One thing?s for sure, even after the PR disaster that was Assassin?s Creed Unity, the series isn?t going to go away. In fact, Ubisoft is so keen to keep the franchise at the front of our minds that it's not even willing to wait a full year before bringing out game that bears the title.
To tide fans over until November?s inevitable release we?re treated to what at first appears to be a side project in Assassin?s Creed Chronicles: China
. However, the more you play the more you realise that this is anything but.
It's easy to assume with games like this that they started development as something else. That the publisher panicked that a half-baked idea was nothing more than just a waste of money and the only thing that can save it is whacking a well known title on the options menu and hoping that fans drool at the thought of playing something connected to the world they love.
Assassin?s Creed Chronicles: China
as I?m going to call it to save my poor ageing fingers) is a side-scrolling 2.5D platformer with a focus on stealth and it is so deeply rooted into the mechanics of the main series that it?s clear it?s been built up as an Assassin?s Creed
game from the start.
Fans will feel at home as the main character Shao Jun hides in groups of civilians before disposing of her enemies? lives, or jumps from high vantage points into a cart of hay that is conveniently left below it. The story follows the last of the Chinese brotherhood as they do what they do best and sneak up on their targets before taking them out. And it doesn?t shy from name-dropping the likes of Ezio to get players to believe that the story is connected to the main games.
In short, it isn?t. I mean, it fits within the AC
universe, but adds nothing of any note. Character-building doesn?t extend beyond mindless chatter between levels and the plot can be completely missed by yearly players without any worry of missing out.
What?s impressive, though, is that despite the saturated side scrolling market, ACC:C
stands out as a pretty impressive game.
From the start ACC:C
introduces more mechanics than you could ever think of. Stealth on a two-dimensional plane might at first sound too simple to be deep, but with the number of options the game gives you to hide, sneak and distract there are many ways to achieve your goal.
This, coupled with the number of hazards that you have to be aware of, makes things even more challenging. From wind chimes that you have to crawl under to squeaking birds in cages you have to slowly walk past, most objects in the levels you traverse are there to expose you to the enemy.
Rushing in will find you in trouble and although the combat is well implemented you won?t have a lot of time to use it if you?re surrounded by guards. You have a chance but it can be tricky, especially if you?re in an area that lets guards call for backup.
So in order to succeed you really have to get your head around staying out of sight. Vision cones help explain what the game is asking you to do and you can even trigger Eagle Vision to study the enemy move patterns.
So, each area soon becomes a puzzle - albeit with more than one solution. You stop, look around, see what tools you have, then conjure up a plan to pass by unseen. If your plan works, it?s satisfying.
You can, however, choose to take on opponents. But that?s only a real option in the earlier part of the game due to the fewer enemies to dispose of before you move on.
The game grades you on every area. The more stealth you use or the more clean assassinations you pull off, the higher the grade. Getting a bronze rating really does make you feels as though you should have done better.
The more you play the more mechanics are introduced, making your approach even more varied. Getting used to hiding in the shadows? Well that option is completely chucked out of the window when enemies carrying lanterns enter the mix.
That?s the most impressive thing about ACC:C
. It constantly tries to challenge you in new ways. Although it rarely shakes up the objectives (a level in which the pace suddenly changes as you run from a burning port being a rare and welcome break) it changes the rules it sets constantly to keep things interesting.
It looks great, too. The art direction suits the theme while staying faithful to the series and some of the backdrops are stunning while never feeling out of place.
The only issue I really had was that the overall experience felt a little dull. The opening tutorials outstay their welcome and instead of letting the player run free with the options they have, the game regularly tells you what to do in order to avoid getting stuck, from Shao muttering solutions to herself to huge indicators on the screen outright telling you what to press.
Although some of the areas open up a little and there are a few chances to deviate from the linearity, it never becomes a full open-world. It feels as though the game is set up to suddenly let you loose in a Metroidvania environment, but that moment never comes. Instead, you realise that you just have to follow the path directly to your victim with a few diversions here and there if you want them.
It?s hard to see where the series will go from here. Ubisoft has said that ACC:C
is the first in a trilogy of games but with this one filled with so many ideas you have to wonder what will be introduced in future games to elevate this from the status of 'nice little aside'.
However, there?s enough here to make ACC:C
enjoyable for fans of Assassin?s Creed
and stealth alike. It does what it does well and in some cases even better than the main game. And, although it feels as though it falls short from being a great title, it?s well worth parting the cash if this is your sort of thing.
-Full of ideas
-A little dull
-Nothing more than a passable plot
SPOnG Score: 7/10
Assassin?s Creed Chronicles: China is out now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.