Honestly, I’ve never played an Assassin’s Creed game before. But given that there’s been a steady market for the franchise, I can assume that they’re not all like this. Maybe I’m lacking the required attachment to the series? Or maybe I need experience with the franchise? But to me, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia has a number of problems, the major one being that, even at its best points, the game is totally prosaic.
See, forgiving a game’s flaws isn’t too hard when the game provides counteracting merits. But Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia scrapes through most criteria with C- marks. So, when it falls short – as it often does – there’s no success to counterbalance the failings. Constant blandness, spiked with the odd sour taste, isn’t a winning recipe. It might produce food that can get you by, but you won’t enjoy yourself. And that’s exactly the thing. I don’t mean to be overly harsh here, but Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia is hard to play. Not in the Dark Souls sense of orchestrated difficulty, and not due to a poor explanation of controls. Assassin’s Creed Chronicles Russia is difficult to play because everything about it seems unnecessary.
Firstly, the premise of the story is totally nonsensical. You begin the game as assassin Nikolai Orelov, completing his final mission before fleeing Russia with his family. Of course, this final mission throws the proverbial spanner in the works of Orelov’s asylum seeking plans when he witnesses the killing of the Tsar’s children. He does manage to retrieve his objective – a mysterious box, which remains mysterious even when the game ends – and along the way saves the life of Princess Anastasia. Something about Anastasia spurs Orelov to action, and so begins roughly three hours of him defying loyalties and duties, risking his life and his family’s safety to save a total stranger.
Forgive my cynicism, but something about this just doesn’t ring true. Why would Orelov, an assassin (a man who kills people for his living) begin to care about preserving life at such a dire point in his life? It’s made fairly clear that the Orelov family’s chances of safely leaving Russia are slim anyway. And I’d imagine that becoming a wanted man wouldn’t help that matter. Orelov’s been fine up until now with killing his way to greener pastures. And I can’t for the life of me understand how the life of a stranger out-prioritises the lives of his loved ones.
In fact, for most of the game I was questioning why the thing that was happening was happening. Everything about it seemed futile, and overall it felt like that short-cut your friend suggests that ends up being longer and less scenic than the normal way.
As Orelov, the typical objectives revolved around mundane tasks like protecting Anastasia or retrieving the code to open the door that coincidentally closed/malfunctioned in the moments before you got to it. And in the few sequences of playing as Anastasia, the only objective was getting to Orelov. Of course, every now and then you’d encounter a bunch of soldiers that Orelov would have to kill so that Anastasia could continue to travel safely. These levels were particularly irksome because every second hint on the loading screen reminds you to “kill no one and remain unseen for the highest style reward”. Heeding this hint I ran through an entire level, not being seen or killing anyone, and when I got to the end the level wouldn’t finish because I hadn’t fulfilled the objective of killing the required 25 people and clearing the way for the Anastasia.
Now I know some smartass will tell me that I should have looked at the primary objectives. And in any normal game I would have. But in this game differentiating between primary and secondary objectives is particularly difficult for a number of reasons (mainly because the logos look fairly similar), not least of all the fact that the primary objective is the very thing that the loading screen tells you not to do.
But you know what? We’ll entertain, for a minute, a hypothetical in which I’d battled my way through these inconsistencies and I was entertaining the idea that, despite the game encouraging pacifism, I’d have to kill these 25 guards. Even if that had happened, I would have quickly discarded the idea because in the previous level, while escaping from a mansion and playing as the very same Anastasia, I’d compiled a kill count higher than Gary Ridgway’s.
I know that this is supposed to be a stealth game and thus that for the optimum experience I should adopt a less murderous approach. But the controls of this game are clunky. So many times, I’d be directing my character towards a hiding spot and he’d jump out the window; I’d be detected and I’d have to improvise. I won’t say much more about the clunky controls because it seems to be a recurring problem with 2.5 dimensional titles. But I’ve already spoken about the difficulty of forgiving the flaws of a less-than stellar product…
On a more positive note, I did like the points based reward system. It was a clever way to increasing replay-ability. And the sniping sections were surprisingly fun. Also the artwork and visuals are vivid. When it’s using all of its 2.5 dimensions, the game actually comes to life. I enjoyed watching Orelov walking across ropes or scaffolding between level settings. And the entire world spinning as he was climbing around a corner really spiced up the platformer genre. I would have liked to see these creative mechanics and ideas used in an equally creative game because I’m sure they would have been immensely effective. But they weren’t executed well enough to pull this game out of the mud.
There comes a time in most franchises when the quality of installments begins to wane. At this point, lest it destroy its legacy, that series should cease production – or at least re-evaluate its approach. See, Alien had Resurrection; Indiana Jones had ‘The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’. And if Assassin’s Creed Chronicles hadn’t hit this point already, it sure as hell has now. Russia was a bland and avoidable instalment. Perhaps it’s best that it marks the end of the Chronicles trilogy.