Review: Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is the first in a three part series of games that’ll soon take us to India and Russia. In this first installment you take control of Shao Jun, the last remaining assassin of the Chinese Brotherhood, on a quest for revenge against the Templars. Shao Jun was previously introduced in the short film Assassin’s Creed: Embers and her meeting with Ezio Auditore seems like it might have strong implications for where the story will lead in the remaining installments. Ezio has gifted Shao Jun with a mysterious box that holds some sort of power. The game itself doesn’t spend too much time on story, but the box itself does seem like it’ll be a significant item that ties the three Chronicles games together.
The sidescrolling gameplay in AC Chronicles: China allows the game to strip away a lot of the bloat in mainline AC games and focus purely on the stealth/assassination aspect of the series. If you’re familiar with Mark of the Ninja then you’ll immediately feel right at home. You can stick to the shadows to easily sneak past guards, use various tools to cause distractions, and even temporarily blind enemies if the situation calls for it. Vision cones, character highlights, and circular splashes around your feet make it pretty easy to know if you can be detected. Sneaking by guards is fluid as you’re able to quickly dash between hiding places and getting Gold ranks for each section of a stage is really rewarding. Ratings are determined by how well you did in each section (most sections are very short allowing for around a dozen ranks a stage) and what your approach was. If you got through an area completely unseen then you’ll get a Shadow Gold, but if you went in and fought your way through a handful of guards you’ll get a Brawler rank. With a few exceptions (assassination targets) you can get through the vast majority of the game in stealth and without any kills.
The ranks you receive will determine your score and that will ultimately determine what upgrades you earn at the end of each stage. You can potentially unlock more health or higher ammo capacity for each tool. Some levels have multiple upgrades and to unlock everything you’ll have to play through on the game’s Plus mode. Additionally levels contain side objectives (typically freeing people who are captured) and hidden collectibles. These collectibles can unlock entries in the Animus Database with some specifically unlocking pieces of Shao Jun’s backstory. Finding everything isn’t too difficult as everything is shown on your map and for the most part left out in the open. If you do miss something it’s easy to backtrack or take one of multiple other routes through a level.
There are a couple stages that focus on escaping an area instead of taking things slow and sticking to shadows. In these levels you’ll run through burning buildings, slide under falling debris, take out unsuspecting guards, and perform all sorts of other parkour stunts. While there’s only a couple of these stages in the game I liked having them to change things up from the core stealth gameplay. In fact a few more escape sequences probably wouldn’t have been a bad idea.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is pretty refreshing in that it’s nice to just focus on what’s good about the AC series. There’s a lot I like about the game, but at the same time I kept finding myself bored. Levels drag for a bit too long and things don’t really get all that challenging up until the end. Some of the stiffness in control from the mainline games also shows up here in a few instances. The combat, which is like a simplified version of the standard AC combat, can be pretty clunky and I recommend you try to avoid it if possible.
If nothing else it’s nice to see something that’s at least a little different from the usual Assassin’s Creed game. The first Chronicles entry isn’t perfect, but it’s a good starting point. There’s a solid foundation here that, if expanded upon, could bode very well for the India and Russia games. This is also the first time I’ve enjoyed an Assassin’s Creed game in years so it’s clearly doing something right.
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What I Like:
- Focus on stealth above all else
- UI makes it easy to tell when you're hidden/visible
- Backdrops for each stage look really great
- Escape stages are pretty fun
What I Dislike:
- Stages tend to drag for a bit too long
- Gameplay isn't really expanded upon as you progress
- Combat can be a bit clunky at times
- Hardly any kind of story