A Chinese, an Indian and a Russian man…. No, this isn’t the start of a joke – these are the three assassin’s whose stories form the premise of Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles, a spin-off title from Ubisoft’s popular franchise.
Originally releasing as individual titles on the home consoles, Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles Trilogy brings the China, India and Russia episodes together as a single release for the PlayStation Vita release – allowing users to choose which story they tackle first.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China sees players control female protagonist, Shao Jun. After being trained by legendary Italian assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze (of Assassin’s Creed 2 fame), Shao Jun returns to her homeland during the Ming dynasty to exact vengeance against the Templar group Eight Tigers, who wiped out the Chinese brotherhood. Shao Jun’s quest is the first of the three I played and saw me play through stages set in locations such as Macau, Nan’an, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.
I then moved onto Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India, which is set in the year 1841 as players take the role of Arbaaz Mir. While the Sikh Empire was at war with the East India Company, a Master Templar arrives with a mysterious item that used to belong to the Assassin Order. Mir must discover why he has come, steal back the item, and protect his friends and his lover.
To finish off I played through Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia, which is centred around Nikolai Orelov, a man who is trying to leave the Assassin’s order to live a quiet life with his family. Before he is able to do that, the brotherhood assigns him a final mission to steal an ancient artefact – which also sees him become a temporary bodyguard for a princess.
All three games use an artstyle that is heavily influenced by paintings and paintbrush effects, with the cutscenes using a watercolour-style aesthetic to deliver each of the games’ stories. This effect worked really well for the cutscenes, it is just a shame that the stories themselves didn’t really leave much of an impact on me for me to care or become invested in the stories behind the games.
Unlike the last Vita Assassin’s Creed title, Liberation, Chronicles is a 2.5D platformer – with each of the three episodes tasking you with making your way through twelve stages (lasting approximately ten to fifteen minutes each) whilst trying to achieve a high score. The two different level types will see you scored based on how you play – with stealth preferred over combat. The majority of levels hand out gold, silver and bronze awards after each segment depending on how well you used your assassin skills to progress, with each ranking worth points based on times spotted, enemies killed and general sneakiness. The rest of the stages task you with beating them as quickly as possible, with points being awarded based on the time it takes you to complete a level.
These points are used to unlock items and upgrades for your assassin, and the game will show you the requirements for these via a pre-stage objective screen – with a post-stage screen giving you your final score. I found that this system worked well in the China and India episodes, but when it came to Russia I found myself missing out on most of the objectives – making the game almost too difficult to play in some parts due to me missing out on the health upgrades that are much needed. There is a ‘New Game Plus’ mode that you can playthrough using the abilities you’ve already unlocked, which will allow completionists to beat their previous scores and see everything the game has to offer.
Each of the three assassins feel the same in the form of how they play. The left analogue stick controls the movement of your assassin, with the right trigger used to make them run. In a similar fashion to the console games, you will use X to jump/move upwards, circle to drop/move downwards and the left trigger to crouch. These controls are extremely intuitive to anyone who has played a previous game in the series, and there are contextual, unobtrusive prompts that will appear on screen to remind you of certain controls in case you do struggle to remember them.
Although the game does give you a sword to play with, attack is usually the worst form of defence in Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles. There are multiple types of enemies in each of the three games, with tougher enemies introduced as you progress. Each of these enemies has a field of vision that is displayed via cones in a similar fashion to Metal Gear Solid, or an area of awareness which is represented by a yellow circle that appears on screen. If you enter into one of these spaces you will have a few seconds to escape before a guard raises an alert. If an alert is raised, guards will hunt you down and call in reinforcements, only returning to a passive state if you can avoid them and lay low until the heat dies down.
You have two types of attack, with a light attack on square and a heavy attack on triangle. If you can get a guard one-on-one you will have no difficulty with dispatching them, but if there is more than one in your proximity I would strongly suggest you explore an alternate option. Although you will get points for killing the guards, you will find yourself overwhelmed and underpowered if you come up against a handful of them at once. In some ways this works due to the fact that you are playing as an assassin and not a muscular powerhouse, but I found myself getting frustrated at times when I was getting killed after one or two hits whereas a weak enemy could take three to four.
Luckily, the sword isn’t the only tool at your disposal. As you play through each of the games you will unlock gadgets for your assassin to utilise to aide your traversal of the stages. Mapped to the PlayStation Vita’s d-pad, you start with the ability to whistle by pressing up. When whistling you can increase the volume of the whistle, thereby increasing the area which it covers. This can draw guards to your location, moving them away from a potential escape route. Other gadgets include smoke bombs, noise bombs and throwing knives that can be used to cut ropes to open new routes or drop heavy loads on unsuspecting guards. These gadgets have limited uses, but are never in short supply with loot crates dotted about stages in China and a ‘loot’ ability added to your assassin’s repertoire in both India and Russia. You can unlock additional slots for these gadgets by attaining high scores but these aren’t really needed.
There are various other mechanics that will make your life easier, such as the ability to hide (push the left analogue stick in the direction of the hiding spot) and also dash between hiding places. These will make sneaking through the levels much easier and, with the addition of the series’ staple ‘Eagle Vision’ accessible via the touch screen, you will be able to plan the best route through any given level if you are patient enough – I tended to be a bit ‘gung-ho’ at times and often found myself facing a load screen after I’d been caught and killed for making a stupid mistake.
The Assassin’s Creed franchise has taken a bit of a kicking in recent years due to some of the issues that have faced the console versions (here’s looking at you Unity), but Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles runs well on the PlayStation Vita. The port to the handheld has been kind and the game performs really well and, although not pushing the Vita to its potential, it looks pretty good in places.
There were times when I found myself getting stuck in places due to a climbable wall behaving like a vertical slide or a wall not becoming transparent when I entered a building which required a checkpoint restart to resolve, but these were few and far between to become a cause of a major irritation.
Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles Trilogy has been one of the hardest games I have had to review. It does everything it sets out to do well enough, but still I felt a little underwhelmed by the whole experience. There were times when I found myself struggling to pick up my Vita to play the game, and times when I couldn’t put it down. I found myself preferring the characters and worlds of the India and Russia chapters more than China, but all three are pretty much the same game with a few different mechanics thrown in to add variety. Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles Trilogy is a good game, but I feel like the switch to the 2.5D perspective, and the linearity and focus on stealth has made the series lose its identity – which is quite ironic given that this would be something an assassin would strive to do.