The Assassin’s Creed series gets a new perspective with Chronicles: China – a 2.5D side-scrolling entry with a new lead and setting and plenty of new mechanics.
It’s the first of a new sub-series from Ubisoft, with adventures in India and Russia to follow and there’s plenty of potential in the set-up, giving players the chance to see the Assassin and Templar conflict in new ways without the need for to wait for the next blockbuster entry in the series.
Chronicles: China is set in 1526 when most of the Assassin’s in the country have been executed, leaving young Shao Jun one of the few remaining. She’s a character who originally appeared in 2011 short film Embers and has some interaction with Ezio Auditore here as a student. She’s also the first female leading character for an Assassin’s Creed game and hopefully not the last.
While the opening menus and audio cues might feel familiar to AC fans, China is its own unique animal in everything from its painterly art style to the way it controls. At first blush, it feels more like the 2007 revamp Price of Persia Classic in its fluid animation and mix of exploration and fighting but there’s a good deal more going on.
The main way China differs from the rest of its siblings is its strong focus on stealth. Each small segment of a level rates your performance based on a number of facts, with a points store depending on how you perform. If you manage to pass unseen and without any kills, you’ll earn the maximum number of points.
Up the body count and your reward drops -get into a full on brawl and you’ll get the lowest possible reward. These points accumulate to unlock useful abilities like more items to use and extra health so they’re vital to progress, making it pretty clear that the game wants you to be as invisible as possible.
Thankfully, the mechanics and environments make that much easier than in the full fat AC titles. You can hide completely in alcoves and bushes, dragging your enemies to their death if you wish. There are hidden passages, roofs to swing off and quick dashes from cover, all designed to get you out of harm’s way as soon as possible.
The enemies aren’t particularly tenacious – which is for the best as that would make levels impossible. You can see their vision cones at all times, as well as indicators for their level of hearing and even when they’re going to turn around. Unusually, you’ll also get a meter for when you’re standing close to them – eventually they’ll notice and turn around which is a neat addition that I always felt would make sense in a game.
Of course, you can go sword to sword if you must – thanks to some training tips from Ezio. The combat is quite unique to this game, particularly the care required to properly block with a stick movement and face button. Together with limited health, it makes these encounters quite tense, as you combine strikes and flips and dodge projectiles while working towards a killing blow.
The combat is often gorgeous to look at, particularly the sweeping strikes of Jun, but the game itself varied wildly in terms of attractiveness. The environments look ok but they’re mostly shades of grey and brown with few defining features. And the assassination animations are fairly dull and repetitive, while the character models lack detail. Developers Climax Studios obviously wanted a stylised look but with the freedom of a platformer they could have created something a bit more vibrant.
I haven’t said much about the story and that’s because it’s easily the weakest part of the game – which is surprising given the huge attention it’s given in other Assassin’s Creed releases. The levels are bookended with still frames and some fairly mediocre voicework, while you’re never given much in the way of a reason for slinking through so many levels.
That slinking will take you about six hours and there are two further new game + options which give you access to new abilities and up the difficulty, should that sound appealing.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is an interesting departure for the series and should appeal most to stealth action fans, especially given the surprising difficulty of some encounters. It’s well made for the most part, even if it lacks the polish of the main games in the series, and engaging enough for its short running-time but some repetitive gameplay and a limited story hold it back. With some tweaking, this mini-series could be a great alternative to the fully-fledges assassinating adventures.
Available on PS4, Xbox One and PC for €9.99 now.
- Daniel Anderson