Assassin’s Creed Chronicles China review: Side-stepping a wrong turn
OUT of the wreckage of last November’s wretched Assassin’s Creed Unity comes the Chronicles series, a trilogy of separate but related bite-sized adventures.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China (PS4/XOne/PC); rating: 7.5/10; age: 16+
China was originally intended as downloadable content for Unity but this first in the trilogy stands alone as a low-price release, a palate cleanser while the producers get their act back together. But as a stealth-em-up in 2D (well, 2.5D actually), it bears scant resemblance to the expansive world of Assassin’s Creed and more to 2012’s excellent side-scroller Mark of the Ninja.
Agile female assassin Shao Jun must negotiate the sizeable levels in acrobatic Prince of Persia fashion, all the while using diversionary tactics and caution to avoid patrolling guards.
Combat is actively discouraged, with the greatest rewards for evading detection entirely, yet it often seems the easy option rather than painstakingly sneaking past multiple sentries.
With upgrades doled out between levels for your performance, maximum points are allocated to ghosting your way through a level, staying unseen and harming no one. In itself, this punitive system encourages replay, which is a worthwhile goal given the game's short running time.
China doesn’t lack for gadgets and Shao Jun has a considerable repertoire of moves but gameplay does devolve quickly into a familiar routine. Unpicking the guards’ patrol routes becomes an enjoyable puzzle to crack in itself. But it can be just as engaging to disrupt their prescribed routines and improvise a path through a pack of sentries on heightened alert.
The world is gorgeous to behold, backdropped by detailed watercolours and finished with painterly flourishes in the foreground. The string-led soundtrack adds a soothing undercurrent to the stabby mayhem that occasionally breaks out.
Pity the murky storyline is less well drawn, though, with artful comic-book panels failing to convincingly convey just why you’re creeping, sneaking and leaping.
With two more instalments in the trilogy to come, Chronicles could develop into a fully rounded offshoot of the main franchise.
For now, China is still a better game than the benighted and heavily patched Unity will ever be.