Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox OneAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4
Originally slated to be part of the Assassin’s Creed Unity season pass, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is now the first in a three part series of digital download titles for the latest generation of consoles, along with PC. Naturally after the AC:U launch debacle and subsequent season pass shenanigans this makes perfect sense, and whilst Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China follows in similar lines of storytelling from previous outings, as a standalone XBL or PSN title it lends itself really well and to be fair sits quite well to standing alone.
The first of three Chronicles titles features a Chinese assassin that goes by the name of Jun in the year of 1526, smack bang in the middle of the downfall of the Ming Dynasty. As the last remaining Assassin of the Chinese Brotherhood, Jun returns to her homeland hell-bent on revenge with a clear vendetta in mind. Fresh from her training with the much loved Ezio Auditore, Jun sets out to have her vengeance, restore her Brotherhood to its former glory as well as find a secret box that contains an ancient artifact. Naturally this wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed game if it didn’t contain a random ancient artifact with its importance, power and general use never being properly explained.
A 2.5D affair, very much invoking memories of Shadow Complex from the off, however, that said, as you play through it is likely you will be feeling a little bit more of a Mark of the Ninja vibe - sadly though for all its beauty it’s nowhere near as enjoyable as either of these aforementioned titles. The game opens in a suitably Assassin’s Creed fashion, our hero trapped by Templars, everything rendered quite beautifully utilising the water colour aesthetic we’ve seen from Ubisoft in previous titles such as Child of Light. The cut scenes in isolation are fantastic and beautifully rendered, to the point where it can spoil it slightly when there is movement on the screen - the individual snapshots nicely convey the love and care taken to create the hand drawn art style seen throughout the adventure. It’s a bit of a let down therefore that whilst the majority of the backdrops are stunning that a handful come off as dull and lifeless, at odds with the majority of the game. Sadly, just as disappointing is the voice work throughout, with our main heroine being neither sassy or menacing, coming across as a rather dull individual hell-bent on a rather bland revenge tale. This is matched throughout the entirety of the adventure as we are treated to a handful of assassination speeches from a series of dull bad guys along with some random pseudo chinese chatter by the long line of foes that stand in your way.
The game makes use of the 2.5D setup allowing you to explore multiple depths within each level, unearthing secret areas, additional tools for you to complete the level and a series of minor tricks helping you to best the long queue of enemies that await you. Swinging towards and away from the camera is not only a neat little trick, it also looks great and gives you a very small feeling of freedom in an otherwise short, linear experience. With the campaign clocking in at around four to five hours there isn’t a massive amount of variety but as this is the first in a series of “Chronicles” there is some hope for more variety as the series progresses.
As the game begins to warm up you are treated to a series of Sequences; there are over ten in total, the early ones taking hand holding to new heights, introducing all of the key mechanics which your ninja, sorry Assassin, will need to complete each level. Once through the introductory levels, whilst there are still a handful of things to learn, the bulk of the gameplay is open to you and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China settles into its rhythm. Essentially a series of puzzle screens, you are presented with an ever growing number of guards with vision cones that allow them all see the exact same distance in front of them (gamez!), along with the capability to one or two hit kill you. This is where the minute to minute gameplay begins to frustrate.
Stealth isn’t just the preferred approach in Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China, due to the combat being a fiddly mess it’s pretty much the only way to play the game. It is odd in this respect that so much time is taken teaching you the hand to hand combat, which comprises of light and heavy attacks along with stealth kills and blocks for those with quick reflexes, when it rarely is a solid option in any given scenario. Sure the game is very open about rewarding a stealth approach but when confronted with many of the areas there is absolutely no place for anything but a stealth approach. The stealth itself is handled in a reasonable fashion; in true Assassin’s Creed style you hide in hay bales, behind pillars seamlessly darting between the two, you are also kitted out with a series of neat diversion tools, like the rope dart and the trusty whistle - they even throw in the odd leap of faith just in case you’d had a brain freeze and had forgotten what you were playing.
The pacing and overall difficulty of the title are solid yet underwhelming when compared to say Mark of the Ninja, that title being a truly shining light in this arena, made worse perhaps by the fact that is on an older console. Sometimes the game can be tough but never unbeatable and there is absolutely no sense of escalation to proceedings - even the token “run away from things” sequences are timid and non threatening. As a result when you are working your way to that big assassination the actual event itself is anticlimactic on both execution and emotion.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is sadly a bit of a let down. Gorgeous to look at, fiddly to control and a tad dull to experience, this is yet another AC iteration that falls flat. A bold idea, poorly executed.