Tag Archives: Assassins Creed

On… Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: Jack the Ripper DLC

WARNING: Spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and the Jack the Ripper DLC below!

Ever wanted to play as a deranged serial killer who enjoys disembowelling and mutilating prostitutes? If you answered ‘yes’ then, firstly, it may be worth talking to a therapist and, secondly, the Jack the Ripper DLC for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate might just be the expansion you’ve been waiting for.

Yes, you too can play as a crazed serial killer!
Yes, you too can play as a crazed serial killer!

Taking place around twenty years after the events of the main game, Jack the Ripper sees the series’ best assassin since Ezio, Evie Frye, investigating the disappearance of her brother which is intertwined with the killing spree of the infamous Victorian serial killer. This being an Assassin’s Creed game, obviously this is all mingled in with the story of the Brotherhood of Assassins. Thankfully it doesn’t transpire that Jack is a Templar, but rather an Assassin who has gone a bit fruitloop. As ever, some liberties with the historical setting are taken, and in this ‘reality’ Jack has pretty much taken over the entirety of London’s underworld. He also wears a sack over his head for the whole campaign. It’s never made clear why. It’s not even a very nice sack.

The story takes place in the boroughs of Whitechapel and the City of London, with the rest of the environment from the main campaign blocked off. There are a couple of new settings, a snow-draped mansion and some prison hulks, the latter of which is a very interesting and well-designed locale. In terms of gameplay, there are around seven or so main missions plus a number of ‘associate activities’. Some of them, such as the Cargo Hijack, are pretty much identical to those in the base game, but others – such as Slow Carriage Escapes and the Ripper Letters – offer a bit of a spin on the standard themes. Unfortunately a few too many of them are reliant on the utterly awful ‘kidnapping’ mechanic that Syndicate introduced, making them frustrating and less than fun.

Crap like this still happens.
Crap like this still happens.

To be honest, there’s not an awful lot here that you can’t get from the main game. There is a new ‘fear’ mechanic whereby certain new weapons and QTE-based ‘brutal takedowns’ allow you to scare some enemies, which is useful for large-scale crowd control. It’s not great, though, and I couldn’t help feeling that it would have been better if they had implemented more items or moves that you could use at a distance. You never feel in control in the same way as you do, say, in the predator encounters in the Batman Arkham games. All too often an attempt to use a fear mechanic devolves into a simple scrap with enemies that are by now so underpowered compared to your character that they don’t put up much of a challenge even in large numbers. It also all feels a little… bolted on.

Towards the end-game of AC: Syndicate I felt that I was consistently battling against or exploiting the mechanics of the game, and Jack the Ripper just carries on that. The AI remains laughably dumb at times: you can murder a guard, the body of whom is stumbled upon by their colleagues who go into ‘alert mode’ for a bit. But then, when it’s over, they just go back to their pre-defined patterns, leaving their former friend’s corpse to rot on the floor. Whilst I appreciate that some of this is done for game-play purposes, having played Metal Gear Solid V with its much more ’emergent’ AI, this all seems a bit of a retrograde step.

Also, please, Ubisoft, please: whatever you do next for Assassin’s Creed, make sure you get rid of the ridiculous ‘you must be anonymous to continue’ stipulation that applies to so many of the mission objectives. Just because a guard spotted me five minutes ago does it really mean that I can’t now open this particular door merely because a cut-scene lies behind it?

Gameplay issues aside, what really urked me about Jack the Ripper is its subject matter and the way it deals with it. There are a couple of instances where the game mentions the brutality of the crimes committed, but for the most part we get the sensationalistic claptrap that typifies the lower-grade approaches to this segment of history. What makes it worse is that there are three portions of the DLC where you play as the Ripper. I’m sure this seemed like a good idea to the people who were writing the feature bullet-points, but let’s be clear about this: you play as a psychopath who – by the game’s own admission – gets his kicks by brutalising women in the most inhumane of manners. This wouldn’t matter quite so much if the Ripper playable segments dealt with this in a meaningful way, but the truth is that they’re just the same as the normal game except that mission objectives are displayed in a ‘crazy’ font with a weird screen-effect to accompany team. Honestly, it’s all a little distasteful and adds next to nothing to the game.

