Climax Studios’ Assassin’s Creed Chronicles is a spinoff trilogy of the popular franchise and eschews the third-person action of the main games for 2.5D action platforming. The first instalment, set in China and starring female assassin Shao Jun, received mixed reviews, with poor AI and lacklustre story cited as major negatives. So hot on its heels we have Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India. Does it manage to right the wrongs of the series’ beginnings and give us a compelling AC experience? Unfortunately that question is resolved firmly in the negative. The game shares the same problems with dull storytelling as its predecessor, and when you throw in the clunky control scheme and tedious trial-and-error stealth you’ve got a recipe for a fairly unenjoyable experience.
Hanging out with assassins is always risky business
ACC:I is set in mid-19th century India, a time dominated by tensions between the Sikh Empire and the British East India Company. Against this backdrop you take control of assassin Arbaaz Mir, who must track down a powerful relic that has fallen into Templar hands. If this story setup sounds uninspired, it’s because it is, and both Arbaaz’s character and the overarching plot end up displaying about the same amount of dimensionality as the platforming. The time period that this tale is lifted from is actually quite interesting, and definitely offers the opportunity to present a story with a little depth, but instead we get surprisingly little exposition and next to no feeling of inspiration derived from the turbulent setting. This is surprising for an Assassin’s Creed game, which despite any other criticisms you might level at them, generally do a commendable job of presenting curious alternative histories that intertwine with actual recorded history.
The lack of a good story would be forgivable if the gameplay itself was compelling, however in this aspect too ACC:I tends to stumble like an inebriated elephant more often than not. Within each level your objectives are fairly simple in that you must navigate through each area while avoiding guards until you reach the end. There are some secondary objectives, but the overwhelming majority of what you have to do is get from point A to point B. One of my main issues with the game is the way in which you are given so little freedom in choosing which way to achieve this. There are three styles you can align with, however only one of them really gives you an adequate amount of points, and these are relatively important as they unlock upgrades for Arbaaz’s kit. Shadow is the most rewarded style, where you are required to remain unseen and progress without touching a single guard (including non-lethal takedowns which will immediately demote you to Silencer style). The lowest of the low is Assassin style, which is what you’ll get if you kill a single guard within a section. The unfortunate thing is that Assassin style is by far the most fun out of the three, and it’s unclear why you’re given so many cool ways to kill people but are then so heavily discouraged from doing so. Sliding between a clueless guard’s feet and slicing them up or popping out from a hiding spot and mercilessly annihilating two guards at the same time is as satisfying as it sounds, but the developers have managed to make this much less appealing by severely punishing any style that isn’t ultra-pacifist stealth. I appreciate that ultra-pacifist stealth is the hardest of the three to maintain, but it feels very anti-Assassin’s Creed to have my play style so constrained. Whatever happened to nothing is true and everything is permitted? Fortunately, not all levels are scored like this, others are simply scored on overall time and you are given absolute discretion as to whether to take down the guards or not. Moments like running from an elephant stampede while jumping over a tripwire and seamlessly nailing a guard in the back with my hidden blade are the closest the game comes to realising any sort of potential, and if more of this style of gameplay had been incorporated the experience would have benefited greatly.
ACC:I is at times quite unforgiving in its difficulty, and very early on it throws you into tough situations to navigate. Vision cones of the guards are visible, but sometimes an area is so thick with guards all you can really do is hope for the best while determining
Killing people ends up being more enjoyable than worrying about the score penalties
Unfortunately, Afro Moustache Man makes only a brief appearance
what you can and can’t get away with in a certain section. The AI is actually freakishly vigilant and will they will generally check all 2.5 dimensions of their surrounds. As soon as they catch sight of even the smallest sub-atomic particle of Arbaaz’s being they will raise the alarm. While the gameplay more often than not descends into trial-and-error frustration, I did appreciate some of the genuine challenge it threw at me. On the other hand, I did not appreciate the occasionally imprecise and unresponsive controls nor the lack of fluidity in Arbaaz’s movement. Too many times I would find myself accidentally climbing up onto a ledge rather than hanging off it, ending up face-to-face with an enemy guard’s rifle muzzle. Furthermore, some sections give you extremely narrow time windows to complete them, and having to fight the somewhat stilted climbing controls as I pursued a target or attempted to escape an area was the antithesis of fun.
…it’s unclear why you’re given so many cool ways to kill people but are then so heavily discouraged from doing so.
So many vision cones, so little time
Occasionally you are given free rein to eliminate enemies as you see fit
Possibly the only consistent positive in ACC:I is the visuals, which are inarguably quite beautiful. The 2.5D style is well represented and you are given a real sense of depth to the environments, almost like you are crawling around a layered diorama. The colours are strong and vibrant and truly capture the feel of India, although a lack of variety in distinct environment types is disappointing.
The art style and the use of colour and perspective are a highlight
ACC:I is a relatively ordinary game whose beauty is not enough to hide its thoroughly average gameplay and a terrible story that’s about as deep as a thimble full of water. Mechanically, the frustrating controls and punishment for pursuing any other style of assassin than the bleeding-heart-all-life-is-sacred variety make it a chore to play. Occasionally, some of the game’s ideas gel into something cohesive and we get a fleeting glimpse of its potential, but it’s never long before the gameplay descends back into mediocrity. This one’s probably only going to be appealing to hardcore AC fans but even those might be forgiven for giving this one a miss. Here’s hoping that Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia can give the trilogy a fitting send-off later this year.
Reviewed on PS4