Assassin’s Creed Chronicles opens with Shao Jun stuck in a dangling cage. She is being held captive by a ‘group of corrupt eunuchs’ (i.e. Templars). It is also revealed that she was once a concubine. I feel that something could be read into this. I don’t know quite what. Maybe it’s an aggressively sex-positive story.
The game itself is a 2.5D stealth platformer. Presumably as a result of the loss of half a dimension, women have become easier for Ubisoft to animate, and so the lead for the first installment of Chronicles is a woman. Shao Jun may even be familiar to those who saw Assassin’s Creed: Embers, an animated short in which she meets Ezio Auditore—the protagonist of Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood. The story features the box which Ezio gave her, the Precursor box that appears throughout the Assassin’s Creed series. The actual plot is fairly sparse, albeit presented with beautiful cutscenes. It centers on the concept of revenge and whether that’s an okay thing to pursue, ethically. There’s nothing really meaty there, but Shao Jun is a moderately compelling character, coming across as awfully calm for someone who is driven by a desire for vengeance.
Whilst the game does nothing particularly interesting in terms of its story, this game is easily better than any of the main AC titles when it comes to the stealth mechanics. Guards have a clear marked out line of vision, you have the ability to track their movements, and a range of toys are open to you for distraction purposes. You can hang from ceilings and hide yourself behind pillars and in cupboards. The 2D style allows you a better view of your surroundings, a timer tells you how long it will be before the guards go back to their routine. Playing this game felt like solving a puzzle. It’s all very Mark of the Ninja except, you know, worse.
In Mark of the Ninja, I felt like a spider darting around. Everything was much cleaner, much smoother. In Assassin’s Creed Chronicles, it’ll sometimes take a while to hide a guard’s body because you need to press the button at the exact right spot. Chronicles also features stunning, mo-capped, weighty animations. Still, I’d have personally preferred controls that were a trifle more responsive.
As you play, you are rewarded for playing consistently towards a particular style. There are three styles: shadow, assassin, and brawler. You get more points for playing as a shadow, which you can do by avoiding the sight of guards and refraining from murdering them. The assassin kills without being noticed and the brawler goes in all guns blazing. The points you receive go towards upgrades and unlocking new abilities. Each style was rewarding in its own right, but I did feel that you were perhaps given too many abilities or, rather, that I spent too much time in tutorials. I was placed in one every thirty minutes or so, it felt like. Not that they weren’t entertaining—the combat ones feature Ezio teaching Shao Jun with endless waves of Templars. I like the implication that Ezio had captured a small army of them, held them in the Italian countryside, and kept them so his apprentices had people to train with.
Aside from the stealth/combat sections, there were also run sequences. They made for a nice change of pace and it was very rewarding to be able to slide, kill a man, and continue on my merry way. I do have some mixed feelings about them because there comes a point where the dramatic music and the slow-mo parts get diminishing returns when you have to redo them as a result of not jumping at the exact right time. By the way, there might have been no slow-mo—I could have been experiencing lag instead. Overall, the game ran fine, but I did notice that it slowed down towards the end and in scenes that were dense with explosions.
The setting marks a departure from the standard Western fare AC games offer up, being set in China. You visit Macau and the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. Now, none of these places are particularly close together. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they’re far apart. It’s as if they decided to go to places that they’d heard of, which is a fair approach. Still, there’s not the level of detail that goes into designing the main games. China is treated as a rather homogenous land, which seems a little unfair. I am glad, however, that Ubisoft seems so willing to open up the AC series to new continents and cultures. The next Chronicles games will be set in India and Russia, and based on my experience with China, I can confidently say that I am not completely uninterested in them.
A decent, short-ish stealth platformer with a great art style. Best enjoyed without any knowledge of Mark of the Ninja. Probably objectively a better game than any other in the Assassin’s Creed series, but clearly lacks the adventure that the main games have.