The Assassin’s Creed Chronicles trilogy is a group of games that are okay, but really fail to deliver much more.
Each game shares similarities with the others. They all offer a relatively bland story and deliver it in a lacklustre fashion, failing to draw you in, or allowing you to develop a connection or attachment to the plot or the characters. As a result, I feel the protagonists are quite unmemorable. For side-scrolling fans, the gameplay is pretty good and compliments the excellent level design very well, with an interesting array of new weapons to take advantage of. However, the key stealth mechanics do not feel as satisfying as they have in the previous big budgeted AC games.
The main reason for this is the abundant instant death failures which promote a tentative, trial and error play style, something which quickly creates frustration as you die over and over again. Graphically, the games’ ‘cartoony’ style is suitable for the type of games they are, however China’s bland colour pallet unfortunately creates a dull visual experience. This is vastly improved in India and Russia, with India’s colourful vibrancy perhaps the most appealing. Finally, the sound design of each game is very good and fits the setting and pacing of the story. I would argue that the Indian style music of ACC: India stands out the most and was my personal favourite of the three.
I’ll quickly provide a brief synopsis for all of the Chronicle titles as each one attempts to take us to a far flung land…
China takes place in the year 1526 and features Shao Jun, the female assassin who was trained by Ezio Auditore himself. Having returned to her homeland she begins the hunt for the Eight Tigers, a Templar group that completely eradicated the Chinese assassin brotherhood. She embarks on a journey through several renowned Chinese landmarks, such as the Great Wall, hunting each Templar leader down and culminating in the assassination of the final target, Zhang Yong.
India occurs in 1841, putting the player in the shoes of Arbaaz Mir. A Master Templar enters the picture, bringing with him a mysterious artefact (ten guesses what it might be…) that Arbaaz must steal from him, all whilst discovering what the Templar is actually doing in India. New Indian weaponry is available to the player, such as the Aruval and the Chakram, as well as a slingshot for ranged combat.
Russia is set in 1918 in the immediate wake of the October Revolution, focusing on grizzly assassin veteran, Nikolai Orelov. His goal is to escape Russia with his family but before he can do this, he must carry out a final mission for the order; namely to steal a ‘Piece of Eden’ from the house where Tsar Nicholas II and his family are being held prisoner. Orelov manages to accomplish this task and also rescues Duchess Anastasia but must then flee from the vengeful Templars who are in hot pursuit.
These stories may sound interesting, but they are in fact quite underwhelming in terms of plot line and objectives. Never did I feel truly in tune with what was going on because of how each story was delivered. The characters felt quite bland and a bit boring although there are a few exceptions, most notably Anastasia, but there was definitely a lack of emotion towards the protagonists overall. The issue with all the games in the Chronicles trilogy is that the stories are told through still images at the end of each level which is not very engaging, whilst some of the voice actors sound a bit disinterested, verging on bored. This is perhaps most apparent in China but doesn’t get hugely better in India or Russia.
Gameplay is a mixed bag of liberating, awesome moments and frustrating, tedious trial and error. The stealth mechanics are not up to the same standard as the ‘mainstream’ AC games and each relies on instant death failure sections to raise the difficulty up. I enjoyed the trilogy most during the free flowing sections which combined mobility and combat, usually to escape certain situations, without breaking stride. These were few and far between however and I got quite bogged down on a few sections in which I kept failing over and over again, spoiling the experience. Combat works well with cool, new animations and it was great to see a plethora of new weapons in each game. Hand to hand combat is less satisfying in the Chronicles trilogy but is nonetheless one of the more gratifying parts of the whole experience.
Chronicles takes a step away from the usual third person style in favour of a side-scrolling, 2.5 dimensional world which is completely new to the franchise. They definitely got the level design right in China and continued it throughout. Level layouts are fantastic, definitely one of the trilogy’s best features, and compliment the gameplay exceptionally well, giving you verticality as well as areas to sneak around in. There are a large variety of obstacles and ways to get around them, which means that multiple playthroughs are not all exactly the same.
Visually, they take on a more animated art style that is another new for the series. It is a good fit for these side-scrolling games which would have looked out of place if the standard graphical style was utilised. The levels themselves, along with their backdrops, are well crafted and generally look good. China’s bland colour pallet does rather spoil things, however the lighter vibrancy of India and the war torn vistas of Russia are huge improvements.
Another strength of the Chronicles trilogy is the sound design. My personal favourite soundtrack was India’s but both China and Russia also boast excellent music and sound effects. The music thoroughly complimented the mood of each area and did well to get your heart pumping during both the adrenaline fuelled, fast paced sections and the low key stealth areas. When you fight enemies, the sounds of battle seemed quite realistic and suitably satisfying when you finish off an enemy soldier.
You may have just read all of that and skipped to the review score, wondering how in hell the Chronicles trilogy warrant 3/5? The justification for the 3/5 is the fact that at times, these games can prove to be a lot of fun but at other times are downright annoying and frustrating. Tedious instant fail mechanics hamper each game’s potential but the free flowing sections are thoroughly enjoyable. The generally weak story telling is made up for by excellent level and sound design, whilst China’s dull visuals are vastly improved upon in India and Russia. What you get are three okay side-scrollers that don’t bring anything revolutionary to the genre, but are also not complete failures in their own right either.