Best of 2015: Creed Control

First Published: Oct 13, 2015
Voted For By: Lorna
Reason(s) For Vote:
“A well thought out and robust examination of the problem with Ubisoft’s churn rate for the Assassin’s Creed games. Absorbing and well written, and I found myself nodding in agreement for much of it.” – Lorna

creedcontrol1There’s plenty of reason to be excited for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, the series’ eighth core entrant and seventh in as many years for Ubisoft’s history-spanning cash cow. For one, the Brotherhood are at long last coming to Blighty, with the much fan-requested Victorian-era London playing host to a bunch of Templar murderings, this time out. We’ve also got a duo of hooded killers to get to grips with, the twins Jacob and Evie Frye, who each bring a different play-style to the table, the former preferring a more direct and bloody approach while the latter takes things more stealthily and tactful. Plus, this is the first main instalment where Assassin’s Creed creators Ubisoft Montreal are not leading development, with Ubisoft Quebec instead taking charge, who can hopefully come at the long-running franchise with a fresh angle.

That’s not all either. We have new modes of navigation through the capital’s streets, like driveable horse and carts, the rope launcher and steam trains; there are no online modes or companions apps to detract the from the single-player’s development, meaning we shouldn’t get a repeat performance of last year’s turbulent launch for Unity; and Ubisoft Quebec are promising revamped combat systems. All in all, there’s enough potential here for Syndicate to be the greatest Assassins Creed since the glory days of Ezio. But, sorry Ubisoft, it’s not enough.


As the years have gone by and Ubisoft have churned out another Assassin’s Creed or two (or three!) in each one, I’ve reached the point now where I find it too difficult to muster any more enthusiasm for this once-cherished series. I used to love Assassin’s Creed – like, seriously love it – even its far-from-perfect debut, which I’ll defend to the end of days, and while I haven’t played anything post 2010’s Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (although I did start Revelations, but never got round to finishing it), I’ve always looked forward to and bought each and every one every year (I will eventually free you from your cellophane prisons Connor, Edward and Arno). But as much as I try, I’m not feeling it for Syndicate, even if its setting is a little more my neck of the woods than Jerusalem, Rome or the Caribbean.

creedcontrol3Syndicate’s setting is actually part of the problem. Victorian London might have sounded good on paper, maybe it will be in practice too, but for me, Syndicate’s version doesn’t look like an enticing sandbox to play in. It looks bleak and sparse with little in the way of personality (it is London, granted), and its wider streets don’t seem suited to the free-running escapades that often provide some of Assassin’s Creed’s biggest thrills. Of course, you can take the reins of a horse and carriage to give chase on the ground if need be, likely causing wanton mayhem in a very un-Assassin like fashion in the process, if you ask me, or use the rope launcher to propel yourself to the top of a building in a moment’s notice like a Victorian-age Batman.

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me part of the fun and appeal of Assassin’s Creed has always been its parkour system – running, leaping and climbing your way to a target or out of trouble, leading a merry chase across rooftops after a hit before slipping away in a conveniently placed bale of hay or other hidey-hole. Here, the inclusion of the rope launcher and emphasis on horse and carriages seem to be undermining one of the games’ strongest pillars, and their necessity feels like an admission that perhaps London isn’t the best fit for an Assassin’s Creed after all.

The twins are also a point of trepidation. Having two playable Assassins whom you can freely switch between throughout the campaign is a great addition, as is the representation of both sexes after the sausage-fest debacle of Unity, but from what we’ve seen so far it doesn’t look like either Jacob or Evie sport winning personalities. Of course, the shadow of Ezio looms large over Assassin’s Creed, and Ubisoft have been trying to replicate some of the magic that made the Italian womanizer such a hit in his successors. Unfortunately, the Frye twins appear to be a few leagues short of that desired result, coming off as irritable jocks, and when you realise Jeffrey Yohalem (the writer of Far Cry 3, who can never be forgiven for Jason Brody) is on writing duties, it’s not difficult to understand why.


