10 New Things in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
For a franchise that cycles through a new iteration every year, keeping things fresh is perhaps the biggest challenge facing the developers of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. But during a recent studio tour at Ubisoft Quebec, GameSpot was shown a whole host of new ideas and interesting additions that Syndicate will bring to the series, from free-flowing weapon combat, to dynamic music, to a vast river developed by an entire studio, to a distinct female hero with dedicated animations and combat styles. Click on the next image to take a look at what's new.
Carriage of Justice
According to Ubisoft, Assassin’s Creed’s three pillars are navigation, stealth, and combat. The Quebec studio, however, is introducing a new one into the mix: vehicles. And it seems like it has put some genuine thought into how they can be used to support the existing pillars. Vehicles are being integrated into each of the key Assassin’s Creed gameplay elements, so players will be able to parkour around them, climb onto them, or use them as platforms by leaping between them. They can also be used in stealth by taking refuge inside. Fights can travel from the streets onto the top of moving carriages, where the player can punt pursuers into the path of oncoming traffic, or even use gunfire to spook horses and jack-knife other road users. There’s also the ability to ram other people off the road. Needless to say, London is bustling with traffic, which gives Jacob and Evie plenty of opportunity to engage with vehicles in different ways. Enemies are as capable of using carriages as you are, which means they will hijack the player, or use them to escape.
In previous games there was a disconnect between hand-to-hand brawling and the use of items. Ubisoft Quebec has taken a page from Rocksteady’s book to remedy this and blended item use into the flow of combat, much like the Dark Knight in the Arkham series. In Syndicate, key items are mapped to a single-button press for easy access. For example, Jacob’s pistol can be fired off in between punches with a quick press of a button. This is supported by seamless animations that tie all the actions together. No more coming to a dead stop to fire a gun, instead you can quickly alternate between attack and tool, letting you build up big cool multi-kills. This change was made to preserve the sense of momentum and provide a tool to control large crowds. The addition also paves the way for ranged counters, which will automatically use an equipped tool to interrupt an enemy's offense. If you have a smoke bomb equipped, your character will lob it at whoever has crosshairs on you. It seems other special items will also have similar functions.
Syndicate’s streets of London mix opulent, historic landmarks with dangerous alleyways and dead-ends. Ubisoft Quebec is building different boroughs that are drastically different in mood, feel, and visual themes from one other. Each area is designed to reflect a different facet of London’s personality, altogether depicting the city as its own textured character. Westminster, for example, is patronised by the bourgeoisie, littered with iconic buildings, parks, and broad streets. Southwark, meanwhile, is the industrial lung of London, where the working-class toil away to generate the financial wealth thrusting the city into the future. The City of London, by contrast, is purely dedicated to finance and commercialism. Lambeth is described as the “rotten marsh borough,” while Strand is the entertainment district, and Whitechapel is referred to as the “underworld borough.”
Down by the River
The Thames is so important to Assassin’s Creed Syndicate that Ubisoft Singapore has been tasked with dedicating all its development efforts to it. London’s most famous river is being treated as its own borough, complete with systemic boat gameplay, activities such as robbing cargo, and skipping-along-moving-platforms navigation that has been compared to Frogger. There is, however, more to why the Thames is so critical, as Ubisoft Quebec’s world director, Jonathan Dumont, explained: “Visually, it ties everything together. It is the best landmark we could find. Any time you’re in London, you see the Thames and you know where you’re at. You always see something different across from you too. The elbow shape allowed us to get a big opening that you could get a big view across from the tall East End of the map to the West End right through the Thames. You catch a bunch of themes when doing that and think ‘I want to go explore there.’”
Nineteenth century London is a very musical city, so Ubisoft Quebec is weaving musical integration deep into the towns and boroughs of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. For example, the world is peppered with musical emitters that are placed on various buildings and landmarks. These trigger different music when the player comes into contact with them, and also vary depending on the time of day. When exploring the streets of London, music will also drift out from pubs, where patrons make merry, or out through the windows of homes inside of which upper-class children are having piano recitals. The interesting thing is that music in Syndicate impacts the ambience and can be carried around the city. When hearing these tunes, NPCs will sometimes begin to hum or whistle along absentmindedly, creating a greater sense of authenticity to the world and helping give each area a unique flavour.
In 19th century Britain, songs known as "Murder Ballads" were written about notorious criminals of the time. A modern example of this is Johnny Cash’s "My Name is Sam Hall," itself based on an old English folk song in which a criminal sings about being condemned to death. Ubisoft is drawing on music buried deep within the folk culture of London. In fact, Sam Hall being used as the theme for Whitechapel. A number of unique Murder Ballads are also being written for Syndicate that--after key sequences in the game--will be heard being sung by people. The lyrics of these tunes will directly reference the things the player has done or tell the tales of notorious figures in the city. For those that loved Black Flag’s shanties, this is sure to be music to their ears.
Music is also woven into combat, dynamically building in layers based on the difficulty and scale of a battle. There are numerous musical suites tied to the way an encounter escalates, which provides a kind of aural feedback on the scope of a challenge. Meanwhile, fight music for each of the two characters is made to reflect their personalities, so for Jacob--a brawler by nature--low intensity fights emphasise that he’s often outmatching his opponent. As more enemies enter the fray, new layers to the track surface and the combat almost becomes rhythm based, with Jacob matching the music to create a dance of death motif. Whether it works is yet to be seen, but Ubisoft Quebec wants to give combat a sense of dynamism and new feel.
Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Very Angry Bee
Although Jacob and Evie Frye have a core set of combat moves to share, Ubisoft has also attempted to differentiate the way each character brawls. Both embody a different style of assassin, with Jacob representing raw power and Evie precision. Jacob is constantly using the momentum of his previous motions to explode into his next. In doing this he sacrifices precision. He also has more of a disruptive presence on the battlefield, as he throws enemies around and slams them into objects. Evie, on the other hand, is the knife from the shadows to her brother's bomb on the battlefield. She takes her time to aim and cleanly kill a target before moving on. There’s a litheness to her movement which comes from unique animations Ubisoft has created specifically for her. Almost all of Assassin’s Creed protagonists have looked and felt the same in combat, until now.
Trains are at the heart of the Assassin’s Creed Syndicate experience, and Ubisoft Quebec has done its due diligence to make sure that trainspotters are happy with what they get. Players will be able to hop on to the top of trains and duke it out with enemies foolish enough to follow (that’s pretty much all of them), but Ubisoft Quebec has also modelled the interior of each train carriage and filled them with passenger AI. The entire train system functions realistically, which means they will pull into stations and run on a set schedule. A crazy math boffin at Ubisoft even did the calculations to apply an accurate physics model to the trains. This means train carriages will realistically gain and transfer momentum when moving off and coming to a stop. And yes, you can uncouple different carriages of the train as you please, so there’s plenty of opportunity to make mischief.
It's The Fuzz!
You didn’t think you’d just be able to cause wanton chaos unchecked did you? London has police and they’re not very fond of mysterious hooded figures skulking in the shadows, scampering up buildings, and leaping across rooftops, especially when they leave a trail of dead bodies. Cause enough trouble and the English boys in blue will give chase. Unlike previous games, which had guards stationed in specific areas or doing set patrol patterns, Syndicate’s officers of the law are spread across the entire city and always on the lookout for nogoodniks. They’re a fearless bunch too, fully up for chasing you across busy streets and hopping onto moving vehicles to catch their man or woman.