If there is one idea people have had for Assassin’s Creed, it’s been an Asian assassin. Light on her feet, with blades hidden anywhere and everywhere, it is an intriguing premise. Assassin’s Creed Chronicles takes us to China and does just this, but it’s not your typical Assassin’s Creed game and it learns a lot from those who came before.
In ACC: China, players take on the role of Shao Jun, the last assassin of the Chinese brotherhood. She has allowed herself to be captured in order to track down the bad guys higher up the food chain. The rest of the story plays out as you might imagine – she kills a succession of people, races to save her master, gets betrayed. Yes, it’s all the usual assassin’s storyline, but that’s not why you will fall in love with this game.
The game takes a 2.5D approach to the ninja platformer. This means that you’ll be able to scale walls, swing around into a third dimension and find your way through the level with a bit more depth than a typical platformer. Of course this adds extra maneuvering for your assassinations – hide in the shadows and then sneak around corners to hide from guards entirely, or use that hidden depth to grab the guard into the shadows and kill him out of sight from the rest.
Shao Jun has a range of tools are her disposal to help on her cliched story. Her throwing knives work to cut ropes or trigger noise makers elsewhere on the map while her firecrackers can stun and blind enemies for a short time. You even have noise darts to distract guards and your trusty assassin whistle ability to lure guards to their deaths in hay stacks, door ways and off of ledges. Don’t expect these to look like the usual assassinations, though – she is a much smaller assassin and can’t manhandle her way through. Ledge kills leave bodies lying at the edge of platforms and carrying bodies into the shadows are animated to show that this it’s no mean feat to move them around.
The levels are fun and well designed, ramping up the difficulty and offering secondary objectives and collectibles to add to the challenge. Getting a high enough score for each sequence awards new unlocks – from increased health or damage to being able to carry more throwing knives or faster healing, these need to be unlocked by completing the sequence optimally. Unfortunately, players can’t choose which skills or upgrades are unlocked – this isn’t an RPG where players can customize their assassin like in other games in the franchise.
There are three classifications in ACC: China. Divided into various checkpoints in each sequence, players can take three routes to victory. Shadow means going unseen, without killing any unnecessary targets. Assassin is similarly about going unseen, but includes killing guards in the shadows or without having the bodies discovered. Finally, there’s Brawler, which means taking our your sword and slashing your way through your opponents. While this seems to promote playing the game however you prefer, you do get the most points if you take the Shadow approach. Personally, I prefer killing everyone in shadows, bushes and from behind curtains, but this technique doesn’t yield the highest scores, resulting in fewer upgrades at the end of the levels.
In many ways, ACC: China feels like Klei’s hit, Mark of the Ninja. It has similar means of showing guards’ fields of view, it includes dogs and noise-making environments, you have some tools at your disposal to help with the killing or sneaking and it is seriously a ton of fun to play. ACC: China goes beyond that, though, with some gorgeous environments. Each level has areas that are a joy to behold as you truly feel as though you are playing in a classical Chinese watercolor painting. Unfortunately, sometimes this can lead to some confusion about which path players must actually take and which platforms are climbable compared to others. However, for the most part, the aesthetic vastly improves the experience.
Gameplay is also made more varied with the inclusion of some speed levels. Escaping from burning levels gets the blood pumping and is still crafty enough to feel like it belongs in the experience. Running to kill guards that get in your way is strangely satisfying after slowly skulking in the shadows.
ACC: China is a shining example of this genre, although it doesn’t innovate as much as I might hope. I would have loved some aspects of historical realism such as having Shao Jun use her feminine wiles to lure guards away from their posts and to their deaths. They hint that she used to be a concubine before joining the assassin brotherhood and this could have added a new mechanic to the game, differentiating it more from games like Mark of the Ninja. Still, it doesn’t really need more mechanics; the ones they have work well and are varied enough for any play style.
For the most part, the controls feel slick and polished. However, when interacting with chests or secondary objectives, it can feel slow and confusing. I spent a while trying to open a chest that I wasn’t actually able to open and other times I thought I couldn’t rescue an innocent slave because it didn’t respond when I pushed up (you have to hold it for a few seconds and the animation isn’t terribly obvious to show that things are happening).
Coming in at just $10, this is a solid experience for that price. With replay opportunities and the challenge of getting through every area without being seen, there is plenty of content for completionists or casual players alike. I did struggle to link it with Uplay, a strange occurrence on console, but I’m not sure if this is just because the review copy was live before the servers could accept it, or if players should be wary of some Uplay issues with the title.
Last Updated: April 21, 2015