As if Assassin’s Creed fans have not been spoilt enough already with both Assassin’s Creed Rogue and Unity less than six months old. It’s now time for some more Assassin verses Templar action.
Ubisoft have released the first game in its Assassin’s Creed spin-off series, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China. This is the first of three 2.5D platform games to be followed by similarly styled adventures set in India and Russia.
This time, the sci-fi/historic series takes us to China in the first half of the 16th Century. Whilst the game’s presentation is the same as that found in the regular Assassin’s Creed games, that’s where the similarities stop. Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is a different beast entirely.
To tell its story the game uses an interesting contemporary take on traditional Chinese art, inspired by the inked impressionist artwork of Jung Shan. The game continues the adventures of Shao Jun, who we last saw in the animated short, Assassin’s Creed: Embers. The game follows on from Embers with Shao Jun returning to China after her meeting with the elderly master assassin Ezio Auditore.
For this spin-off series, developers, Climax Studios, have used a retro 2.5D platform-style that is very reminiscent of the original Prince of Persia game. Considering that the first Assassin’s Creed started out as a Prince of Persia game, it’s like the series has come full circle.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is an interesting enigma. As an Assassin’s Creed fan I felt obliged to play through it for completeness sake. I really can’t say that I’d have been so keen if it wasn’t attached to the Assassin’s Creed saga.
Interestingly, though, beneath its immediately retro-looking gameplay lurks quite a sophisticated game. Despite the shift in perspective, this is very much an Assassin’s Creed game. And the more you play it the more the game reveals its very familiar gameplay.
All credit must go to the developers for including pretty much all of Assassin’s Creed’s mechanics in a 2.5D game. Whilst the game will have you running and jumping from left to right as you’d expect in a platformer, Shao Jun is also given plenty of opportunities to transition both into the background and into the foreground. These three plans provide multiple, and more convoluted, routes through the Levels than your usual platformer.
But they are not called Levels in this game, they are, of course, memories.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Assassin’s Creed games are based on the idea of genetic memory; in that the memories of our forefathers are locked away in our DNA. Using a device called The Animus a company called Abstergo, which is really a front for the ancient order of The Templars, is scanning history for information on arcane artefacts left over from a precursor civilisation. With this device, The Templars want to guide humanity to reach its full potential. Meanwhile, The Assassin’s, who believe that humanity should forge its own destiny rather than have its path engineered for it, seek to unravel The Templars’ plans.
It is through The Animus that players enters the world of Shao Jun as she seeks her revenge on the Eight Tigers for destroying the Chinese Assassin’s brotherhood. Her quest takes her from the port of Macau, to Na’nan and the Forbidden City and finally The Great Wall of China.
Just as with the adventures of Altair, Ezio and the other assassin’s we’ve met over the years, Shao’s mission is primarily one of stealth. By carefully moving from hiding spot to hiding spot the gaze of the patrolling guards can be avoided, allowing players to either move past without fighting or silently assassinate the enemy.
To help with distracting the enemy, players can whistle or use throwing knives and firecrackers to make diversions. You can also pick up and hide bodies to avoid suspicion.
If a guard spots you, he will call for backup and seek to engage you. All the guards will be on alert (very similar to Metal Gear). If you manage to stay out of their line of sight, the guards go into cool down mode and then resume their normal patrols.
The game’s combat is almost identical to the main game series, with Shao Jun able to perform light and heavy attacks, as well as block. She can also dodge arrows in a very ninja-like way.
As well as some optional objectives (which you will need to complete if you want to properly achieve a 100% synch at the end of each memory), the Levels are peppered with chests containing useful ammo and animus data fragments. At the end of each memory you are given a score and the opportunity to try it again or move on to the next memory.
Between each memory the story is fleshed out using some beautiful animated images in the same art style as the game visuals.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China may not look immediately appealing, its style seemingly more befitting a mobile game. But it doesn’t take long to realise that it’s actually a lot of fun and retains much of the spirit of the main Assassin’s Creed games. I think it’s actually a great idea of Ubisoft, to give fans an insight into the tales of other Assassin’s away from the main series, fleshing out and enriching the Assassin’s Creed mythos.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is out now with India and Russia to follow later in 2015.