‘Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China’ Review

Platforms PS4/XB1/PC
Developer Ubisoft   Publisher Ubisoft
Genre 2.5D Action/Adventure   Platform Played On PC

While Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China had started out as a downloadable incentive to purchase Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s Season Pass, publisher Ubisoft has decided to turn it into a full-fledged, standalone, downloadable game (although AC Unity Season Pass owners still get it for free). So, is it a core entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise dabbling in the 2.5D department? I would say it’s more of a spin-off. Still, due to its surprisingly high-quality gameplay and presentation, I could see Ubisoft either turning it into a regular spin-off franchise (after all, there are two more incoming, one set in India and one in Russia), or bringing China to the 3D world.

AC Chronicles: China tells a short story about Chinese Templars having all but wiped out the Assassin order from their homeland. Protagonist Shao Jun returns from Italy – where she had trained under legendary assassin Ezio Auditore – to restore the order and defeat its enemies. Her adventures lead our heroine through caves acting as prisons for assassins, ports housing ships on which even the smallest step can be heard, bustling markets where the iconic hiding-among-crowds feature makes a return, and fortresses crawling with guards. Unfortunately, besides several main targets and a mysterious box which both sides are fighting for, there’s really nothing else to speak of. It’s to be expected, given the short nature of the game. That said, the potential for something bigger is definitely here. I could see a full-blown, core title, detailing Shao Jun’s ascension from a concubine to the Emperor – acting as his spy, no less – to a full-on assassin. It would kind of be similar to Ezio’s tale, which is ironic, since he’s her mentor, outside China.

Each level in AC Chronicles: China usually features two planes – the standard one and the background – giving players a greater sense of exploration, besides simply creating longer levels. Moving from one plane to another is done by walking across planks/ropes or by swinging via Shao Jun’s rope dart. Some levels even have multiple planes. Speaking of the rope dart, Shao Jun can also attach herself to ceilings, later on, using said tool.

Each level is composed of different sections, while each of those is rated through Styled Grades. Sticking to the shadows, not being seen by anyone and killing no one rewards you with a golden rating and with a higher score, further unlocking upgrades such as an expanded eagle vision sight or increasing the number of knives which Shao Jun can carry. Not only that, but getting caught means your fighting skill are also graded, in addition to your ability of killing without ever being seen.

Secondary objectives, like rescuing fellow assassins, collecting scrolls, or assassinating specific targets offer bonuses such as increasing Shao Jun’s maximum health, in addition to upping your overall score. Besides these, each level also includes the usual, frankly-useless animus fragments, in addition to chests offering insight into Shao Jun’s past. If nothing else, side quests and collectibles raise the replay value of the game, because the enhancements are forgettable, really. Not only that, but the game features two New Game Plus modes, both of which allowing you to further upgrade Shao Jun, the latter even making things harder by giving you only one health box, while enemies react faster.

One of the franchise’s staples is hiding in plain sight. Here, Shao Jun hides from her enemies by going into the background or foreground, just like in Mark of the Ninja, for example. Additionally, early in the game, our protagonist unlocks the ability of quickly dashing from one hiding space to another, making the entire affair even more dynamic and fun. Although ancient gods and magical objects have been present in the series ever since the first entry, every Assassin’s Creed game has been grounded in reality, when it comes to the actual gameplay (expect for Eagle Vision, I suppose). In AC Chronicles: China, however, later on, Shao Jun is able to dash from one hiding place to another, without ever being seen. Obviously, players can only do this if they have enough Helix power, which can be refilled throughout levels. At full Helix power, you can even one-hit-kill your enemies. Speaking of Eagle Vision, said feature makes a return, now allowing you to predict a guard’s movement patterns, just like in Hitman Absolution.

Of course, this wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed game without the two, most iconic features: synchronizing an area by standing atop a great building/landscape and assassinating guards from hiding places such as bushes or the ever-loved-but-sometimes-weird-placed haystacks. Speaking of bushes, this time around, moving through them while under a guard’s cone will reveal yourself, so you’ll have to remain stationary until said cone passes you or turns around.

