Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has a lot riding on its shoulders. After the reception last year’s title, Assassin’s Creed Unity received, many felt the series’ reputation would live or die with Syndicate. Thankfully, Ubisoft not only delivered a good Assassin’s Creed game this year; they may have made the best one yet.

If you’re not up to speed with what’s been going on, last year Assassin’s Creed Unity—the first current-gen only Assassin’s Creed game—launched to a lukewarm reception. Since then, Ubisoft went back to the drawing board, leaving behind some of Unity’s main features, namely co-op play, and focusing solely on a single-player experience.

The Stars of the Show

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For the first time in series history, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate gives you control over two assassins, the brother-sister duo of Evie and Jacob Frye. Both characters are great, but it’s Evie that really shines throughout Syndicate’s story. Despite being siblings, the two would-be Master Assassins couldn’t be more different. Evie stays true to the tenets of the creed, where Jacob prefers to wing it more.

Evie’s a stealthy, cold-blooded killer, sticking to the shadows and dispatching foes before they know she’s there. Jacob on the other hand is more of the type to barge in and announce himself before going on a Clockwork Orange style rampage.

The skills available to each character also reflect their personalities well. Evie’s higher-end skills tend to skew toward the stealthy approach, with Jacob’s focusing more on being able to take and deal more damage. My personal favorite is Evie’s final skill, which makes her invisible while standing still in stealth mode. Looting chests or getting the drop becomes exponentially easier once you have this one under Evie’s belt. Conversely, Jacob’s skills make doing Syndicate’s fight club missions a breeze, as downing an opponent of a higher level in a single hit is possible, given you’ve got the Mutilate skill leveled up.

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Switching between Jacob and Evie is also possible, if a bit clunky. The only time you’re locked into playing as either character is when you’re doing a story mission; anything else is fair game. To switch, you have to pause the game, then click the R3 button (there’s an omnipresent reminder on the pause menu of how to do this). The clunky part is when you switch, you’re punted from the screen and returned to London, which can be a pain if you wanted to change up your inventory. Other than that though, it’s great to be able to choose who you want to tackle objectives with.

The way Jacob and Evie play off of one another is perfect, too. Watching the way the two of them talk to each other is like watching a brother and sister squabble. At one point in the game, after an argument, I took control of Jacob and he complained to himself about the argument he had with Evie in an earlier cutscene. Little details like that really make the characters feel alive.

Jacob and Evie are possibly the most likable characters in an Assassin’s Creed game since Ezio. They also inject some much-needed humor into the franchise. Where last year’s Arno was a bit of a goof at times, the tone of the game overall was a bit more serious than this year’s outing.

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The Rope Launcher

To say the rope launcher has completely changed Assassin’s Creed isn’t an overstatement; it’s a fact. Reaching vantage points is made infinitely easier by its inclusion, and it affords opportunities for assassinations that didn’t previously exist.

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The rope launcher also brings back one of my favorite things from Assassin’s Creed: Revelations: ziplining. Shooting a rope between buildings rather than having to climb down to street level only to climb back up again is so incredibly convenient, it’s hard to believe I ever played without it. It also makes Syndicate’s thankfully few tailing missions that much easier by allowing me to stick to the rooftops.

After having had this versatile of a tool, it’s hard to see it being excluded from future Assassin’s Creed games.

A Modern Murderscape

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Assassin’s Creed Syndicate takes place in London, circa 1868, making it the most modern Assassin’s Creed to date. The world is as much a star of the game as any of its characters. Running around London is absolutely great. Jumping across boats on The Thames, skulking around Buckingham Palace or standing atop Big Ben are incredibly cool. Ubisoft did a remarkable job capturing late 19th century London.

There’s something that just feels special about being able to climb up onto train tracks and enter a train making its way around the city, hopping off at whatever stop piques your interest. That’s to say nothing of the various train robbery missions or boat raids you can take part of.

Despite not being the first Assassin’s Creed game to include carriages, Syndicate is the first that offers the ability to drive one. Fortunately, Syndicate shows considerable restraint in that it doesn’t actually require use of carriages all that often. Vehicles tend to get overused in games these days (I’m looking squarely at you, Arkham Knight). Using a carriage to get from A to B is often the most efficient method for traversing large distances, even with the inclusion of the rope launcher taken into consideration.

