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Entertainment editor John Turnbull returns to the console and checks out the newest additions to two popular gaming franchises — the retro-stabber Assassins Creed and grappling simulator WWE 2K16.

HAVING REVIEWED the previous games in both the Assassins Creed and WWE franchises, I returned with anticipation to one and some trepidation to the other. With some slight missteps, the AC series has improved with each release, while WWE have struggled to replicate the fan adoration for earlier games like Smackdown vs Raw.

Assassins Creed: Syndicate

First released in 2007, the Assassins Creed (AC) series allows players to take a side in the centuries old battle between two secret societies, the Assassins and the Knights Templar. Mixing historically accurate locations and characters with free-running (parkour) and stealth-based killing, Assassins Creed has spawned over a dozen sequels and spinoffs in its relatively short lifespan.

Set in London during the Industrial Revolution, Assassins Creed: Syndicate (AC:S)  takes a leaf from the Grand Theft Auto playbook and allows players to switch between two protagonists. Jacob Frye is rebellious, headstrong and charming, while his sister Evie is intelligent, stealthy and handy with a throwing knife. To complete the story, players need to control each character in turn, but the open world sections allow random murderous shenanigans with the character of your choice.

Your main mission in Syndicate is to take over London from a nefarious gang called The Blighters, who conduct era-appropriate crimes like cart theft and child labour mills. Fortunately, if gang warfare doesn’t float your boat, there are a plethora of side missions to compete and historical characters to meet. Featuring Charles Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell, Florence Nightingale and Charles Dickens among others, this is probably the closest a video game will come to a history lesson.

The controls in AC:S are similar to previous games, with the welcome addition of a grappling hook to assist your ascent to the rooftops and spires of London. After unlocking vantage points, players can fast travel to key destinations, or you can hijack a horse and carriage to get from A to B while creating maximum carnage along the way.

Players who have spent any time in London will get even more out of the game, with the pre-1900 city rendered flawlessly. It’s a slightly odd experience to be leaping from rooftop to rooftop, only to pause and gaze across the familiar landmarks of Old Blighty.

Pros: Engaging storyline, intuitive controls, massive playable world.

Cons: The floating camera can obscure the action at times and the "no killing" rule in certain missions seems arbitrary.

WWE 2K16

According to IGN, the first wrestling video game was The Big Pro Wrestling, which came out in 1983. Five years later, the first officially licenced wrestling game came out, Microleague Wrestling. After this, the deluge started, with a new wrestling game coming out every other year. Then, developer 2K took over the licence and it became every year…

With over 120 playable characters, much noise has been made about the depth of WWE 2K16s roster and, to be fair, it certainly puts the slim lineup from WWE 2K15 to shame. Players now have the chance to control classic "superstars", including Andre the Giant, Ravishing Rick Rude and Cactus Jack, along with lesser known wrestlers like Savio Vega, Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart and X Pac. On the other hand, I’m not sure that too many people have been clamouring to play as Kama Mustafa and having 7 different versions of HHH’s outfit seems more than a little self-indulgent.

Due to ongoing legal issues, former champion and current UFC hopeful CM Punk is nowhere to be seen, likewise for indie alumnus Samoa Joe (who is apparently coming in DLC, along with the Dudley Boyz). Renowned racist and fake tan enthusiast Hulk Hogan is also absent. More egregious and a symptom of the sexism endemic in the WWE is the omission of some of the best female wrestlers in the WWE, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Bayley. The only positive side of this is that you can easily download any character you want from the WWE community, which is why Jesus and Satan are my tag team champs.

The create-a-wrestler (CAW) mode has been improved, although the wealth of choices comes at the expense of loading time. While it’s great that I can give my CAW metal pants, I don’t really want to wait 15 seconds while they render. On the upside, the programmers seem to have finally worked out how to give you a proper hillbilly beard and the options to make messed-up looking mutants have been increased, which is always fun.

The heart of WWE 2K16 is the Showcase mode, which allows you to follow the career of Steve Austin as he made the transition from Stunning Steve, via The Ringmaster, to the Stone Cold Steve Austin fans came to know and love. Combining footage from classic matches and promos, this mode is a perfect primer for anyone who missed the "Attitude Era" or wondered what the appeal of Stone Cold was.

In terms of playability, 2K16 is pretty much like 2K15 with a couple of minor tweaks. The reversal system has been revised to stop the "17 reversals in a row" issue from previous games and there is a new way of kicking out of pins that takes some getting used to. Both of these changes are perfectly fine, however the new submission system is probably the worst thing about the game.

For those unfamiliar with professional wrestling, a submission occurs after one wrester "wears down" a certain body part for some time, then locks in an MMA style joint lock, forcing the opponent to "tap out" from the pain. In 2K16. however, you have to move a little bar around a circle, trying to avoid a much bigger and faster moving bar controlled by the computer. This often results in a tap out in the first minute of a match, which is unrealistic and freaking annoying, to put it mildly.

Pros: Massive roster, showcase mode, community downloads.

Cons: Terrible reversal system, collision detection is dodgy at times, slow character level-up in career mode, DLC making you pay for the same game twice.

The Verdict

Unlike movies, where sequels are generally considered to be inferior to the original (with a number of obvious exceptions), the development of technology means video game franchises have the potential to get better every generation.

While WWE 2K16 shows certain improvements over last year’s release (notably in the roster expansion) the gameplay experience is wildly frustrating at times, particularly the lags experienced while creating a wrestler and the broken submission system. It seems highly unlikely that 2K16 will replace Smackdown vs Raw or WWE: Just Bring It as the wrestling nerd’s game of choice, but the building blocks are there to make a great game next year. Keep working on it, 2K….

Assassins Creed: Syndicate, on the other hand, may well be the best game in the AC series. The protagonists are charming and personable, the storyline is compelling and the recreation of industrial revolution London is spectacular.

WWE 2K16: 7/10

Assassins Creed: Syndicate: 9/10

You can follow John Turnbull on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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