featuring women in the co-op despite my unrealistic ability to shape-shift was the most overt snub yet. But finally, although likely due to the outcry not a genuine choice, we have our first female lead – well, half-lead; we’re the Frye twins Evie and Jacob. Not that you’d know from the cover; Jacob is centre while Evie is in the background alongside the NPCs. I didn’t even realise I could play her until the cut scene ended and I was in a dress. Evie feels like a cynical nod and Syndicate already had the deck stacked against it; it has Unity to apologise for. This should be a hard game to like.
The bickering twins raid a Templar hideout in Crawley, where Jacob hijacks then crashes a train and Evie destroys an Isu artefact. Ordered back to their hideout, they instead head for London. I like those two. Whereas Unity was the French Revolution, this is the Industrial Revolution, when London was the Capital of the world and the Templar’s seat of power, making it a no-go area for Assassins. I’m gonna get Cockney on those Templar Bowler Hats.
Present-day Assassin nerd Bishop suddenly hacks into my Helix again. Seriously, I’m sitting in my pants gaming, what now? The Templars’ plan is to clone their own Isu and to do so, they need an artefact – a shroud, like the one that resurrected Jesus. Jesus. Bishop thinks there’s one in London, so she asks us to uncover it. I gotta get some duct tape on that webcam.
Victorian London is dirty yet beautiful, choking with a pea-souper at night and hazy coal smoke during the day. It is compressed and a little cheated at times, but thanks to the tube everyone has a skewed idea of London’s layout anyway. What draws you in is the way it’s captured the arrogance of the time, when England ruled the world and Queen Vic presided over it. But controlling it is Starrick, Templar Grandmaster and Disney Villain.
Starrick even had a moustache he can twirl. We never get to grips with who or what he is; a committed Templar or a power-mad kingpin. He sways from cliché villainous behaviour like shooting a servant to spewing classic Templar rhetoric and wishing to see this great nation prosper. He seems complex but you can’t take him seriously, sitting at his desk, sipping tea and brooding when he’s updated about the Twins’ disruptions.
Not that I’m disrupting much, I’m too busy sight-seeing. Thankfully, this London is easier to get around than the real one; the Thames is rammed with coal-laden barges and steamboats we can navigate across - Unity’s parkour system has been refined so bouncing around is fun again, and away from the river we race past promenading Victorians, across steel and iron, through stations, parks and bustling streets which give way to grimy terrace rows, building sites, factories and mills where street urchins kick balls against walls.
You can jump steam trains that cut through the map, while carriages have turned AC into a Horse-Drawn GTA; you can leap from one to another, shoot villain’s horses to cause carriage pile-ups and even drift them. I rarely use the fast-travel points because it’s a pleasure to get around and see what’s happening in old London town.
All this throws up an aspect to AC that hadn’t really occurred to me before. Of all the games, this is the one I connect to the most. I lived in London, and unless they do Assassin’s Creed Brighton this is the closest I’ll get to ‘home turf’. I enjoyed all of AC’s time periods but as a tourist, this is home and it resonates, and I wonder if someone would forgive Unity’s faults because they lived in Paris, or enjoyed ACII more because they studied the Borgias. This is my town, I’ve stood where Evie is standing now, and that occasionally blinds me to Syndicate’s shortcomings; while being a sleek and solid game that learnt from Unity, it has its faults.
Most noticeably, Evie is … annoying. She’s so earnest, and constantly nagging Jacob. This is your first main female lead, a shrewish bossy-boots? And, she has a love-story. Why doesn’t Jacob? Why must she suffer reconciling her feelings with the mission – it’s cringeworthy when it should be digging into how a woman in Victorian England is expected to behave in polite society and how that conflicts with her day job - and Starrick’s second in command, Lucy Thorne, vibrates with buttoned up rage aimed at Evie; two women suppressed by societal expectations and we don’t draw parallels, have them connect while hating each other? Nope, just an excuse for some cat fights while they hiss at each other.
Evie also tries to live up to their late dad’s assassin reputation as a by-the-book type despite her introduction where she blows up an artefact, ignores orders and heads to the most dangerous place in the world for assassins. Is she rebellious or not? Her collectables are pressed flowers for her beau, an assassin bookworm. A flower-pressing assassin who doesn’t like assassinating? That charms our professional killer?!
And Jacob is doing an Edward, a scoundrel we’re supposed to find incorrigible yet much like Rogue’s Shay, there’s zero reason why he’s an assassin – but unlike Shay, he doesn’t have any depth; he doesn’t care about the code, the Isu, anything at all and doesn’t change. He is, as a Londoner called me when I ran him over with a carriage, a wanker.