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London is full of distractions — pubs you can duck into to collect bottles of beer, illustrations you can pull from the walls of alleys, helix glitches and music boxes to collect, but it never feels overwhelming like Unity did. Instead, Syndicate’s London finds that balance of feeling alive without feeling too barren or too busy. It’s just right.

A Killer Soundtrack

I’ve never been all that keen on the music in Assassin’s Creed games. They’ve never been bad, but they haven’t been all that good either, until now. Syndicate’s London is full of beautiful music to listen to. I was genuinely surprised when I’d hear string instruments kick in as I sat atop a spire admiring the view. The way the music would kick in and swell after completing a mission felt good no matter how many times I heard it.

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Austin Wintory, the composer behind the critically acclaimed PlayStation hit Journey took his first crack at the franchise with Syndicate and just knocked it out of the park. The music perfectly fits the feel of 19th century London. The track London is Waiting feels as though it would be perfectly at home in the next Sherlock Holmes flick. Tracks like Destruction’s Our Delight serve as a great break from the norm for games like these. It’s a somber, almost melancholy track that changes the mood of the game completely.

I seldom enjoy soundtracks as much as I did that of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. I hope the next title in the series emphasizes its soundtrack as much as this one does. The result is fantastic.

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Combat

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the first game in the series to make any meaningful change to the series’ combat system. What worked well in 2007 was getting a bit long in the tooth by modern standards. Games like Shadow of Mordor ate Assassin’s Creed’s lunch when it came to laying the smackdown on bad guys.

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Combat isn’t as satisfying as I’d like it to be in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. It still retains the series’ trademark rhythm of waiting for an attack, countering and killing. The flow of combat is distinctly more fluid, but movements still feel a bit stiff. I’d love to see my assassin spring between enemies and take them out; maybe next time.

The combo counter is nice and encourages a more thoughtful approach to combat than mashing buttons. Counter moves feel good to execute, but targeting is still an issue, especially when fighting against groups. I would find myself needing to make unnecessary moves to attack the person I actually wanted to attack. Also, setting up multi-kills didn’t always work. I could have three or four enemies near death, only to have my assassin inexplicably kill one or two of them instead, while the remaining enemies stood there in a daze, waiting for their turn to die.

Overall, combat is greatly improved in Syndicate, but it still has a long way to go to match up with modern combat mechanics.

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Side Quests

Side quests have been revamped in a major way for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, bringing them in line with more modern open-world games like GTA. Each type of side quest belongs to a specific ally of yours and completing them gains you favor with those contacts, when in turn gains you rewards.

Having rewards to earn is a huge incentive to complete more of Syndicate’s optional quests, but the quests themselves are also largely worth playing. Train robberies are loads of fun, and I sincerely hope I’ll see fight clubs in more Assassin’s Creed games in the future, but it’s not all good news. Carriage races are dull and all of the game’s child labor rescue quests, while fun, feel the same.

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A little more variation would help, but Syndicate has probably got the best bunch of side quests in the series so far. Maybe next year they’ll rank a little higher.

Modern Day

If you were hoping for a return to the modern day story being told from Assassin’s Creed all the way through to Black Flag, you might be a little let down. Syndicate attempts to weave in a bit of a story about Juno and what’s going on in a post-Desmond Assassin’s Brotherhood, but it feels like an afterthought. Similar to Unity, Ubisoft chose to continue with the, “You’re the one in the Animus” angle that garnered mixed reactions from fans last year.

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The story sets up some interesting events with a few cutscenes interspersed throughout the course of Syndicate’s campaign, but there’s still no interactive element to these, which is disappointing. Fans will be divided on whether or not a modern day narrative matters, but I’d personally like to see what comes of Juno’s plans.

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Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the best entry in the series since Assassin’s Creed II, and quite possibly the best Assassin’s Creed ever. It hits all the right notes: the characters a likable, the environment is beautiful, detailed and fun to traverse, historical characters are presented in fun ways and the mechanics are the best they’ve ever been. If Unity left a bad taste in your mouth, Syndicate is a great palate cleanser.