With the Assassin’s Creed franchise chugging full steam ahead with no signs of waning, Ubisoft has decided to bring on a new chapter in the long standing series with Chronicles. The new trilogy of games are a break from the what we’re accustomed to from an AC game, instead going the route of a 2D(ish) side scroller. While the new style is a welcome breath of fresh air into the increasingly stale series, there are still some kinks to be worked out before I welcome the next iteration with open arms.
The new style kicks off with a story set in China during the fall of the Ming Dynasty. You play as Shao Jun, the lone member left of the Brotherhood in China as the Templar’s have wiped out the rest of the Brotherhood’s chapter, securing control of the country. Jun has been trained by the legendary Ezio Auditore and is on a quest for revenge against the Templar leader and his Tigers. Your adventure takes you across Ancient China as you fight your way through various stages as you exact your revenge and even the playing field for the Brotherhood to take back China.
“The game’s art style is going to be what grabs you right off the bat. Highly stylized and visually compelling…”
The game’s art style is going to be what grabs you right off the bat. Highly stylized and visually compelling, the cinematics are told almost as a motion comic with brush strokes and bursts of paint to accentuate the actions on screen. In game, the art style works just as well with the side scrolling style as it gives a visual flair to each stage. The backdrops for each stage are tremendous adding even more visual depth to each level.
As far as gameplay goes, they managed to squeeze in what players will be accustomed to from playing an AC game. There’s equal parts stealth and action as you can hide in corners, walk through crowds or dangle from overhangs as you get the drop on your enemy. Quite frankly, I didn’t expect the AC style to translate over to 2D but I was pleasantly surprised. As you progress through the game you’re also able to unlock new styles of kills as well as new ways to sneak around. The aim of the game is stealth as it rewards you more points for getting around without killing anyone. Where’s the fun in that, though? Luckily, they know that most of the fun lies in actually assassinating people, so the point differential between ‘Assassin’ and ‘Shadow’ at the end of the level is minimal, meaning you can slay or sneak your way through each mission and reap all the benefits possible.
They also break up the sneak/kill style with a pair of missions where you have to race out of an area. Both times you’re outrunning a monstrous fire (the collateral damage in this game is quite high) and you’re scored on time. So, you get to full on sprint and slay every guard you cross or let them burn to death. Both of these missions were a lot of fun and kept the game from getting bogged down in too much repetition.
“[When attempting to sneak through a room] the guards ability to detect you seemed to hinge on whether or not you were going to throw your controller through the TV.”
On the other hand, Chronicles seems to suffer from a few of the deficiencies that the rest of the series seems to as well. The guards have a ‘cone’ where they will notice you if you cross it. Seems easy enough to avoid. Except that it isn’t. At all. After spending several minutes studying the patterns of a particularly full room, I began to navigate the room and easily moved past the first three guards before getting caught near the end of the room. I proceeded to replicate the exact same moves and timing and was caught by the first guards six times in a row. On the seventh time though, well, I got by just fine and managed to escape the room. This seemed to be a constant throughout the game as the guards ability to detect you seemed to hinge on whether or not you were going to throw your controller through the TV. Which seems like a bizarre choice since the game requires a dramatic amount of stealth.
The other big issue with the game was how tedious the controls are. For the most part, they work fine but if you need to finesse a section of a level or you need to do multiple things in a short span of time, you’re screwed. Far too often Jun would decide to make a break for a new piece of cover instead of aiming a throwing knife or had a complete and utter inability to block an attack unless you wanted to follow that up with a kick. The kick, of course, pushes the enemy out of the reach of your sword so you’re going to hacked one way or another. What that meant is if you got spotted, running was your only option. Again, considering the game is based so much on stealth, having the character very loosely interpret the commands you input seems like a bizarre choice to me. Overall the controls came across as sloppy as a white guy trying to eat rice with a pair of chopticks.
In the end, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China takes a bold new step for the franchise. While I did have fun, I spent most of the game frustrated by buggy controls and A.I. that seemed to forget what its limitations were. Fans of the AC series will dig the new way to play and how visually compelling the game is as a whole. I’m just hoping that India will clean up some of the problems China has and doesn’t waste delving into the 2D world.
*** Reviewed on PS4, code supplied by the publisher ***