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A valiant assassination attempt
May 26, 2015
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
Even when the Assassin's Creed series is being original, it's really not that original. Even so, the 2.5D stealth action game Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China is a breath of fresh air for a series that shows absolutely no signs of creeping away anytime soon.
ACC:C features a lot of the series' trademarks, but it's still a noticeable departure. Whereas most Assassin's Creed games feature a massive open world, ACC:C is a side-scroller that allows the player to move between different planes. It's far more linear, but each level does offer its share of branching paths.
The game takes place in China in 1526. You play as Shao Jun, who is the last of the Membership of the Chinese Brotherhood. She's been trained by none other than Ezio Auditore, and she's out for revenge as she aims to kill those responsible for wiping out the rest of her brotherhood.
Players are tasked with sneaking past enemies and, of course, assassinating high-value targets. While ACC:C seems like a one-trick pony during the first couple of levels, the developers prove capable of throwing new mechanics into the mix at a fairly quick pace to keep things feeling fresh.
While you'll be running to hide in easy-to-reach doors early on, for instance, you'll need to be much more delicate later on as you duck behind plants that will rustle when you move, which can alert nearby guards.
Guards themselves will also become much smarter. While some will chat with each other at whatever passes for a 16th century watercooler and be virtually oblivious to your nearby movements, others will look in multiple directions, and will have long range weapons at their disposal should you try to run away after being found.
Shao Jun is of course a seasoned assassin veteran, and has everything from noise darts to foot blades to aid her as she traverses the numerous environments. It's here, in fact, that my main issue with the game arises.
ACC:C is constantly rating players on how they finish different sections of each level. Like so many other stealth games that came before this one, you'll typically earn a better score the less you disturb enemies and the environment. Basically, if you're running around making all sorts of noise, killing everyone you see loudly and in plain sight, you won't get a high rank, and as such, you won't unlock a lot of the cool power ups that are available after each level.
The problem is that you're typically penalized every time you kill someone who isn't part of the main objective, even if the assassination is done quietly and without alerting anyone else.
It's frustrating to be put in the shoes of a deadly silent assassin that uses all sorts of cool weaponry, only to be told that you if you use those things, you aren't playing the game properly.
While I'm fairly stubborn in these games and try to get the best ratings possible, I found I had a lot more fun when I just ignored my score and let myself have fun killing unsuspecting (and suspecting!) enemies. Still, the fact that I was being punished always stuck in the back of my mind.
As mentioned earlier, levels sometimes offer more than one way of getting around. It makes for a less linear game, and while I appreciate the effort, the confusing map doesn't always make it clear where you're going.
There were a few times that I unknowingly ended up making my way all the way back to where I originally was given a choice to travel. Worst of all, this sometimes resulted in me dying and not actually activating a checkpoint - this after playing 15 or 20 painstaking minutes - meaning I had to start back at the spot where I ended up, but with every enemy back at his position. Frustrating, to say the least.
Still, I often found myself extremely impressed with the level design. There were sections where I was scratching my head trying to figure out how to get past a particular group of enemies, and it wasn't until I alerted them all and killed them with my sword that I found a wall I could climb up and sneak around, or a ceiling I could quietly crawl on, avoiding detection completely.
The game uses an art style that is described as "being inspired by traditional brush paintings," and it looks just that way, and it's extremely pretty. Blood spatters look like a paint brush was flung at an empty canvas, and the edges of flags blowing in the wind look ready to disperse right into thin air.
I wish the rest of the game was equally stripped down. Like in other Assassin's Creed games, menus never seem to end, and I still felt like I was wrestling with too many buttons considering this is supposed to be a pared-down entry in the series. It can be challenging creating a game that relies only on a few buttons - I'd love to see a developer take on that challenge and succeed in future Assassin's Creed titles.
It may not play quite as beautifully as it looks, but Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China does succeed in several ways. And for the gamer who loves a good old fashioned stealth game that relies on trial and error, this is a title that will scratch that itch.
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China
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