Even in the world of video game PR, Ubisoft Montreal couldn't ignore the failures of last year's Assassin's Creed Unity – the wholly too ambitious first game in the series to be made exclusively for the most current hardware.
Unity couldn't overcome it's litany of meme-worthy bugs and glitches. Developer Ubisoft Montreal eventually steadied the game's performance and patched it up to a presentable state, but it was all too late and the game remains tarnished in the annals of history.
So when Assassin's Creed Syndicate was announced in May the developer openly admitted to its faults before revealing a more restrained sequel with none of the co-operative play that was so central, and touted as so revolutionary, in Unity.
One month on IBTimes UK got its hands on the E3 2015 demo of the game at a London event at which registered members of the public also got a chance to play it. After suffering a PR presentation, screenings of no fewer than four trailers (this is an Ubisoft game after all) and a long wait in a room where we could get a temporary tattoo, a haircut or a shave if we wished, we finally got hands-on time with Syndicate.
The setting is Victorian London, and as the Industrial Revolution chugs on the Templars running England's capital are widening the wealth gap and keeping the proles in check with gangs of brutal thugs. Protagonist Jacob Frye is leading his own revolution with twin sister Evie (also playable, but with no 50/50 split) and their gang The Rooks.
This being the ninth mainline Assassin's Creed game on consoles, a lot of what we saw was par for the course. The controls are essentially the same as ever and come with the some annoyances – moving in confined spaces can be troublesome and combat doesn't quite have the flow of its contemporaries, but it all certainly gets the job done.
Traversal has been streamlined however with the addition of the "rope launcher", a tool lifted straight from Batman's utility belt in Rocksteady's Arkham series. Like the Dark Knight's grappling hook, this new addition will launch you to the rooftops with a simple press of L1 (this was a PS4 demo) and can be used to save yourself after a misjudged jump. It works well and feels clunky in a satisfying, weighty way – something which extends into the combat and the general feel of the game.
Syndicate's London setting appears denser than previous games with swaths of densely-packed and chunk buildings and fewer lofty heights to be reached – which is likely why the rope launcher has been added, as climbing cottages isn't exactly the same as scaling Big Ben.
The swashbuckling sword fighting present in all Assassin's Creed games to date is no longer the focus here, instead with an emphasis on close quarters, bareknuckle-style brawling. Despite fights handling the same control-wise as they have before, reducing the space between player and foe makes it feel quite different.
Combat remains satisfying as well despite it being more open to button-mashing than usual, but there are a few niggles I noticed early on. Spotting enemy attacks and when to counter was perhaps too tough when surrounded by larger numbers of thugs, as we were in the demo's third and final part. Having to spot someone rearing up for a hit is better than a floating QTE prompt above an enemy however, so perhaps this will prove better given enough time to adapt.
This I discovered in the game's brief third part, which occurred after a horse carriage chase which was an easy highlight of the demo. Tasked – as ever – with pursuing and assassinating a target, Jacob hijacks a horse and cart to start his pursuit.
Handling isn't exactly precise, but it's a horse and carriage, so that's fairly realistic. There's a rickety sense that one more knock from an enemy carriage might send you flying, and that feeling is as fun as it is perilous. Enemies will also leave their cart and leap onto the roof of yours, and players can do the same – at which point the game takes and reins and continues to guide you closer to your target.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate appears to have all the trappings the annualised series has become well-known for. The sense of place is excellent (despite dodgy London accents that will annoy us who live in the city) and the gameplay is as fun and free as ever.
Syndicate's changes aren't going to have huge ramifications for the series, but after Unity Ubisoft couldn't afford to be too forward-thinking. This is another Assassin's Creed game, should it work upon release, that'll be perfectly fine for most fans.