After the success of Child of Light and Valiant Hearts, Ubisoft may have found a formula to stick with when it comes to their downloadable games. What made games like these successful was due to taking original premises and giving them to a small team to create them with the care they deserved. So, what happens though when you take that particular route of developing games and base it off an already existing franchise?
The Assassins Creed franchise, over the last year, has had its issues. Not only with the buggy Unity game we received over the holidays, but with the argument that the series is past the point of franchise fatigue, and even after we have gotten two games late last year with another one the way this holiday season, Ubisoft Montreal and developer Climax Studios has decided to grace us with three more games before then in the form of three separate, download only, 2.5D plat-former games in the Assassins Creed series called, Assassins Creed Chronicles.
The first game to be bestowed upon us in this set of games is Assassins Creed Chronicles: China. Does China reinvigorate the franchise, or is it too little too late?
This story focuses on Shao Jun, a member of the Chinese Brotherhood of Assassins that infiltrates the Eight Tigers clan, a Templar group, to avenge the deaths of those who died in the attempt to kill off everyone in the brotherhood. While there is much more to the tale, this story does tie into one of the assassins we have already met in previous games, so we will keep it a bit vague.
The story is told using beautifully rendered living art that in reminiscent of old Chinese ink wash paintings. The use of colors, mostly browns, blacks, greys, and red, gives this Assassins Creed a personality of its own and helps the game distinguish itself from the others.
Many of the usual tropes that make the AC games what we know them to be are still intact; eagle vision to open up the map to find hidden treasures, leap of faiths into barrels of hay, blending in with crowds to keep from being spotted, de-synchronizations, and of course assassinations. The use of the 2D environments allows the player to use new hiding techniques in the game, a welcome addition, which allows us to enjoy a new game in the series without relying completely on recycled ideas.
New additions include the use of the rope that allows the player to climb to ceilings to avoid detection in the game, as well as the occasional foot blade, where Shao kicks a guard in the neck resulting in puncturing their throat. While these new additions are great, we wished there was more do with them instead of just waiting for the event to happen as they are needed. Instead of climbing onto ceilings, we really wanted to be able to use the rope to assassinate and drag enemies from the sight of other guards. This did not make or break the enjoyment of the game mind you, it was just a want to have the player have more choices in its use of assassinations and combat.
New items and tricks are used in this new entry to help Shao along the way, not to kill enemies, but to distract them. The use of whistling, firecrackers, noise spears and spears to cut rope help the player get through the levels with a bit more ease. The environment is also used extremely well as the use of water, wind chimes and animal noises can set off the guards detection skills if you are not paying attention and don’t take your time. This game, as it should be, is very stealth oriented and you will die more times than expected if you don’t take the time needed to map out a strategy.
Combat is used in the game with the same button set up as other games when it comes to blocking/parrying, light attacks, and heavy attacks. As you progress through the game you learn new button commands and gain new items and while the combat in simple to learn, the execution of it doesn’t work well in the game.
The reason that the combat is almost unnecessary in the game is that if you do get caught, other guards will come to the aid of the guard and finish you off quickly with slim to no chance of getting out of it. You may be able to take out an enemy or two around you, but as you advance in the game, don’t count on taking everyone out like you could in the retail versions of Assassins Creed unless you find a way to run away to get out of sight.
On top of that, some of the attacks come off as too slow and hardly give you any time to land a hit. If you parry an attack, it will knock the enemy backwards, but if they have a shield the only way to break it is to use heavy attacks which are too slow and inevitably will get you killed. The best way to play this game is by not even entertaining the thought of taking on an enemy one on one, and only use stealth as you are rewarded by doing so.
However, you are graded at the end of each level based on your combat and stealth skills so it is worth replaying again if you don’t get a perfect gold ranking in either one especially if you are a completionist. The game does a great job of creating a want to go back and do better as most will realize another way they could have gotten past an area in a better way.
While Assassins Creed Chronicles: China is not necessarily a game changer for the franchise, it is a refreshing addition to it and fans of the series should try the game for the low price to get a few hours of challenging gameplay. Admittedly, it took us a while to get used to the mechanics as we had to get our head around the new way to play and see Assassins Creed, which is strange because the button layout is almost the same. It will be interesting to see how they evolve these games in the near future, but AC: China is a great step in a new direction.