Take everything you know about Assassin’s Creed and throw it out the window. Chronicles: China is a wholly different experience — unless you’ve played the Assassin’s Creed mobile games, that is. Forget about that tripe and focus on the here-and-now, ‘cause this is a current-gen improvement.
A 2.5D side-scroller developed by Climax Studios, Chronicles: China is the first of three such adventures. In this instalment, you play as Shao Jun, one of the last Assassins in China. As in most Creeds, Shao is desperate to save her Brotherhood. The events follow on from those of the Assassin’s Creed: Embers animated film, but the movie isn’t required watching.
The easiest way to describe Chronicles: China is to liken it to Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. Though devoid of most of its Metroidvania-style play and with a heavy emphasis on stealth, this Creed has echoes of Arkham’s spin-off. Armed with a sword for killing and noise darts, caltrops and a rope dagger for sneaking (… and killing), Shao proceeds through twelve different memory synchronisations in an effort to — surprise, surprise — thwart the Templars’ plans and save Chinese lives in the process.
There’s a lot to like about Chronicles: China. Unfortunately, there’s also a bunch of stuff to cringe at.
While ultimately a very enjoyable experience, a big problem with China is in its pacing. Even as you near its end, you’re being introduced to new skills and required to take part in new tutorials that could have been introduced far earlier. Once Chronicles’ other two parts — India and Russia — are released, I have a feeling the entire thing will feel more rewarding. That’s provided Climax doesn’t make you go through the tutorial process all over again. Hell, one of Shao’s moves is unlocked after events conclude, so you’ll have to start anew to try it out.
Moreover, China‘s twelve synchronisations lack variety. Environments, while detailed, tend to look generic look and same-y. Secondary objectives are diverse in description but boil down to be copies of one another in terms of goal completion. Standout sequences like dramatic escapes are almost over as quickly as they begin. In this sense, China mirrors the original Assassin’s Creed; it’s more a tech-demo for what Chronicles can offer in the future rather than an actual game in the here-and-now.
The game’s emphasis on stealth will excite lovers of that particular genre, but left a sour taste in my mouth. Assassin’s Creed: Unity‘s redesigned control scheme made an Assassin the ultimate bad-ass, capable of being stealthy when needed and a downright homicidal hack-and-slasher when called for. In short, Arno excelled in both parts equally. Where Unity rewarded either type of play, China quite literally does not.
Stealth is king (or is that emperor?) in China. You will die if you try to fight three or more enemies at once. You might be able to survive longer with some fancy control-work, but ultimately, you’re toast.
Shao ends up looking weak. She’s great at hiding and tiptoeing around, but has her hands tied when it comes to her sword. I understand Climax’s push for stealth, but everything needed to be finely polished as a result. Switching from one tool to another on the D-pad is a bit clunky, as is moving through different planes in the 2.5D world. Said awkwardness makes all the difference in the world when you need to complete a combo to either move through the world as a ghost, or stealthily assassinate a number of baddies in your way.
It should be noted at this time that certain aspects of stealth in Chronicles: China are done very well. Enemies’ vision-cones and other on-screen indicators make it easy (in practice) to scope out a situation and plan accordingly. My undoing was because I couldn’t quite get Shao to do what I wanted her do to in sequence.
Again, China includes exciting aspects, but doesn’t quite fit with the current state of Assassin’s Creed. In Unity, I always felt confident and in control. In China, I largely fumble and hope. The silver lining there is, when you do pull off a fairly difficult chain, it’s all the more rewarding.
I want an experience that takes the great combat and stealth sequences of China and combines them into a singular piece of gaming goodness. I want fluidity that is so clearly demonstrated in Unity and missing in this iteration.
In escape sequences, Shao runs through an environment, confidently taking down enemies and being stealthy if needed. Those sequences made me feel like an Assassin. I want more of that. I want that type of movement and freedom to mesh with the patience and plotting that stealth requires in other sequences.
Certain unlockables – and an Achievement or Trophy – rely on you tackling a New Game Plus mode, replaying levels to work on your speed and style. Points are awarded for style and technique, with the most points awarded for finishing sequences and levels without killing anyone or being seen. I wasn’t really feeling the need to go back and play the game again, but I’m sure that will appeal to some of you out there — most likely the stealth fanatics. Hard Plus mode is even more punishing, limiting your health bar to only one point… which means you’d better be damn good at the game’s stealth mechanics before you tackle it.
I’m sounding pretty negative about China, but rest assured, it’s got enough to warrant a try. Core mechanics are in place and manage to capture the core tenants of Assassin’s Creed in its full-blown form. Climax also does a wonderful job of taking the game’s Chinese setting and integrating it into the look and feel of this portion of Chronicles.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Chronicles: China is either free with your almost-defunct Assassin’s Creed: Unity “Season Pass” or between $13-15 AUD for those of you without. Quite simply, and despite my frustrations, China brought more hours of entertainment than the similarly priced Halo: Spartan Strike.
That said, I’d hold off on a purchase until Chronicles: India and Russia come out so you can play through the entire experience as a whole. Or, at the very least, be wowed with subsequent iterations as I hope Climax will improve upon China‘s teething issues.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher.
Review: Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China