The streets of London are crowded, but on the rooftops it's quiet, and Evie Frye has a few moments to plan her attack.
She's one half of the brother-sister duo in Assassin's Creed Syndicate, and with the inclusion of two playable protagonists, Ubisoft Quebec faces a new set of challenges. The developer not only has to craft compelling stories for both Evie and Jacob, but also unique play styles that fit the nuances of each twin.
In a recent hands-on demo, I got the chance to play as Evie, whose approach is vastly different from her brother's. Evie is the stealthier, "more meticulous of the two," producer Andre-Anne Boisvert says. "Evie is the calculated one."
Even from the roof, four stories above the cobblestone streets, that's apparent. One of Evie's unique abilities, Knife Master, gives her extended range with throwing knives, allowing me to clear a path without ever leaving my perch.
"Their respective skills allow them to tackle missions, both in story and open world, in their own ways," Boisvert says. "I'm someone who likes to pick a play style and stick with it. In this case, I can do that. But there's also room to improvise."
In this demo, and this particular mission, my target is Lucy Thorne. Her place in the plot is unclear, but she has a host of Royal Police Officers at her disposal, and she's holed up in a massive fortress. As Evie, it's my job to surmount these hurdles.
And Ubisoft Quebec presents several options for me to do so. As is the case in many Assassin's Creed games (especially the earlier titles), I don't have just one way to complete my mission. By activating the ubiquitous Eagle Vision, which the assassins use to survey and evaluate the landscape, I see three objective markers. Each of these represent a different way to approach the target.
The first time I play the mission, I opt for a simple, straightforward option: I kill the man holding a skeleton key, which works on each of the fortress' locked doors, and make my way in through the roof (Syndicate's rope launcher facilitates my climb).
As I make my way through the corridors of the dark fortress, Evie's second unique ability proves its worth. Ubisoft calls it the Chameleon power -- by pressing one button, I send the assassin into her stealth mode. She crouches down, lifts her iconic hood, and as long as she remains stationary, no guards will see her. She even appears translucent while in this silent state.
By timing my movements well, and avoiding any alerts along the way, I end up on a balcony overlooking the target. After a successful air assassination, the demo ends, and I return to the beginning, with all of the options available to me again.
"Giving access to two protagonists is a way we're giving players a choice," Boisvert says. "But with these sandboxes, we want to give another layer of choice and let you choose where to go, how to get there, and finally, how to kill the target."
My next approach is a little more creative, and it's something completely new to the Assassin's Creed franchise.
One of Evie's other contacts in the area has access to a police officer's uniform. After a conversation with him, he agrees to stage a mock hostage delivery.
He leads me into the fortress -- right through the front door, no less -- holding my arm behind my back. If I move slowly enough and avoid any close contact with the guards, it appears as if I'm held captive. This option leads me right to Thorne, who insults my "assassin abilities," shortly before I leap toward her, ending the mission once again.
"We really want you to feel creative again," Boisvert says after the demo ends. "Taking the hostage approach is an example of this. It's something that fits in the world we're building, and it fits Evie's character. She's clever and creative, and we want her play style to reflect that."
And these are only some of the ways I could have eliminated Thorne. There's also an option to incite a revolt among the guards, creating a distraction large enough to let me slip through unnoticed. Boisvert says that Jacob's play style will allow me to consider even more options. And with this brother-sister dynamic feeding into both the narrative and gameplay of Assassin's Creed Syndicate, I'm eager to see if Ubisoft Quebec can make the franchise feel new again.