The Assassin’s Creed franchise has had it’s ups and downs over the past few years. Ezio’s story was a video game masterpiece, but Connor’s was a little stale. Edward Kenway introduced us to naval combat and we loved him for it, but Arno Dorian and his plight during the French Revolution was a bit of a step back in the story telling department. There have been offshoots of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but for the most part, they have gone relatively under the radar in terms of wider audience appeal. When we heard about Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China (ACC:China), we weren’t sure which Assassin’s Creed we would get? Would we get a new and exciting entry into the series like we did with 4 or would we get something a little less inspired. After sinking a healthy amount of time into the game, I can tell you that what we got was pleasantly surprising.
ACC:China introduces us to Shao Jun, who astute fans of the series will remember from the animated short “Embers” that Ubisoft released back in 2011. In Embers, Shao Jun received training from Ezio as he is living out the last of his days in Tuscany. ACC:China picks up where the movie left off with Shao Jun returning to China to enact revenge on a Templar group called the Tigers who drove out all Assassins out of China. With her new training and a taste for revenge, she starts the game by getting herself kidnapped so that she can release an imprisoned Assassin and then take out it’s Templar jailer. The jail level is a long tutorial that will introduce you to the many mechanics of this platformer that retains the weapons and moves of it’s predecessors, while introducing us to the 2.5 dimension gameplay of Chronicles. You’ll continue your quest for revenge across China and through a number of locales all while hunting the Templar group called the Tigers who have a relic they took from your possession upon arrest.
Looking at screenshots and videos of the game will tip you off to what kind of game Chronicles is. As stated before, it’s a 2.5 D game (where it’s on a 2D plane, but you can go back into different layers of the world) that requires stealth to survive in the world. Shao Jun is extremely squishy and she will die after just a few hits. You can sometimes fight off one guy with your weapons, but if you’re being attacked by more than one, your best chance is to run and hide. You’re given enough tools though to ensure that stealth is always a possibility. Whistles, noise makers, and throwing knives are just a few of the tools that you’ll employ as you make your way through levels. As you play, you’ll need to hide in the background of levels to avoid guard’s cone of sight so that they don’t notice you and give chase. If you are caught, the tools you have and your overall agility can usually get you out of most tense situations. Failure is always a possibility though and you will find yourself at the wrong end of a Tiger’s sword here and there, so it’s refreshing to see that the checkpoint system is actually very well done. Dying didn’t mean repeating an entire level over again, only the part you were having trouble with. Pair this with quick load times and typical frustration from these events are minimized and easy to overcome with time and practice.
The visuals for the game are easily one of the best features present in this title. There is a sort of wispy painting effect that does a really good transition between cutscenes and gameplay. Each level is well done and the 2D backgrounds are beautiful. The game presents you with a full map of the area as well that will be invaluable as you scale through the bigger levels in the game, but some still requires the Assassin’s vision to sync the landscape. The map was a little confusing at times to follow, but overall I was able to determine where I was, where I needed to go, and then strategize based on the terrain in-between.
ACC:China starts out strong with it’s stealth gameplay and beautiful visuals, but tuckers out partway through the game. It’s not that the game gets bad, you’re basically just doing the same thing as you have been for the last couple hours and it gets a bit stale. If this were a full release title that cost $59.99, that would be a big problem. Since this is a smaller $9.99 release, it’s a little more understanding. The story also really doesn’t go anywhere as you are just going from one evil Tiger Templar to another with different locations in between. This game is the first in a trilogy, so I’m curious to see if Ubisoft adds more story elements to the game and livens up it’s gameplay to help later game stages remain fresh. Shao Jun is an interesting character who received the best training an Assassins could receive, so the sky is the limit for her. If you’re looking for a cheap, but pretty good game to hold you over until the next major Assassin’s Creed game comes out later this year, Chronicles will fit nicely on your console of choice (or PC).