Developers: Climax Studio, Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: April 21st, 2015
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PlayStation 4. There may be differences between versions.
China has been one of the most highly requested settings for an Assassin’s Creed game for quite a while. While Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is not a full AAA game, rather a 2.5d stealth platformer in the vein of Mark of the Ninja, it does a good enough job using the setting and making a fun game to be worth the $10 it’s asking for.
Chronicles: China follows the story of Shao Jun, a name that fans of Assassin’s Creed lore should already know. Fresh out of her training with famed Assassin leader, and Assassin’s Creed 2 protagonist, Ezio Auditore, Shao Jun goes back to her homeland to try and overthrow the Templar group known as the Eight Tigers. She brings with her an item of great power, hidden inside of a box. Unfortunately, the box is stolen, so Shao Jun must also recover that while taking out the Eight Tigers. Told mostly through some surprisingly beautiful paintings, Chronicles: China does not contain a particularly complicated tale, but it does enough to make it worth going through at least. If nothing else, the scrolls that I could find that tell Shao Jun’s background history is very interesting. There’s also no modern day storyline this time around, which I personally view as a good thing.
Unlike the main entries to the Assassin’s Creed series, Chronicles: China is a 2.5d platformer. Shao Jun can only move right and left, and sometimes into the foreground or background. Using a variety of tools, she’s going to want to avoid enemies as she carries out her goals. To assist with this all enemies have a “cone of vision” that shows exactly where they can see. Stay in the cone of vision too long, and Shao Jun will be attacked by enemies. Shao Jun can sort of defend herself, but direct combat is extremely clunky and awkward. Shao can block attacks and deliver some weak counter attacks, along with some clunky sword play, but if I threw myself at every enemy then I was going to die more often than defeat enemies. The real goal here is to remain hidden.
To do that Shao has plenty of abilities she can rely on. She carries three different items with her: throwing knives to cut ropes or trigger distant traps, noise darts to distract enemies, and firecrackers to stun them. Using these three items Shao needs to get through each level by avoiding and assassinating guards. Levels can get pretty fun, allowing me several ways of getting to my goal. Sometimes I would be able to hide in bushes or behind curtains that required me to stay still to avoid enemy’s gazes. Other times I could use Shao’s rope daggers to clime up to the ceiling and climb along there, dropping down upon distracted guards. Each movement is accompanied by a circle that shows just how much noise Shao is making and who would be able to hear it. It’s blatantly borrowed from Mark of the Ninja, but as far as mechanics that really make my life easier and actually enjoy stealth goes, I truly appreciated it.
Later in the game Shao also gains access to the Helix Bar, which is the one way the futuristic Animus-related stuff of the Assassin’s Creed universe does burst in. By sacrificing a little bit of the bar Shao can temporarily turn into what is basically a bit of data and warp from hiding spot to other nearby hiding spots without being seen, even if it involves passing through a cone of vision. It’s a useful mechanic that is totally necessary to use in some of the later levels. Each level also sees me getting graded for how I went through it. Points are earned, and if enough points are earned by the end of the level then I could unlock some active and passive buffs for Shao. Each level also contained secondary objectives that involved everything from assassinating specific targets, to freeing hostages, to finding hidden items in the level. Good extra challenge, thankfully some of the frustrating ones can be skipped.
Not all levels were purely stealth affairs though. A couple of levels are much faster paced and instead involve Shao running away from a threat (usually an exploding building or an out of control fire). They’re a pretty good, and sometimes exciting, break from the usual game. Often they involve the game’s simplistic platforming and preforming fast and dirty assassinations before any of the enemies know where Shao is. A few boss fights scattered in the game provide reasonable changes of pace, but don’t really mesh well with the stealth heavy gameplay and clunky combat system. After finishing the game, which took me about 5 or 6 hours, I could replay it in Plus mode that allowed me to repeat levels with all my newly unlocked skills and buffs, and even earn some new ones.
While I would have loved a full fledged Assassin’s Creed game set in China, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China manages to more than make up for it by being a lot of fun for a low cost. It’s a little clunky at times, but give this game a chance and you may just find Shao Jun to be joining the best Assassins.