For Creed and country – Ubisoft’s effort to restore Assassin’s Creed’s reputation with Syndicate

It’s not a populist thing to say, but I quite liked Assassin’s Creed Unity.

The game’s 18th-century French setting was beautiful, and there were some truly epic set pieces that were a joy to play.

Unfortunately for Ubisoft, not everyone agreed. The launch of Unity was plagued by technical issues and disappointing review scores, and the game ended up being one blockbuster the publisher would rather forget.

Now, Ubisoft has the chance to right Unity’s perceived wrongs with Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Set in Victorian Britain, the game is being developed by a new lead studio and is due out on PS4 and Xbox One this October, with a PC version to follow later in the year.

The team at Ubisoft Quebec has been focused on developing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate for more than two years now,” explains Marc-Alexis Ct, creative director at the developer.

The launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity was a highly-anticipated moment for everyone at Ubisoft, including the teams at the Qubec studios who have been working on the Assassin’s Creed franchise since Brotherhood. Any feedback we receive on our releases is motivation for us to make our games even better, to continue the Assassin’s Creed legacy of creating ambitious and innovative games and pushing the envelope even further with each new iteration.”

"It’s our time to do things our way,
and that is a great feeling."

Marc-Alexis Ct, Ubisoft Quebec

Ct is understandably reticent to spend too long talking about Unity. He and the Quebec studio didn’t work on the game, after all.

In fact, for the developer, the past two years have been all about Syndicate. This is new ground for the studio; the team has worked on Assassin’s Creed games before, but in a support capacity. This is the first time it has taken full ownership of the big end-of-year Assassin’s Creed project.

Having previously worked on the Assassin’s Creed franchise since Brotherhood, the team at Ubisoft Quebec was hungry to do more and take more responsibility,” explains Ct. When you work on a project you always look back and think that you would have done things differently. Now that we are in the lead position it’s our time to do things our way, and that is a great feeling.”

The first and most noticeable difference with this year’s Creed is its setting. Victorian London has been a long-requested era from Assassin’s Creed fans, and it’s something that’s likely to go down well with a UK audience.

We certainly hope that people in the UK, and especially London, feel proud of the game and the way it showcases the city, but also the time period that we chose for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate,” continues Ct. We’re bringing Victorian London to life with the largest city ever built in the franchise. Our version of London is divided into seven distinct boroughs. From the dense and impoverished White Chapel to the grand displays and green spaces of Westminster, the player will truly feel what it was like to live in 19th-century London.

Every district will not only be visually different – their ecosystems will vary as well. For example, police presence was far higher in wealthy neighborhoods than it was in the slums, where almost no Bobby would dare go. Also, the large factories and workhouses of Southwark will encourage parkour gameplay that players are sure to enjoy.”

The Victorian setting allows Ubisoft to take the franchise forward. The age saw Britain’s industrial revolution, when roads were formed, railways existed and new weapons were developed.

Although Syndicate takes place only 70 years after the French Revolution featured in Assassin’s Creed Unity, for our players it will be as though a thousand years have passed,” says Ct.

In this short period of time, technological breakthroughs enabled humanity to evolve from a medieval society into the modern world we know today. It’s a leap forward for mankind, and similarly for the world of Assassin’s Creed. It opens up a whole new set of dynamics and opportunities for the player.

One very concrete example of this is the introduction of systemic vehicles, including carriages, trains and boats. Modern traffic systems completely change the crowds of Assassin’s Creed. The streets are now reserved for the horse-drawn carriages and pedestrians use sidewalks. Players will feel the change instantly as the crowd will now look very similar to real-life modern cities.”

"The Victorian era is a leap
forward for mankind, and
similarly for the world of
Assassin’s Creed."

Marc-Alexis Ct, Ubisoft Quebec

The modern changes to Assassin’s Creed also impact Syndicate’s gameplay quite significantly. The title’s stars can now use a rope launcher to scale tall buildings rapidly, and then zip around
from rooftop to rooftop like a Victorian Spider-Man.

There are also two lead protagonists this time, Jacob and Evie Frye, who add new gameplay elements and also provide an answer to some of the criticism that came out of Unity, which lacked a playable female character, even in the game’s co-op mode.

That’s another change as well: for the first time since 2010’s Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Syndicate has no multiplayer. This is so that Ubisoft Quebec can focus all of its efforts on the new gameplay elements, rather than over-stretching itself.

By dedicating itself to the single-player, the firm has been able to build a city that is 30 per cent bigger than Unity. The game’s hero can drive horse and carts, jump onto trains and even engage in hand-to-hand combat while travelling on the vehicles – in fact, the developer has spent a lot of time on close combat this
time around.

Hand-to-hand combat will be a larger focus for this instalment, as it wouldn’t have been historically accurate for our lead character to have been walking around 19th century London armed with a sword,” explains Ct

He continues: With Syndicate, we chose to focus on creating the biggest and most diverse city-based open-world experience we’ve ever had for an Assassin’s Creed game, and on refining and perfecting the innovative new gameplay elements that make up the single player experience.”

Last year wasn’t the best year for Assassin’s Creed. The franchise faced some criticism among the media and its loyal fanbase. But so far, Syndicate is looking the part and, if it lives up to its early potential, there’s every reason to believe that the series can put the challenges of 2014 behind it.

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