In its favour, the DLC is sizable and worth the money if you’re not too burnt out by the main Syndicate campaign. For me, though, it was just too much of the same, with the extra bits not really being substantial or well-implemented enough to make it worth the while.

Arrrr-ssassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag

So, the other day I completed my first game on the swanky new PS4: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I’ve been a fan of the series since ACII, enjoying the historical settings and sneaky-sneakster style gameplay that I find on the right side of accessible and fun, if a little overly simplistic at times. The sheer wealth of things there are to do in the open world settings is typically staggering, though I must admit I can never quite bring myself to muster up the enthusiasm to collect all 2 billion feathers/Animus fragments/amoebae/whatever they happen to be.

There be gold conveniently stored in handy treasure chests in them thar Mayan ruins.
There be gold conveniently stored in handy treasure chests in them thar Mayan ruins.

The previous game in the series, Assassin’s Creed III (I realise this sounds obvious, but the naming conventions are not the most straightforward of things to follow) was a glossy title, full of promise but unfortunately saddled with a number of bugs and poor mission design that made less than it should have been. I did enjoy ACIII, contrary to the opinions of many who thought it was incredibly poor, but it definitely wasn’t the masterpiece I’d hoped for. It wasn’t really helped by the choice of lead character; Connor Kenway (to give him his Westernised name; I’m not even going to attempt to find the special characters I’d need to properly spell out his real Native American name) was a lead lacking in charisma, who frequently made cut-scene decisions that made me want to scream at the television in frustration.

As most people who’ve played it will know, though, the one thing that ACIII really did right was that it gave you a big ship to sail, and some cannons to shoot at things. The naval combat sections of ACIII were easily one of the best bits of the game, so it kind of makes sense that Ubisoft chose to base a lot of the sequel around it. Black Flag focusses an awful lot on naval exploration and combat, with much of the world being made up of that wet watery stuff you see everywhere. This has a few repercussions: firstly, you spend a lot of time at the helm of your ship gazing at beautiful horizons; secondly, you have an awful lot of fun blasting away at enemy ships and forts; and thirdly, the traditional ground-based sections of series are minimalised a little. This latter point does mean that the on-foot sections, whilst taking up a large chunk of the game, are not as memorable as they could be. A few things stick in the mind, like a survivalist chapter centred around some Mayan ruins, but in general the colonies of Havana and Jamaica (and some other areas) won’t bury themselves into your psyche quite as much as Rome, Florence or the Frontier did.

Edward JKenway and Quartermaster 'I'm Going to Star In My Own DLC One Day' Adewale.
Edward JKenway and Quartermaster ‘I’m Going to Star In My Own DLC One Day’ Adewale.

Story-wise, ACIV can be a little lacking at times, though it’s an improvement on the latter part of its immediate predecessor, which felt like a slog through a history textbook at times. Edward Kenway isn’t a traditional assassin, coming into the ‘profession’ through a slightly less-than-conventional means. The character’s arc is a little slow to get going, and does fizzle out a bit at the end. It’s neat enough, though, and there are moments of genuine pathos. The near-future-set framing storing that takes place in Abstergo Entertainment suffers greatly from the lack of a defined central character like Desmond, and Ubisoft, Shaun and Rebecca really need more screen-time in the next game.

As with most of the recent AC games, you’re overwhelmed a little by the sheer number of things to do at times, but most of it is optional and generally quite fun. Apart from bits of the diving. That was just annoying.

So, ACIV, then. Possibly the best instalment in the franchise since Brotherhood, the game is great to play though I wonder whether bits of it will still in the mind as long as some of its predecessors.