Ubisoft has gone through various periods of history with Assassin’s Creed, from the Crusades in the Middle East, revolutionary France, and even piracy in the Caribbean. This time, with the help of Climax Studios, the Brotherhood and Templars find themselves not just in a new place, 16th century China, but a different game style. Gone is the sprawling open world with the sea of roofs to clamber upon, instead replaced by a 2.5D side-scrolling stealth platformer spanning twelve levels.
This isn’t the first time Ubisoft have toyed with the idea of a side-scroller set in the Assassin’s Creed universe, with Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery first venturing into that territory on iOS and Nintendo DS. Nor is this the first representation of China or protagonist Shao Jun, who appeared alongside Ezio Auditore in the Assassin’s Creed: Embers movie. In fact Chronicles: China is set two years after the events of that film, in a China where the Brotherhood is almost extinct.
Shao Jun is on a quest for vengeance against the group known as The Tigers, a Templar group who rules China from behind the scenes. There are five targets and the missions are structured around finding each of them, though the layout of almost every mission follows the same pattern. This is generally find the vantage point, sync the map, and then get to the target, with the option to tackle secondary objectives such as rescuing people. You do have the option to fight your way through the ranks of soldiers, but ACC: China really pushes you towards using stealth instead.
You could try and fight the guards but a couple of hits will see Shao Jun slip off the mortal coil, and combat in general feels a bit stilted. Shao has the options of a light and heavy attack, as well as the ability to block, dodge and counter. The light attack doesn’t do much damage while heavy takes a bit of time to connect, leaving you open to incoming swings and ranged weapons. Fighting is best left for areas where there are only a couple of guards to worry about.
The stealth gameplay is much more satisfying but will require patience. You can see where you can go without alerting someone as the guards have a cone of vision range, which is white if they’re unaware of your presence, yellow if they suspect something, before going to red when they’re alert and looking for you. To avoid trouble Shao Jun can hide in dark doorways, behind pillars, bales of hay, or just hang from a ledge. However hiding is not always enough as some guards will not move from their posts, and this is where a little misdirection is required.
Shao Jun can either whistle to attract guards towards her for an assassination, or use three other tools. Firecrackers can be thrown at a guard stunning them for a few seconds, though if others are nearby they will hear the noise and come to investigate. In those cases the noise dart can be fired to draw attention to a particular area, which is very helpful when you need to dash into cover behind a few guards. You can also use a throwing knife to do a bit of damage to someone, or drop a crate on their head if there are any suspended nearby.
While the majority of the stealth approach is satisfying it can be let down by the climbing movement now and again. A few times Shao Jun just wouldn’t grab a ledge I needed her to, which in turn led guards to spotting me, resulting in a trip back to the last checkpoint. The checkpoint system is forgiving though as you’re never sent too far from where you last failed.
Each level rewards you with points that unlock upgrades, and the amount you get is determined by how good you are at stealth or combat. To obtain the higher scores you need to get through a level as quickly as possible, remain unnoticed by the guards for as long as possible, and carry out assassinations without being seen. If you get into combat then taking very few hits and killing enemies quickly is the way to a high score. It’s likely that on the first run the highest scores will be unobtainable, but ACC: China also has a New Game Plus mode, where all the skills you have unlocked are available from the beginning.
ACC: China at times looks a bit like a painting in motion, as flags look like they are turning to smoke in the wind and flames flow like water through certain levels. The character models are well done with designs that easily differentiate the type of enemy you may be facing should sneaking fail. It’s a shame then that the voice acting isn’t as good as the visual feast your eyes are treated to.
I couldn’t help but feel Shao Jun sounded uninterested and monotonous as the events unfolded around her, while villains sounded cartoonish at times. In recent mainline Assassin’s Creed titles there has been a major attempt to give depth to characters, blurring the line between good & evil. In ACC: China it feels like Ubisoft has taken a step back in story direction by trying to reinstate that absolute divide.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is a decent change of pace for the franchise. The goals are more focused and deliver some great stealth gameplay across the approximately five hours it takes to complete. With all the open world distractions stripped away I felt like I was playing a proper assassin-based title, with the only focus being to take out the target. The issues with the combat, as well as a story that feels shallow, combined with lackluster delivery, detract from the overall experience.
Version Tested: PS4