Review: ‘Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’ a return to form

The “Assassin’s Creed” franchise could have folded up shop after all the problems encountered by last year’s debacle, “Assassin’s Creed …

The “Assassin’s Creed” franchise could have folded up shop after all the problems encountered by last year’s debacle, “Assassin’s Creed Unity.”

But Ubisoft persevered, refusing to let its tentpole series go out on a low note, and the studio bounced back this fall with the superior “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.”

In carrying over one of “Unity’s” better traits, “Syndicate” goes light on the convoluted present-day lore and emphasizes the Victorian London tale of the Frye twins, Jacob and Evie.

In a first for the series, both are playable main characters with their own set of main missions. Players can swap between the two in all other activities if they prefer the combat-centric brother Jacob or the stealth-suited sister Evie.

The Fryes are already indoctrinated into centuries-old war between the Assassins and their rivals, the Templars. That means no repeating the same old missions in which you’ll begin as a young protagonist and slowly learn about the story. “Syndicate” dives in headfirst, and it’s all the better for it.

The twins come into conflict over their priorities. While Jacob wants to free London from the grip of Templar Grand Master Crawford Starrick, Evie seeks to recover in the name of the Assassins an all-important, mystically imbued artifact called the Shroud of Eden. It’s a pretty standard “Assassin’s Creed” plot, but the twins inject more personality than the typical series heroes tend to possess.

“Syndicate” doesn’t stray far from the tried-and-true franchise formula. In fact, it simplifies things by returning to its strictly-solo roots and ditching any form of multiplayer. Few should miss it because the single-player experience is better off as a result.

Side missions and territory battles are more engaging than past games’ offerings. Missions assigned by Charles Dickens — yes, the acclaimed novelist — are a highlight.

The graphics are as smooth as ever — and without most of the technical hang-ups that plagued “Unity” at launch. The Industrial Revolution gives 1868 London a look not seen in previous “Assassin’s Creed” entries, and it gives the setting an oppressive feel that echoes the plot.

Combat and traversal are the best seen in the series, but patented control hitches and AI behavior that have been around for years continue to rear their ugly heads. Get used to outside factors mandating multiple retries of missions, here and there.

As long as you’re willing to be patient with such issues, “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate” is a sign the franchise is heading back in the right direction.

“Assassin’s Creed Syndicate,” from developer Ubisoft Quebec and publisher Ubisoft, is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC.

Scott Fontana