Victorian city stories
Its taken a shameful amount of snooping but I reckon Ive finally seen everything in London. Unlike the real world version, which is tiringly varied, there are only so many animations, conversations, and character models Ubisoft can pack into a breathtaking virtual city, making what would otherwise be an impossible task of anthropological exploration more like reading a good book. A book that shouts at you for getting too close. A book that tries to send you on missions. A book in which sentences keep repeating, and identical characters appear in slightly different clothes, and one time a man chops a tree using a floating axe without explanation.
But make no mistake, this world is a monumental achievement (just see my earlier gallery (opens in new tab)). Its ambient population presents far more than copy-and-paste filler. So Ive temporarily abstained from stabbing people, and slightly ruined the overall experience by peeking behind the proverbial curtain, looking beyond the looping animations and conversations in order to catalogue the unique yet overlooked stories that give Syndicate its greatest sense of life and colour. I even learned some history stuff too! Here are the 15 weirdest, funniest, darkest, and most fascinating hidden moments unearthed through hours upon hours of being rudely intrusive.
And if you want to see some of this stuff via actual, in-game motion and sound, check out the video below.
These men whispering about their love affair
Homosexuality was very much illegal in the England of the 1800s, and remained so up until 1967 when the Sexual Offenses Act decriminalised it. This explains why these fellows above, Wilkins and Melvin as I overhear, are speaking in hushed tones about decamping to the countryside (I believe an excursion would benefit the both of us,) and the dangers of one of their wives finding out (You should have been more careful leaving your garments scattered about the bedroom. Youve jeopardised the both of us!).
Only a century to wait, chaps.
This man catching rats in a pub
Back before health and safety went mad and people started washing their hands and covering their mouths when they sneeze and stuff, no one batted an eye at the sight of a man crawling on hands and knees around a crowded pub looking for rats.
Other catching methods of the time included poison, predators (often a type of dog called a vermin terrier), and even bare hands, which carried a real risk of contracting diseases. Some people believed that rat-catchers actually bred rats to increase their population and keep themselves in work, and anecdotal evidence reveals they even used them in rat-on-rat blood sports, which could explain the rise of todays domesticated fancy rats. Thankfully, theyre plague-free. Cheers, rat-men!
This incredibly refined cricket match
Traced back to 16th century Tudor England in which it was originally a kids game, (although there has been indefinite evidence Prince Edward enjoyed a thwack as far back as 1301 in Kent), its as English as complaining and then being all, Sorry, cheers, yeah, sorry, thanks, thats great, cheers. Played by 120 million people, however, the second most popular sport worldwide is hardly a UK-exclusive any more.
These guys look committed to the cause, bringing the old ball and wicket to St Jamess Park despite the downpour. And to make it even more English, theyre actually playing in full evening dinner wear. God bless them. Oh by the way, if that ball hits me Im totally going to shoot you.
This garden and its cat army
Wandering around the backstreets of Whitechapel, I notice something weird in one garden: a woman and her children surrounded by at least 20 black cats. Why? Well, 17th century English monarch Charles the First believed they were lucky (funnily enough he was arrested the day after his treasured pet feline died, for high treason). Unlike Colonial America where black cats were seen as companions to demons and often shredded, in England folks believed that crossing paths with a cat was a good omen, and that a lady who owned one would have many suitors.
Boringly, they dont join together and form a mega cat, or put on a cabaret (Catbaret?! No) show. They just walk around purring.
This woman conspiring for a divorce
In the Houses of Parliament I find three men giving a woman advice on how to leave her husband. Today that advice would simply be Leave your husband, but before the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1937, divorce was difficult – especially for women.
Where a man could divorce if his wife had committed adultery, a woman had to provide evidence of additional offenses committed by her partner, such as cruelty, desertion, rape, sodomy, incest or bigamy. If we can convince John that June had been unfaithful he would petition for a divorce, says one of the men. June replies, I wont ruin my good name no matter how awful John is to me. The law. It is an ass.
This Florence Nightingale-alike
Down a backstreet in Lambeth is this nurse seeing to an ill man on a wooden table while another writhes in the corner. Both wearing full suits, naturally. An early allusion to founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale? (I know it’s not her, as Florence-proper is actually in the game, but the thematic resonance is fairly clear).
Regardless, while some historians say the Lady with the Lamps efforts tending to soldiers in the Crimean war were exaggerated to give England a hero figure, she had other accomplishments, such as establishing St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, helping relieve hunger in India, popularising the graphical presentation of statistical data, and helping abolish overly harsh prostitution laws. Minor stuff, really.
This Terminator lady
Heres a weird one. Outside the Houses of Parliament is a lady in a blue dress who wont stop following you. She doesnt say anything – she just pursues, and she absolutely will not stop, ever, until you climb a building, because she has heels on.
I try jogging away and she follows silently. I run in circles and she mirrors my steps. Pickpocket? She doesnt steal anything. Prostitute? Its a weird marketing technique. Whatever the case, like most of my problems in this virtual world, I run over her in a cart and she stops doing what shes doing.
These men chatting about foreign policy
Around London men excitedly discuss events abroad over a London World News newspaper. This was an England at the peak of its powers, with an empire over which the sun never set (a phrase first used to describe the 17th century Holy Roman Empire).
By 1922 about 458 million people lived under the British Empires rule. Thats one-fifth of the world’s population. In Assassins, Ive heard talk about the necessity of learning how to pronounce African cities (Were talking about the future of the British empire. You should make an effort to understand), Japans shift from feudalism, and whether or not Australians are a bunch of criminals since, to prevent overcrowding of jails, between 1788 and 1868 around 162,000 convicts were transported to Australian penal colonies.
This bare-knuckle boxing match
Fisticuffs have existed for as long as men had fists and cuffs, but the first documented case of organised prizefighting in England occurred in 1681. The match above is set after the Marquess of Queensbury rules of 1867 – which introduced padded gloves and ten-second counts-outs – but clearly doesnt adhere to them, rife as it is with flying knees and headbutts.
Bare-knuckle fights then, as they are now everywhere outside America, were outlawed, often broken up by police. But in Syndicate you can take part in one of your own. Just pay a visit to Robert Topping, whos represented by a T on the map.