I’ve never really been one for travelling.
Whilst I understand that the world is a wonderful place, full of intrigue and wonderful sights, grabbing a backpack and traipsing halfway round the world just to see a building, a piece of art or to take in a culture isn’t something that gets me excited. Besides, if I want to see the world in all its glory, then the Assassin’s Creed franchise pretty much allows me to do just that. Doesn’t it?
Admittedly I’m being cast back a couple hundred years or more, but whether it’s one of the bigger budgeted titles found in the standard Assassin’s Creed series, or now with the smaller Chronicles affairs, they always seem to scratch any traveling itch I may have.
So the chance to visit India in the latest Chronicle is something I was looking forward to. And boy am I glad I did.
Full of colour, adventure and mystery, the latest Assassin’s Creed Chronicles tale transports us off to 19th century India, at a time when British control was in the ascendancy. You get to take charge of master Assassin, Arbaaz Mir, a delightful guy who just so happens to be a dab hand with a sword, pretty nifty at throwing Chakrams and a bit of a hit with the ladies. With tensions rising between the Sikh Empire and the British controlled East India Company, Arbaaz must embark on a mission to secure the famous Koh-i-noor diamond for the Brotherhood and discover the reasoning behind why the Templars have pitched up in India. The story itself is played out via the form of numerous comic-book style cutscenes and these work well, with plenty of detail and just enough enthusiasm included to ensure that they are something you want to watch, as opposed to skipping through as fast as you can.
Thankfully, the love and detail that they include has also been passed on down to the gameplay itself.
Set out as a 2.5D platformer, Arbaaz will need to use all his best ninja skills to negotiate his way past the guards and obstacles that frequent each level. Movement is precise and smooth and those are both key components as there are a number of ways of sending Arbaaz on his way. Ultimately the final decision is always yours, but those who opt to roll down the stealth route, as opposed to going all out in a blaze of sword strikes, will probably find the most joy with Chronicles. Much like the gameplay in its predecessor, AC Chronicles: China, each movement Arbaaz makes will need to be carefully planned and thought out. Moving on past the guards and disarming traps should really become second nature fairly quickly and this game allows for that to happen. With the chance to move in and out of the foreground and background (yep, that’s where the .5D comes into play!), hiding away in doorways, clambering up the side of buildings and hanging from monkey bars, each section of the game has a good few ways of traversing.
In fact, it has a few too many ways of traversing and even though new moves, actions and equipment are fed into the tale at a decent pace, it can get confusing as to the best way of tackling a situation. Do you go and make a run for it from point to point, or do you ‘Helix Dash’ it, grapple your way past, throw out a distraction or just wait for the prime opportunity to sneak on by? The choices are endless and perhaps a little bewildering for anyone who is looking to pick up an Assassin’s tale for the very first time.
For all the planning in the world, make one wrong move though, and it won’t be long before you hit the sights of the guards or tingle the super senses of the caged animals. With much of the joy found in the sly, quiet approach, this is where things let themselves down. Unfortunately, the combat found in AC India borders on killing all affection that I may have for the game with things turning into a button mashing affair…one which usually ends in nothing short of death for Arbaaz. In fact, if things do go a little awry, then it’s normally best to chuck a smoke bomb or two and leg it to the nearest safe spot, hiding away until the guards decide they were seeing ghosts, as opposed to spending a few seconds trying to battle it out hand-to-hand.
Seriously though, the combat is something I’m really not a great fan of. Yes, you get huge rewards for playing your way through India like some kind of super ninja and if you have the requisite skills, that is entirely possible. But there are times when conflict is a bit of a necessity, especially when you aren’t the most skilled or patient type. And that found in Chronicles is something which doesn’t work all that well. With a ton of different enemy types all in play and all bringing different requirements to the table, you’ll need various strategies for each and every one you come across. Ultimately though, each battle plays out as nothing more than pot luck as you hope you’ll be the one to stick the knife in before you take a bullet to the head. Special accessories help, but there are only so many times a smoke bomb can get you out of trouble!
For all my enjoyment with AC India, there are however a few issues which bring the pleasure meter down a notch or two. Firstly, the damn checkpoints are a huge bug bear. Granted, the levels included in the Chronicles way of life aren’t massive, but they do require a great deal of strategy and planning. For Climax Studios and Ubisoft Montreal to have included a system which throws you back far too far at even the merest sign of failure is criminal. In a world which is full of auto checkpoints saving your progress every step of the way, I feel the system in India is a bit too unforgiving. I’ve lost count at the number of times I’d attempt to stealthily sneak my way through a stage, waiting around for each and every guard to be in the prime spot before I make my move, before being spotted right at the end of a long drawn out sequence of events and getting thrown back to the start of proceedings again. Whilst I’m more than happy to adopt the slow approach instead of the ‘run like hell and hope no-one spots you’ style of play, the amount of areas which require zero interaction with guards is just a bit too overwhelming for even my liking.
Additionally, there are a few too many bugs in the game which prevent things playing out like they should do. Far too often I’ve found myself flying through the nearest window ready to climb up the outside of a building, when the visuals just refuse to catch up and play ball, leaving me stranded on a window sill with nowhere else to go. With guards occasionally running into each other and morphing into one, stopping them from going about their usual pattern of observation, it occasionally feels like AC Chronicles India is letting itself down at times when it should be excelling.
That said though, on a personal note, I am quite happy to live with the few bugs and inconsistent visual rendering. If I were able to look past the checkpoint issue as well, then behind it, there is a super solid title that begs for a stealthy approach. With some levels quite happily urging you to take your time, requesting that you survey the surroundings before making the next move, and others just sticking a rocket up your backside, shouting from the sidelines as you scrap and scarper your way through in as short a time as possible, the mix has been well paced and superbly well implemented.
The inclusion of challenge rooms also allows for even more fun when you’ve done pretty much everything you wish to in the main story. There are three uniquely different scenarios to get your teeth into with the ‘Collection’ stages requiring you to jump around a single stage as fast as you can, collecting Animus shards as you do so. ‘Contracts’ meanwhile work in much the same way but with the inclusion of a specific kill required before you can safely disappear. Much like that found in the main game, you’ll need to utilise your Eagle Vision in order to pick out the correct target, before setting to work. It’s a great way of honing the skills you initially learnt in Arbaaz’s campaign and with practice, will ensure you can go back to the main story and perhaps even play through the game again, picking up bigger rewards as you do so! We end the challenge stages with the ‘Assassination’ levels. These reward you for numerous ways of play, but come with a huge focus on avoiding vision cones and ensuring your kills come with a bit of variety, fluidity and style. With stars awarded for your competence in each of these challenges, the more you earn, the more levels you will begin to unlock. VR challenge additions away from the main event aren’t a new concept in videogames, but these ones have been well implemented and bring that little X factor to proceedings, allowing gamers to continue enjoying AC Chronicles India for just that little bit longer. My only criticism? There aren’t enough of them!
In summary, many will slate the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles trilogy for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s not strictly ‘AC’ and secondly, it hasn’t been created with that fantastical open world sandbox style that modern day gamers love. But if you get your kicks from playing through a 2/2.5D platformer, much like you would have done in years gone by, and fancy checking out a world that is full of colour and adventure, then I’m not sure there is much out there on Xbox One to compete with it.
Dismiss Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India at your peril…it’s a rather good stealth em up and fans of 2D platformers will be more than pleased with what it offers…as should those who wish to see the world without moving from the comforts of their own sofa!