Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China Review
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
April 20, 2015
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is a decent attempt at converting the Assassin’s Creed experience into a side-scrolling form-factor, but it lacks heart. The pieces are all there, but they are patched together in a dry, passionless way that left me feeling emptier the longer I played it.
Chronicle’s uninspired story is probably the best example of this. It’s stitched loosely together with still drawing sequences that bookend each level. Apparently the main character, an assassin named Shao Jun is out for revenge against the Templars for…something. The voice actors playing the two main characters sounded positively bored throughout, making it hard for me to connect my actions with their motivations in any meaningful way.
Fortunately the game itself is more well-constructed than its story, though it feels no less dispassionate. Chronicle’s muted colors and sparse environments make levels feel hollow, but they’re incredibly well laid out. Smart use of multiple background layers makes each area feel like a place rather than a flat plane these characters exist on. They also stretch out as far vertically as they do horizontally, providing multiple paths to your objectives. Exploring and seeing how the different paths connect to one another is probably the best part of Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China.
Except, perhaps, for the occasional sections where you need to make a fast getaway, fluidly running, sliding and killing without missing a step. In these moments, Chronicles feels like an endless runner, and it’s almost better off for it; the actual stealth gameplay that makes up its core feels safe, even tepid by comparison. There’s a pleasing number of variables in play: differently-armed enemies that require specific attacks to defeat, the ability to hang off ledges, and the option to grapple your way up to certain ceilings. Particularly for a side-scroller, there’s a lot of tools at your disposal.
Variety isn’t the problem, rather, it’s the simplicity of the answers. Chronicles gives you lots of different tools and obstacles, but the one you’re supposed to use at any given time is pretty obvious. There’s some room for improvisation, but it usually boils down to playing by the unwritten rules, and waiting a few seconds for guards to return to their regular patrol routes if you break from the script. Rarely did I feel rewarded for being clever.
Even direct combat, which usually makes me feel powerful in other Assassin’s Creeds, feels oddly subdued. Battle animations are smooth, but devoid of style or energy. Interestingly, it’s more challenging than the combat found in the main series, with precision timing being required to even block incoming attacks. Coupled with the fact that you can only take a couple of hits before going down, and suddenly, taking on even two enemies at once becomes a test. This places a pleasing emphasis on staying out of trouble, with the option to fight your way out if you have the skill, but combat is conveyed in such a visually lackluster way, that it never felt thrilling. In fact, being a skilled assassin never felt so plain.
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