Just how British is Assassin's Creed: Syndicate?
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is out on consoles as of last week, but we still have a few weeks to wait before we can judge the PC version. Ever since Syndicate’s London setting was leaked, though, we’ve primarily been concerned with one thing: Exactly how British is Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate?
It’s a question which deserves scientific ability and a practical knowledge of historic London. I have neither. Instead, with a console version in hand, I’ll use a combination of anecdotal evidence, Wikipedia, and my near-superheroic levels of Britishness (I own more top hats than I do trainers, can sense bunting, and can tell a Derby shoe from an Oxford blindfolded). We’ll review each category individually for maximum Britishness, come to a hasty, dismissive conclusion, then have a cup of tea and think about how nice it would be if God saved the Queen. Off we pop!
Weather is the only thing British people care about, so Syndicate has to get it right. Thankfully, the game begins during Autumn, the cosiest and best of all the seasons. In Britain we burn a celebratory wicker man when summer finally dies, because it means roast dinners replace salady barbeques, and we no longer need to worry about whether or not to carry an umbrella, because yes, we’ll absolutely need an umbrella. Syndicate’s rain is disappointing in precisely the right way, creeping in just as you’re beginning to enjoy crisp blue skies. It’s the ideal representation of a country which has 63 words for drizzle, and makes Syndicate only the second Assassin’s Creed game in which those preposterous hoods are actually necessary. A fine start.
Verdict: Squally showers, with increased possibility of flooding
Next, the greatest British tradition of all: tea bastards. Tea and bastards go together like pie and mash; cups and saucers; being British and smothering the world under the embroidered Jubilee zabuton of imperial oppression. In keeping with the tasty-but-evil beverage’s history, Syndicate’s head Templar bastard Crawford Starrick loves a cuppa.
And tea is evil. Aside from the punitive duties imposed by the Tea Act of 1773 that indirectly led to the American War of Independence, the Opium Wars of 1839 and 1856 were linked to the tea trade. The short version is that Britain wanted tea from China, who would only accept silver in payment. To counter this Britain got China hooked on Indian opium, monopolised by the British East India company. Millions of Chinese slipped into addiction, and Britain grew richer and more refreshed, like the tea-drinking bastards we are. Think on that the next time you're slurping down your Lapsang souchong.
Verdict: 3 sugars out of 4
Noisy fruit stalls
It might seem like an inconsequential addition at first, because it’s difficult to fully comprehend the Britishness of a fruit stall without a man bellowing things about discount pears. Stall-dwelling Fruit & Veg Men are a mystery. They come from London’s hidden underplaces, and speak in a lost language known as “Cabbage Speech”, or “Appletongue.” No British person can explain the compulsion to buy plastic bags full of greengages from shouting men in hats, but it’s as relevant to our cultural heritage as chicken tikka, disappointment, and avoiding smalltalk. You might not know it, Assassin’s Creed tomato artist, but your work is a crucial piece of set dressing.
Verdict: 14kg of bananas for £2
Syndicate has great chimneys. British people love a good chimney, partly because they remind us we had our industrial revolution first—like a sooty, underwhelming version of the lunar flag—and partly because of Fred Dibnah. Dibnah was a demolitions expert and celebrity steeplejack, because a) Britain apparently still has steeples which require jacking, and b) no concept of celebrity. He’d introduce us to a new chimney every week, revealing its history before cheerfully destroying it. Dibnah treated every flattened smokestack with the dignity of a farmer euthanizing his favourite dog, and we adored him for it: a waddling ovoid monument to the faded industrial past so vividly realised in Syndicate.
Verdict: 8 days without accident out of 10
Corgis in bags
I’m not sure what to say about this one, except that a corgi in a lovely bag is the most British thing that isn’t a Prince George commemorative tea service. Bravo.
The penny farthing was superseded by the ‘safety bicycle’, which is rather like calling nuclear decommissioning ‘safety war’. It was a device custom-built to maim, presumably by someone perceptive enough to realise that 120 years later it would be misappropriated by wispy, neckerchiefed hipsters. By including penny farthings, Syndicate has provided both a window to the past and a weary modern appraisal of impractical Shoreditch wankers. Perfect.
Verdict: 8 bent spokes out of 10
This looks like it should be a high scoring entry, doesn’t it? Incorrect. The chimney sweep is fine, but this scene has become parodic through the inclusion of an inexplicable, roof-mounted royal guard. Grenadier guards generally avoid high places because climbing is undignified, and their unwieldy bearskin hats make balancing difficult. Developers take note: ramming too much British into a small space is vulgar and uncomfortable, like choosing the urinal closest to a stranger. Don’t do it.
Verdict: 3 chim-chimeys out of 10
It’s impossible to say for certain if this is a Bake Off reference, which is exactly the incentive I need to say it’s definitely a Bake Off reference. The Great British Bake Off is reality TV at its most horribly compelling; the ganache Hurt Locker, where every Spanische Windtorte is only one careless spatula swipe from oblivion. It’s presented by a Mary Berry (octogenarian, floral, probably smells like potpourri) and Paul Hollywood (frosted mastodon). They’re not pictured here, but they’d certainly appreciate the uniform icing on those buns.
Verdict: 8 macarons out of 10 (and the Star Baker award)
I’m not going patronise you with jokes about the rules of cricket, because we all know it represents something more elemental: bourgeois gentleman protecting their institutional stumps, the proletariat tirelessly labouring in the field. Historically, the nobility was even granted the advantage of an extra stump when bowling; how’s that for brazen, institutional favouritism? As well as being a potent metaphor for the British condition, it’s similar to the central conflict in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate—gentlemen and players, Templars and Assassins. Or maybe it’s just about hitting a ball with a plank. Either way, Syndicate has demonstrated top form by including it.
Verdict: 344 not out
Britain’s best years are behind her. Our glorious pink empire has crumbled, replaced by post-imperial guilt and self-loathing, and we haven’t invented anything good since the collapsible baby buggy in 1965. That’s why meeting people like Dickens, Darwin, and Alexander Graham Bell in Syndicate feels special. Dickens is especially charming; a calm, dusty, benevolent blanket of a man, who makes us less worried about the numbing inevitability of the future, because at least we used to be brilliant at books. Take that, tomorrow!
Verdict: Eight Expectations (out of 10)
Syndicate gets loads of English stuff right, but it’s wretched when it comes to the Scottish. Alexander Graham Bell gets favourable representation—simpering and sweet, like an uncle made of shortbread—but Agnes MacBean is the most shiftless Scottish stereotype on the face of the protesting Earth. There’s good news, though: torpid mockery of the Scottish is itself a uniquely British thing. This is probably because the Scottish are better than the English at all the things that matter—breakfast, complaining, marmalade—and doing silly accents helps us feel better. Nevertheless, that still doesn’t excuse NPCs with the narrative value of a child’s potato-stamp painting of an Edinburgh fishwife.
Verdict: awa an' bile yer heid ya bawbag