written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Assassin's Creed Chronic!es: China marks the first entry in the 2.5D Chronicles series set to shed some light on a new set of assassins without having to devote resources to a full-fledged AC title. China follows Shao Jun, fans of the series will remember her being mentioned in Assassin’s Creed III as the Chinese assassin who brought the rope dart over to the assassins of the West; more hardcore fans of the series will recognize her from Assassin's Creed Embers, a short animated film that centers around Ezio Auditors late in his life as he trains a young Shao Jun.
There’s quite a bit going on here, if classic Prince of Persia strikes you as part of China's gaming DNA… you wouldn’t be wrong there. Gameplay is presented on a flat plane with Shao Jun being able to free run left and right/up and down across levels that feature foreground and background traversal. The biggest plus was the map, unlike a game like Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate where trying to make sense of the map was a confusing mess, reading China's map is simple and straight forward. As far as navigation goes, it's never too hard to go from point A to point B, something always appreciated in games.
If you are hoping for a side scrolling version of AC combat, you may be let down in this department. While you can fight and counter and block, the precision required is almost cripplingly unforgiving. The game likes to make you think you can tackle each encounter however you want, but there is an invisible and very clear “right way” to do things. The game feels like it goes out of its way not to reward your creativity, something AC titles on console and PC do well with.
Stealth is competent enough; you sneak into shadows and hide out of an enemy’s line of sight to sneak up on them. Various tools allow you to either lure, stun, or kill enemies. It’s clear that this game wants you to be stealthy throughout the whole engagement. That would be fine if it wasn’t for how clunky the stealth combat felt. Positioning Shao Jun felt more like a chore, lacking the fluidity Assassin’s Creed Unity had… yes I’m referencing a broken game with the descriptor of “fluid.”
The whole story is by large forgettable. Shao Jun is taking on the Templars of China because… Templars. Nothing drives her forward for the player and the story felt like something they just threw in at the last second. As wooden as the story felt, the voice acting followed in kind. I don’t know if they were trying to direct the voice actors to sound like “enlightened Chinese people” but the breathy delivery of every line that felt devoid of any emotion just struck me as boring. Take a film like Disney’s Mulan for instance, the cast was full of Asian American actors who voiced their characters wonderfully, I knew they were Asian yet they didn’t have to sound like a bad stereotype from an English language documentary about anything “China” to make me think, “oh, Chinese people.” The entire cast, as far as I know, is devoid of any Asian voice over artists… save for the throw away background audio from guards speaking Chinese.
Speaking of the guards, the lack of subtitles puzzles me. I usually like to play an Assassin’s Creed game with subtitles so I can read the translation of native language words/phrases said in the game. On a larger note, this completely alienates any deaf gamers who may want to pick this up.
While visually, I like the art style and found myself admiring the between mission cutscenes and the gameplay, all the pretty faces can’t make a good game. This game felt heavily inspired by Mark of the Ninja from Klei Entertainment. But while MotN it a stellar way to incorporate stealth AND combat into a side scroller, China just disappoints in many respects.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China felt thrown together at the last minute. Perhaps Ubisoft was too busy picking up the pieces from their Unity debacle they couldn’t afford to put any time toward this game. This felt like a cheesy mobile game, lacking much of the heart and soul of why I love the Assassin’s Creed series. I hope they do something with the engine and gameplay before Russia and India, Lord knows we need more POC protagonists in the Assassin’s Creed universe.