Ah yes. This is how Britain is often depicted in foreign media: a smog-shrouded, rain-drenched, place, full of Cockney thieves in flat caps.
Presumably, it's because the 19th Century was when Britain was at the height of its Imperialist powers, before we - particularly the English - developed a profound sense of nationalist shame, and became less interesting as a result.
The work of Dickens and Conan Doyle cemented a portrait of a Britain that is no more like that today than America is still full of cowboys, or France is full of men in blue and white striped sweaters and berets, cycling around with onions hung from their necks, going "Aw-hee-haw-le-pompt-de-do".
Anyway. Let's jump to the chase here: Assassin's Creed Syndicate is alright, but nothing more. It plays fine and looks great. However, when you plop that into a broader context, this is one of the worst and most infuriating games I've played all year.
It's impossible to play Syndicate without hearing UbiSoft's executives rubbing their hands together, as they imagine how much money they stand to make. It feels like the design brief extended to "Victorian London" and nothing more. It's a profoundly familiar mix of third-person free-running, fist-fights and stealth.
There are really only five things that set this apart from other Assassin's Creed games: you now have a sub-Arkham grappling hook thing to help you get around the city (though it's nowhere near as smooth to use as Batman's), there are two playable characters (virtually interchangeable barring their genders), you can drive horse-drawn carriages, and you get to recruit gang members to your cause and fight alongside them in blink-and-you'll-miss-it turf wars.
Unfortunately, while these four things may be new to the series, they do nothing to set Syndicate apart from other games. Everything on offer here is painfully derivative, but delivered with zero wit, and an almost apologetic shrug. There's no conviction and no vision. Whatsoever.
The plot, the characters, the sheer storytelling are so thin that you'd be able to see through them if you held them up to a weak light. The story, such as it is, feels like a dismal excuse to cram in as many Victorian celebrities as possible - from Charles Darwin to Benjamin D'Israeli. The two main characters are bland and cliched, virtual ciphers, and practically interchangeable in terms of their skillsets.
The gameplay is achingly plagiarised - from both the series that Syndicate is a part of, and every other map-based, open world game out there (frankly, Ubisoft should change its name to Ouroborosoft, so content is it with devouring itself). The capturing enemy outposts, freeing prisoners, cutting alarms, collecting this and that... how many more times are we going to do these things in the games?
The story missions aren't much better. Oh, yeah, occasionally you'll be asked to do something slightly different - such as, say, shoot at bad guys with a stationary gatling gun, from the back of a train. But even that is just cribbed from countless other titles, presumably because someone decided that it's exactly the sort of thing that they have in video games.
There's little to no challenge either. You'll level up so quickly that you'll soon become unstoppable. And that's a problem when you're dealing with missions and objectives that are so repetitive. Boredom sets in - and in a game of such enormity, if you're already growing bored (as I was) 30% of the way into the game, you're never going to finish it.
As for bugs... well, I never really had any massive problems with last year's supposedly unplayable Unity. In fact, if anything, Syndicate feels more unfinished to me. I've not had any major issues with it - there are just little niggles throughout, a feeling that it lacks one final coat of polish.
Things such as context sensitive controls not working when they're meant to. Or the repeated appearance of a stout, top-hatted gentleman, whose suit jacket blazes an anachronistic - and clearly unintended - scarlet. There are texture issues, some iffy pop-up. That sort of thing.
And then there's the dialogue... ohhhh... the dialogue. The same NPC lines repeated endlessly - often a dozen times in succession. There's no excuse for it. It feels sloppy, rushed out in time for Christmas - unfinished even. And it breaks the sense of immersion that the undeniably gorgeous graphics (a few iffy character models aside) otherwise do such a stellar job of conveying.
Frankly, Assassin's Creed Syndicate is a waste of money. Not your money, mind - the tens of millions of dollars it cost to produce. Not a cent of that has been invested in producing a game that is anything other than safe to the point of tedium.
Artistically - and I'm speaking in a broad sense - it's an enormous failure, an exercise in resting on laurels rather than pushing either the series, the genre, or the medium into new areas. It comes across as cynical. And in some respects there's nothing wrong in that - UbiSoft don't owe us a masterpiece. But I honestly believe that if Assassin's Creed doesn't reinvent itself (as it admittedly did once already with Black Flag), then it's goodbye for the franchise.
People are only going to be fed the same bland gruel so many times, before they start clenching their jaws, and turning their heads away.
There'll be no more "Please, sir, can I have some more?" next time.
SUMMARY: Gorgeous to look at, but painfully bland and derivative. It feels like all the effort went into the art design. I'm getting so sick of these sorts of games, and this has to stop.
SCORE: 1.868 out of 10