Ubisoft recently announced we would be able to explore other historical settings with Assassin’s Creed Chronicles, a trilogy that will make us travel from China to India and then Russia. The first chapter, China, is finally here and players have the delight to be put in the boots of Shao Jun. She is the female assassin we saw interact with an old Ezio Auditore. You may want to refresh your memory with Assassin’s Creed Embers short film.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China
The story of this first chapter narrates Shao Jun’s attempts to stop the Tigers, a group of Templar agents that manipulated Zhu Houcong, also known as the Jiajing Emperor, into initiating a purge of the Chinese Assassin Brotherhood. Shao Jun returns from her adventures in Italy with Ezio back to China only to realize she and her old master are the last ones of the Chinese Brotherhood. The Templars have succeeded in eliminating all of her assassin brothers, and with nothing to lose we start looking for revenge, tracking and killing the main members of the Tigers while trying to recover and uncover the secrets of the First Civilization box she received from Ezio.
If you are looking for a new experience that will shake and dramatically change the Assassin’s Creed universe, I have bad news for you: You won’t find that here. Chronicles: China is meant to offer a brief change of pace in a 2.5d side scroller game similar to what Price of Persia delivered once and recent titles like Mark of the Ninja improved upon. We have had the opportunity to briefly taste this with Gameloft’s Assassins Creed titles, a company known mainly for its mobile games, but this is the first time this approach is transferred to PC and consoles, so don’t expect a simple side scrolling experience with this title.
It is also worth noting that the developer is not Ubisoft but Climax, and they decided to avoid Ubisoft’s praised UbiArt framework 2.5D engine developed by Ubisoft Montpellier and used in really notorious titles like recent Rayman games, Child of Light and Valiant Hearts. Instead, Climax decided to use Unreal Engine 3. The engine still delivers good graphics and animations, but it would be unfair to compare them to 3d titles. The only main issue I can think of is some interactive elements like wind chimes being hard to distinguish from the background, but this only enhances the utility of Eagle Vision.
The game is mostly linear, with a primary goal in each sequence and side quests that will vary from killing specific guards to light candles and pay respects for the lost ones. There are several areas hidden or hard to reach with rewards and items that will increase your score, but most of the synchronization points, animus data fragments and treasure chests will be placed in your main route. Higher scores will make the difference between unlocking extra bonuses and achievements or just completing the sequence.
Each level is filled with enemies, objects to interact with and places to hide. Each level is also divided in stages, and you will receive an score in each one depending on your style and performance. You can sneak around doors, roofs or docks without alerting or killing anyone, and this will give you points as a Shadow. You can also end everyone without being discovered, earning points as an Assassin. And lastly, you can go full bananas and pick up fights in the open, letting the enemies use their alarms and call for reinforcements. If you are lucky enough to survive, you will gain points as a Brawler.
Sneaking around is somehow easy since you can see the range vision of each guard. The difficulty and fun of the game relies on you using your Eagle Vision to study enemy patterns and quickly spot hiding spots and obstacles like wind chimes, birds or dogs.
To sneak on difficult places you have different available tools. You can whistle to lure enemies to your spot and offer a quick and safe death, you have firecrackers to briefly stun them, and finally you have daggers and noise darts to cause distractions and break their patterns and lure them away for a few seconds.
If nothing works and you are force to fight, you will be glad to know that the combat system is somehow easy to pick up but hard to master. Common enemies will only need basic moves like we have seen in the old and classic Prince of Persia, and this means that attacking and blocking will be more than enough. Harder enemies will use shields to parry and block any kind of damage until you destroy them, two-handed weapons, some of them have the ability to grab you and throw you in the middle of the heat and others will use use shurikens or ranged weapons like crossbows. Our old master will be there to teach us how to deal with them, but if you pick up a fight with 4 or 5 different enemies at once it will usually mean a quick death.
Unfortunately, the game is rather short and this is helped by the constant save points that will avoid repetition. The title also sports a new game plus with extra goals and harder challenges that will need several hours if you are an achievement hunter.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is a really good experience. While short, it provides a nice amount of replay value with the achievements and new game plus challenges, specially for as low as $9,99 in either Steam or Uplay, and free if you picked up the Unity’s season pass. The music and sound could have been polished a bit before release, but the voice acting quality is as good any other title in the franchise.