The Assassin's Creed franchise is a hard series to love.
Sure, the series has offered up thrills with its sprawling stable of 22 games. But for all the daring leaps and sneaky stabbing, there have also been boring stealth missions, finicky controls and convoluted plot twists.
I approached the latest, Assassin's Creed Syndicate, with some trepidation. But after several hours of action, I was glad to be able to report that Syndicate is a great game.
It's got some foibles but this is definitely a return to form for Ubisoft's flagship series.
This improvement is squarely due to Ubisoft taking a step back and focusing on the key Assassin's Creed tenets. They include a gorgeous open world, likeable characters, top-notch stealth action and the exhilarating thrill of freedom.
Syndicate jumps forward in time, from French Revolution Paris in last year's Assassin's Creed Unity, to Victorian London in the throes of the Industrial Revolution.
PRICE: PlayStation 4 ($69.90), Xbox One ($69.90), PC ($64.90, version tested)
You play as either Jacob or Evie Frye, a brother-sister duo who have come to the city to save it from long- time Creed baddies, the Templars.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Creed games exist as a story within a story: You assume the role of someone in modern times interacting with the memories of different people from history. In this game, you are tapping the Frye twins to gain knowledge about ancient artefacts of power.
This overarching narrative is almost a decade old and has not really moved forward since Assassin's Creed 3 in 2012.
But Syndicate moves that plot along with a few new twists that play out well.
It also helps that Jacob and Evie are great leads: he, a brash hothead, and she, cool and calculating.
The supporting cast is great and, like most Creed games, comprises various historical characters such as the excellent Charles Dickens. Also, for the first time since Cesare Borgia in Brotherhood, there is a new great villain in Crawford Starrick.
In terms of the gameplay, Ubisoft nails the Victorian London look. On the latest hardware, the city feels alive and looks gorgeous. Citizens interact with you in believable ways.
Syndicate's London feels like a world that existed before you showed up and one that will continue long after you put down the controller.
Syndicate doesn't overload you with optional side quests that add very little to the game. It instead focuses on the core story with a handful of excellent side missions. This means the core missions are longer and better. The rewards from side missions are also much more tangible.
The graphics are terrific: gorgeous lighting, great effects and a beautifully rendered world. However, Ubisoft still has not fixed the bad facial animation that has plagued the series since Day 1.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate is the best game in the series since Brotherhood. It is a welcome return to form for a series that had become mired with way too much unnecessary bloat.
• Rahil Bhagat is a freelance writer.