The choice of writer is questionable, no doubt, but you could also say the same is true of the lead developer. True, Ubisoft Quebec aren’t totally out in the cold when it comes to Assassin’s Creed, having worked on the franchise in a supportive role since 2010’s Brotherhood and going on to produce the DLC packages for Assassin’s Creed III and Black Flag as well. However, looking at the developer’s portfolio of own games hardly inspires confidence. Is the team responsible for PowerUp Heroes, Avengers: Battle For Earth and the Battle Of Giants series truly qualified to steer Assassin’s Creed into the future? We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now, but there’s a hell of a lot riding on them to deliver the goods from both players and, surely, Ubisoft’s higher ups.

You could say that all the reasons to be hopeful for Syndicate are equally valid as concerns, then. The new setting, characters and developer need to prove their worth, the omission of any kind of online play doesn’t necessarily mean a more polished single-player in this day and age, and how many years in a row have Ubisoft failed to deliver on the always promised improved combat? Admittedly, I may be being overly cynical here to the point of trolling, because the truth is until we get Syndicate in our hands there’s no way of telling how this year’s Assassin’s Creed will fare. But, honestly, these aren’t the key reasons I’m less stoked for the series in 2015 than I have been in previous years.

creedcontrol5Assassin’s Creed has been steamrolling forward at full pelt since 2009, and for the sake of the series’ future and its fan base, it needs a break. Yes, Assassin’s Creed is far from the only annualised franchise out there, but at least Call Of Duty has the decency to switch between its sub-franchises every other year. Assassin’s Creed is a much bigger game than Activision’s all-conquering shooter too, requiring an equally bigger commitment to play (I’m talking strictly single-player here, of course), and having to start afresh every year with a new Assassin, re-earning and re-learning essentially the same gear and moves all over again, and having to unlock a new and bigger map by climbing tall buildings to reach a synchronisation point and reveal a laundry list of icons representing a bunch of menial tasks is draining after two or three games on the trot, let alone seven or eight.

It doesn’t help that the design and mechanics of Assassin’s Creed are more or less ubiquitous across Ubisoft’s entire catalogue, with the open-worlds of Far Cry, Watch Dogs and even The Crew employing a similar map un-fogging system of some kind. It’s even spread to non-Ubisoft games, such as Batman: Arkham Origins and Mad Max, making a once novel and rewarding mechanic a tired and rote cliché. Worse still is that with every passing game, Assassin’s Creed has become increasingly bloated and diluted with new things to do in an attempt to warrant its yearly releases. The last thing Assassin’s Creed needed was a clunky tower defence mini-game, which was thankfully dropped after its lukewarm reception in Revelations, but the point still stands that things which don’t neatly fit into the frame are being jammed in for the sake of bolstering the game’s content over last year’s.

Assassin’s Creed can’t survive for much longer on an annual schedule of incremental updates and ever more confusing additions to its lore (even next year’s film is said to be part of the canon). Ubisoft needs to give their biggest property some much prescribed breathing room between instalments, and in the process hopefully learn that the reason why games such as Fallout, Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto are so hotly anticipated and often record-breakingly successful is in part due to their infrequency. If we were awaiting Assassin’s Creed III this year instead of Syndicate, I guarantee it would be almost as big a deal as Fallout 4.


Between Watch Dogs, Rayman, and the Clancy universe alone, Ubisoft have more than enough other big-name franchises to make up for the absence of Assassin’s Creed for any period of time, so why not let the conflict between the Assassins and Templars take a break for a few years while others bask in the spotlight, and let players catch a breath between trips in the Animus. And then, when least expected, make an almighty and hype-fuelled comeback with a back-to-basics refresh – not necessarily a reboot – which strips out all of the crafting, sailing and superfluous customisation for an Assassin’s Creed that returns to the purity of the flawed-but-promising original. Make it a game purely about the kill, gathering intel on your target and making the right preparations (not too dissimilar to GTA V’s famous heists) in a smaller but denser open-world before culminating a genuinely freeform hit. It fell short some way, but that’s what the first Assassin’s Creed set out to do, after which the series became too bogged down with scripted set-pieces, property management and an overabundance of collectibles.

It’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, of course, especially since the series proves to be Ubisoft’s biggest earner every year. But for how much longer will, can, this be the case? It’s a question faced not only by Assassin’s Creed in this sequel-obsessed era, and in order to preserve the quality of the games and interest from the fans, the French publisher might find it healthier in the long run to put the brakes on sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, with the recent announcement of Far Cry: Primal so soon after Far Cry 4, if anything it seems likely more and more of the Ubisoft stable are heading in the same annualised way of the Creed.

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