Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China Review (Xbox One)
Many have clamored for an Assassin's Creed game set in the Eastern part of the world. Feudal China, the samurai age of Japan, and more would be an ideal setting for a full AC release. Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China attempts to quell that clamoring with a taste of what an AC game set in this part of the world could be while also introducing a new and experimental way to play, but if this is the best Ubisoft could do, perhaps we're all better off with the status quo.
The shift from 3D open-world to 2D side-scroller is an interesting one for this franchise, transforming it from what I'm used to into a Mark of the Ninja-style game of stealth. There are plenty of places to hide and even more ways to avoid combat, and the game actively awards me for sticking to the shadows. I can hide in the background or the foreground, on the ceiling or the walls, and I can quickly assassinate enemies and hide their bodies where I was once hiding. The stealth aspect of Assassin's Creed is perfectly implemented, feeling the same as if I were stalking prey in an open 3D world.
Just like other Assassins before her, Shao Jun has a small arsenal of items at her disposal that I can use to keep myself hidden from enemies. Throwing knives can cut ropes holding platforms or hanging boxes, the latter making noise and drawing guards to it. The Noise Dart and Firecrackers let me make my own distractions anywhere on the screen and force guards to that position. When those run out, I can just whistle and the guards will come running. The ability to turn the environment into my plaything as I try to stay hidden is a big advantage that makes strategizing my approach that much more interesting.
Despite the freedom of environmental control, no matter how hard I try to be silent and stealthy, something gets in the way and causes me to make noise unintentionally. Dogs in cages will bark and draw enemies if I approach, as will birds in their cages if I walk by too fast. In some areas I can walk on the floor too loudly and cause enemies to hear me thanks to creaky floorboards. While this makes for tense moments where I'm surrounded by guards and one false step could kill me, it also makes the game damn near impossible, and that could turn some people off.
The more I played through Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China the more I understood why the game wants me to avoid combat: it makes the game nearly unbearable. There are three main buttons to know during a fight: light attack, heavy attack, and block. Combos are possible by stringing attacks together, but the enemy always seems to interrupt a combo with his own attack after a certain number of hits, and attempting to finish a combo with a heavy attack always seems to place Shao Jun just out of reach for that heavy attack to connect.
Oh, and that block button requires timing so precise that it never seems to work, which is a problem in the beginning of the game as Shao Jun only has one bar of health. Nothing seems to work in my favor when it comes time to actually fight a guard, forcing me to stick to stealth as my main strategy; sometimes I just want to stab a guy in the face. Ironically, the best way to quench that bloodthirst is to stay hidden and assassinate a guard silently, but who wants to do that with every single guard they face?
I don't fault Ubisoft for trying something different with its acclaimed Assassin's Creed franchise, and in some respects there's a lot to like. However when the game stumbles it does so in grand fashion, creating an infuriating experience that makes me want to throw my controller more than continue on my quest. With two more of these Assassin's Creed Chronicles on the way, I can only hope that the problems I see here can be fixed for the next go-round, or else I'll once again find myself wishing for the real Assassin's Creed experience instead of this experiment.
This review was completed using a purchased download of Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China for the Xbox One.