As with any other assassin, Shao Jun has several tools at her disposal. One of the first tools players will use is the firecracker, which stuns enemies for a few seconds, giving them the opportunity of sneaking by or quickly disposing of them. Another tool comes in the form of throwing knives, used to create new paths and distract enemies – by cutting a rope which sustains a couple of crates, for example – although it won’t kill them. Finally, the noise darts offer the same outcome as whistling, although these can be thrown in any desired direction. Shao Jun can refill all of these three projectiles via ammunition caches found throughout levels. These tools have constantly helped me get out of tricky situations or avoid them altogether, so they’re more than just mere gimmicks made to impress. You can even hide bodies, which might not seem that important at first – giving the fact that you could simply kill everyone – but if you find yourself in an area in which guards can call for reinforcements if they find one such corpse, it might suddenly make sense to hide your misdoings.

Of course, there will be instances when not everything goes according to plan. Caged dogs instantly raise the alarm when going into their awareness cone, attracting the attention of all nearby guards, just like in Mark of the Ninja. Speaking of which, every guard comes with his own vision cone. Just like in previous Assassin’s Creed games, going into a guard’s vision cone turns it to yellow, while a red cone means you’re about to be attacked. Consequently, birds in cages only raise the alarm if Shao Jun runs past them; simply moving or crawling near them will allow you to remain incognito. Wind chimes are harmless, although it can happen for players to stumble upon them, instead of crouching. Of course, you could also use these as opportunities of getting someone’s attention. For example, you could throw a knife at one such wind chime.

When combat comes front and centre, players are offered a pretty simple schematic. Shao Jun features a light and heavy attack, in addition to a finishing move – once an enemy’s health is severely reduced – and a slide and jump kill ability, both of which come into play, later on. Unfortunately, it’s pretty clunky, and I would advise anyone to avoid it, as much as possible. Interestingly, unlike past games where blocking meant pressing a single button just before the enemy strikes, in AC Chronicles: China, players also have to press the button corresponding to the direction of the attack. While nothing ground-breaking or overly different, I find it to be a small-but-welcomed improvement over the simplicity of the game’s big siblings. Not to talk about the awesome rollover manoeuvre which can be performed after a successful block (think AC Revelation‘s hook and run technique).

Getting caught – especially by long-range guards – doesn’t mean the end of Shao Jun, although it noticeably gets harder. Mostly because it’s a bit tricky to block their attacks and generally because you’ll quickly get overwhelmed if guards attack you from both directions. Once again, this is very similar to Mark of the Ninja; you can retaliate, although the surviving chances are severely reduced. Besides the aforementioned long-ranged enemies and the usual grunts, AC Chronicles: China also includes enemies with shields, in addition to those caring lanterns, which are able to detect Shao Jun while she’s hiding in the dark, this adding another small-but-welcomed layer to the challenging nature of the title; well, challenging if you’re trying to obtain a gold mark throughout every level. Additionally, those caring metal shields can only be killed by rolling over them and stabbing from behind. As such, a nice variety of enemies and ways to defeat them keeps AC Chronicles: China‘s combat relatively fresh. When it actually works, that is, which doesn’t happen a lot.

Naturally, this being a 2.5D title, fully-voiced, comic-book-like images act as the game’s cut-scenes, while the actual gameplay of AC Chronicles: China looks very much like Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones, meaning it combines 3D models with oil painting-like backgrounds, in which the red colour is used to guide players towards their next objective, in addition to signalling objects which can be interacted. In short, it’s beautiful.

Even though you can’t compare the Assassin’s Creed franchise with Call of Juarez, I find AC Chronicles: China and Call of Juarez Gunslinger quite similar. Not because of gameplay or graphics (obviously), but because both of these titles have managed to shake up the respective franchises, bringing in something new to an otherwise stale formula, with great success (Gunslinger might have even saved the entire franchise; still waiting for a sequel, by the way). In short, if you enjoy Mark of the Ninja or any other similar, stealth-based title, you’ll definitely be pleased with AC Chronicles: China. It looks great, the platforming mechanics are tights, it has an arcade-y vibe to it, and the replay value is high. The only fault I can find lies in its combat mechanics, which – as I mentioned above – are clumsy, at best. Looking forward to India and Russia.

The Good

  • Tight Platforming Mechanics
  • High Replay Value
  • Fun Tools to Use
  • Beautiful
  • Challenging

The Bad

  • Combat

The Score 8.5