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Jul 16, 2015

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

Lock, stock and two smoking hay bales

Up until Gamescom, the most horrendous crime committed in the Tower of London was the pricing of its gift shop chocolate (closely followed by those two murdered princes). But in 15 minutes in our hands-on as lady Assassin Evie Frye – the sneakier of Syndicate’s twin protagonists – we do enough horrible things to make even the legendary ravens get the hell out of the vicinity. We pull Beefeaters off turrets, stab them behind manicured bushes and pounce on them from Evie’s handy grappling-hook zipline. One royal guard even gets a barrel dropped on his head – doubly painful  when you consider that big, silly hat he has to wear getting compacted into his skull.

All this malice is in aid of reaching one bad apple, Templar Lucy Thorne, who’s holed up in the central White Tower. Grappling up to a vantage point triggers a cinematic pass of the area, highlighting potential approaches:  a guard with jangling keys, rebel soldiers in a nearby prison and
a double agent infiltrating the Beefeaters’ ranks. It conjures a Hitman-ish sense of freedom;  something hinted at in a few of Unity’s branching killings, but never as clearly explained or executed
as it is here. The level’s designer tells us we can expect a greater focus on these stages – they call them ‘black box’ levels – too.

We opt for the double agent method, first having to earn his trust by offing nearby Templar spies. Stalking a target across the rooftops is made easier with Evie’s Chameleon skill, the power to pull a hood over her face and vanish when crouching still. Watching a lady turn invisible on the spot is hugely contrived, but it isn’t the gamebreaker you might fear. She can’t disappear in an enemy’s line of sight, for one, and she can’t move. It’s best used to scope out places where Evie can’t move freely, letting us spot a dangling barrel (that’s Templar number one dead) and two towers ripe for a zipline (that’d be his friend). With the coast cleared, Evie can now pose as the double agent’s prisoner and transport herself to an audience with Thorne. Eagle-eyed Templar agents can see through the ruse if you wander too close or too fast – your sphere of fakery is represented by a stealth circle beneath your feet – so climbing the tower requires gentle easing of the analog stick and no sudden  movements. Gaining access to Thorne’s chamber triggers some  dramatic scoffing from our target; a quick-time event puts a stop to that, and her, for good. This is what the game calls a ‘unique kill’ – a more cinematic event that feels like the ‘canonical’ version to us. All this is pretty solid, recognizable stuff, lent an endearingly cartoonish sheen by the setting.  Whether killing Beefeaters can carry the whole game is yet to be seen. For today, at least, it’s as sweet as overpriced gift shop chocolate.

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