To be perfectly honest with you, we were shocked to discover Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China was released in April last year. It felt as if it had been years since its release. That's not a glowing review or a testament of the lasting appeal it left with us. It was a competent 2.5D stealth platformer in the vein of Mark of the Ninja. Fast forward until now and we're getting the second chapter of the trilogy, this time set in India and we're dealing with an experience that is very similar to that of its predecessor. New set of visuals, new story albeit along the same forgettable lines, and largely the same set of mechanics. Where China felt like something fresh, as we embark on India that the novelty has largely worn off.
We mentioned the mechanics, and while most of them were present in one form or another - the Chakram replaces throwing knives and allows for some trick shots - there is a lot of different options. When you're presented with a large room full of enemies that you can work your way around as you see fit, these mechanics shine. Most of the time, however, it feels as if the designer had a certain mechanic in mind when designing the more linear sections, and that's simply not as much fun. But it should be said there is a lot of variation.
Given how we sort of forgot about its predecessor, it is difficult to muster much enthusiasm as we sit down with the controller (tested on Xbox One). It comes across as a concept born out of a board meeting - "here are some settings and scenarios that feel a bit too risky to make into a fully fledged AC game, what could we possibly do with them?" - enter this 2.5D concept that's not a terrible idea, but lacks that urgency and inspiration it would have needed in order to stand out.
The story is one of a treasured object that Assassins and Templars both want, and there's a romantic twist as well when our assassin has fallen in love with a princess. It's told via very brief intermissions, and quite frankly it feels very abbreviated.
The sections we enjoyed most in the game were the ones that focus solely on traversal. There is definitely some fun to be had there, and the same can be said of the challenge rooms where you'll need to exhibit skills with the controls to beat target times and succeed. But these challenge rooms also make a pretty good point about what we don't like about some of the main game, namely that the overview afforded the player here prior to starting his trial allows for the sort of planning needed in the game, whereas during the actual campaign you'll often need to fail first to know what you're dealing with and clear the obstacle the next time around.
There's nothing majorly wrong with Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India. Decent mechanics, although they do take some time getting used to, secrets to discover, fun challenge rooms, aesthetics that work well with the setting; but it simply doesn't gel into a great overall experience. But when you come upon a decent level, the second to last one (sequence 9) comes to mind, or one of the levels inside the caves, and you get into the flow of things, then it's good fun. Maybe it's a case of being overly ambitious when introducing various factors and conditions, or things like the sniper rifle intermissions, that prevent us from enjoying this as much as we enjoyed the first one.
We also find the increased tendency for timed missions or sections where you need to follow someone or escape in a set amount of seconds a bit tiresome after a while. We don't mind that there's no margin to loiter, but as we're not sure what's next it often boils down trying it once and failing, succeeding on the next try as we know what we're facing. It's the sort of trial and error design that gets old quickly. The same can be said of the somewhat long animation sequences that lock you into an action. Dying from a trap as a result of the slow animations as you jump while doing the "monkey bars" is an annoyance, and although the animations are pretty to look at it does make the game feel a bit unresponsive, especially when climbing.
It may just be a result of conditioning as we've played so many platformers where timing your button presses to the exact last pixel of a ledge is a good thing that means we're struggling to adjust to what needs to be a more measured approach. You have to factor in the length of the animation. It's like there's a delay to every input as a result of these lengthy animations. The result is anything but a reactive platformer, and while this is okay during stealth sections it really isn't ideal when there is a timer counting down or when you find yourself in combat (though the actual combat moves are responsive enough).
Another small pet peeve of ours is that stealth mode (crouching) isn't toggled, but you have to hold down the trigger (left). It's not a big deal, but when you're then using an item while crouching - triggered by press LB and then executed with RB - it feels a bit weird. It's like the controls are as much a compromise as the game - in parts responsive and made for quick action, in parts made for measured input where one false move equals failure. Yet another pet peeve is the Metroid moment where you're robbed of equipment. This happens two thirds or so into the game, and while it can be a nice change of pace to have to revert to old tactics and force you to make the most of the basic mechanics again - here it just felt annoying.
We did mention that we enjoyed the challenge rooms. There aren't a lot of them, but in many ways they point to what this game could have been as they do away with a lot of gimmicks and focus purely on the mechanics. There are three types of challenge rooms - collect, contracts and assassinations. They roughly translate as - collect items, kill only one enemy, and kill all enemies. Clearing them within the target time and accomplishing the other objectives makes for an enjoyable albeit brief session. The campaign itself features ten sequences, some shorter than others, but as a digital release there's good value even if you're a master assassin and run through the campaign in just a few hours. There's a hard mode and hard plus to conquer once you've made it through the first pass.
At the end of the day we're not quite sure who this will appeal to. Assassin's Creed fans would likely have wanted a game with more story and exploration (a 2.5D Metroidvania style AC would be brilliant), but what we're left with here is a stealth platformer that's decent yet fails to really reach any true heights in any particular area. Simply put it's mediocre, and we're not sure we can stomach a third game of this sort in a month's time or so, even if Russia is a setting that excites us.