It's not that Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China is a bad game, it's just that it isn't a terribly exciting one. An Assassin's Creed game should be exciting, right? Tearing around rooftops, jumping off tall buildings, sneaking through the shadows, stabbing people in the neck. You'd expect that kind of action to get the blood pumping, wouldn't you?
Even with the emphasis so squarely on stealth as it is here, you'd expect playing to induce some sort of tension in you. But it doesn't. Failure results in a shrug and a restart, now safe in the knowledge that you don't slide behind that pillar until that guard has looked over his shoulder and walked on.
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China is the first in a trilogy of tales, number two and three to be set in India and Russia respectively. You'll take up the mantle of Shao Jun returning to China, after two years with Ezio Auditore in Italy (Shao Jun also appeared in the animated short Embers). With revenge in her heart, she's back to re-establish the Chinese Assassin's brotherhood and kill those responsible for its downfall in the first place - a band of powerful imperial court eunuch known as The Eight Tigers.
What follows, over the course of twelve essentially linear levels, is a fairly standard revenge tale across mountain prisons, through the Emperor's Palace - The Forbidden City, to the country's Great Wall. It's presented as 2.5D sidescroller, with a great looking Chinese watercolour aesthetic and some charming animatic cutscenes to bookend each level. Gameplay flows left to right generally, but there's ample opportunity to move into both the foreground and background for the appearance of added depth.
If you've ever played Mark of the Ninja from Klei Entertainment, you'll be familiar with the format on offer here. Guards patrol, and you're charged with avoiding or killing them, whilst avoiding their vision cones. The number and variety of guards increases as you progress, as does their proficiency in killing you.
But with that comes the expansion of your move set and arsenal of assassin's tools. It's always fun to see how Ubisoft have adapted the now traditional AC kitbag to fit the period settings. In this case Shao Jun is fittingly equipped with Chinese sword, a rope dart, firecrackers and the essential hidden blade tucked away in her shoe.
On top of the ever increasing guard presence there are environmental noise makers - dogs, bird cages, squeaky floors - to worry about. There is scope for experimentation with your gadgets, as well as plenty of places to hide - pillars, bushes, bamboo curtains, alcoves - and dash between. Hiding is good - you will tend towards stealth, simply to avoid getting into swept into any of the rather clunky melee combat.
Each level is split into sections which are scored depending on how you played them. You can earn gold, silver or bronze levels or three ranks, Shadow (no kills, not spotted), Assassin (stealth kills, not spotted), Brawler (combat kills, spotted), and your points total leading to health and ammo upgrades. You'll earn the most points for achieving a Gold Shadow rating, less for being a Brawler. Another reason to stick to the shadows.
Easily the best levels in the game are those that do away with the scoring system, tasking you with a swift escape of an area and permitting you to kill whoever is fool enough to get in your way. It's these levels that felt the most like Assassin's Creed to me. Running full tilt, leaping over and sliding under obstacles, taking out enemies whilst on the move, not breaking stride. That's what I came here for. Sadly, there are only three of these throughout.
The biggest letdown of all, and I think this is what leaves the game feeling as flat as it does, is the sound. The music in-game is verging on non-existent. It ramps up slightly when you enter into combat, but if you're slinking around unnoticed, it's a remarkably quiet affair. And it doesn't do the atmosphere any favours. The voice acting in the cutscenes is equally uninspiring, with little to no emotion displayed, it evokes nothing in return.
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China is, put simply, an enjoyable but largely mediocre AC diversion until Syndicate arrives. I suspect the remainder of the series will perform the same function, provided they're released before Jacob and his sister murderise their way across Victorian London. The Indian and Russian chronicles may serve up something more interesting than China, but I fear they may just be more of the same.
GameDynamo's Score for Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China (XB1)
Eoin has been gaming for twenty-five years, worries he might be getting a little too old for it all, but hopes that he isn't. In the midst of an effort to find a future doing something he loves, he has taken to writing about his one enduring passion - video games.
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