When [Assassin's Creed Syndicate](tag:3605993) released back in October, it didn't really have a high bar to beat in terms of showing up its immediate predecessor. Last year's Assassin's Creed Unity was by no means a total failure, but it far from managed to live up to the immersive quality that fans of the series had come to expect, both in terms of gameplay and narrative.
But Syndicate fared much better, currently sitting at a solid mid-high 70% on Metacritic (varying dependent on platform), and beating out Unity in terms of second week sales after a slow start. It won back points from some fans and critics for the streamlined combat mechanics and map design alongside the interesting narrative and characters; whilst it's no Assassin's Creed 2, it went a long way towards renewing faith in the franchise.
Jack the Ripper
And now we have our first additional content available for Syndicate, the aptly titled Jack the Ripper DLC which released for PS4 and XBOX One on December 15th and is coming to PC on the 22nd.
The official synopsis follows:
"20 years after the events of Assassin's Creed Syndicate, 'Jack the Ripper' has embarked on a brutal reign of terror that shocks London to its core and threatens the very existence of the Brotherhood of Assassins."
So the DLC is pretty much what it says on the tin, and it pits assassin twins Jacob and Evie Frye against one of the most mysterious and terrifying figures from London's dark history - Jack the Ripper, the still unidentified serial killer who murdered and mutilated at least five female prostitutes in the slums of London during the latter part of 1888.
When the Ripper surfaces in a London under the protection of the Assassins Jacob Frye tries to contain the spread of terror and sets out to pursue the murderer himself. When Jacob goes missing his twin sister Evie returns from India to take up his quest and hunt down and kill the Ripper, but things are not always as they seem...
Fear The Ripper... And Evie Frye
Retaining the core elements of the main Assassin's Creed Syndicate game, Jack the Ripper switches to a slightly more narrative focused framework with a new "non-lethal" fear technique gimmick being introduced by Evie. During her time away in India she's learned a technique which allows her to panic her enemies, sometimes causing them to flee and so removing the need to stab quite as many people.
How well this works for you depends on what type of player you are, and whether or not you like having to stab quite as many people, but it's an interesting if sometimes aggravating skill to have. The fear technique is also shared with Jack the Ripper himself, who you utilise as a playable character with... interesting results.
Playing as Jack is perhaps the most interesting thing that the DLC has to offer as you see London through his twisted eyes, a screen which colours and distorts around you. It's a little disturbing too, seeking out victims as the game prompts you to "kill them all". Evie, on the other hand, brings a refreshing air of crime scene investigation in her pursuit of the killer, mirroring her main game play focus on stealth.
The Side Missions
As in Syndicate, whilst you pursue Jack the Ripper you have to run down a number of side missions and, as is often the failing of the Assasssin's Creed games, they get tedious very quickly.
Thankfully you don't usually have to spend much time on these as the DLC is fairly efficient at shuffling you along the main quest narrative with little wandering about in-between. Sorry open world lovers.
Evie's off shutting down underground fight clubs (no Brad Pitt 'round these parts though), which doesn't make make sense when you remember that the Jack the Ripper DLC is largely focused on non-lethal combat. Speaking of which...
From Evie's perspective the combat doesn't change much from the main game, but there's no brawling Jacob this time around. Evie and Jacob have been replaced with Evie and Jack, both of whom use the intimidation tactics - just in very different ways.
As mentioned above, Evie's combat is more focused on non-lethal weapons and techniques this time around, and there's even a new (smaller) skill tree introduced just for the expansion.
The non-lethal focus works well with the now-middle aged Evie's graceful movement and stealth, but contrasts massively with the violence inherent in murdering innocents whilst playing as Jack, creating a slightly unsettling balance at times.
Narrative & Characters
Ubisoft by now are masters at inserting historical characters into the fictional frameworks of their Assassin and Templar Orders, so you'd expect The Ripper to be no exception. But, as many players have found, it's Jack the Ripper's insubstantial identity that makes him such a scary character.
He's a ghost, haunting the streets of history; when Jack the Ripper pulls him out into the light he loses that air of terrifying mystery and becomes human, and that's never felt more than when you're playing as him. Add to that how Ubisoft have pulled him and attempted to ground this unknown quantity in the world of Assassin's Creed and it all feels a bit... shallow.
"It would've worked if Ubisoft simply sent Evie to protect London from Jack. Instead, he's unnecessarily shoehorned into Assassin's Creed lore, and the expansion is worse off for the artificiality of it all."
This niggle with the approach to character aside, Jack the Ripper is a pretty fun way to spend three or so hours if you're wondering where to go onwards from Syndicate.
The atmosphere is well balanced if eerie with the two contrasting playable characters, and Evie might mark the first time I've played as a middle aged woman in a video game who was still allowed to be totally badass. (It took Ubisoft a while, but they're learning).
Like most DLCs experiences it also suffers from being a little short at just around three hours or so, which isn't a huge amount of bang for your buck.
But if you enjoyed Syndicate you could do worse than to pay the $14.99 for a few more hours which give us a glimpse into the latter lives of the Frye twins whilst providing a perfectly enjoyable side story to the Syndicate saga. Just don't stray too far into the London shadows at night...