Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China PS4 Review

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China. Ubisoft

Every mega-franchise gets spun-off eventually. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe can expand to TV and even “Star Wars” gets spin-off films, why not branch out the world of Ubisoft’s incredibly successful “Assassin’s Creed” franchise? Well, maybe because it should be about quality and not quantity? Even fans of the “Call of Duty” series have admitted that maybe if they took a bit more time between games, the actual games would be better.

It’s not about being fastest; it should be about being the best. Now, occasionally, something greats comes out of this factory line mentality. Most of the “CoD” games have been better than critics give them credit for being while “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” is quite simply one of the best games of the last five years (and the best “AC” game you could buy for the PS4). But after “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” disappointed, it might have been a good idea to let the franchise sit for a bit. Don’t follow it up with another potential misfire. Waiting is not a modern trend in gaming and so we already have a new “AC” game.

Sorta. At least “Assassin’s Creed Chronicles” attempts to expand the universe of “AC” by shrinking it down. Gone is the complete, 3D world creation of games like “Black Flag” and “Unity,” in favor of what is essentially a robust 2D side-scroller. Stealth is a major component, and you play an assassin, but the first in a planned trilogy, “Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China” has a different energy from its ancestors.

It’s a title weighed down by some gameplay flaws, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was remarkably addictive. Even as it annoyed me, I couldn’t stop playing it.

You play Shao Jun, a Chinese assassin in 1526, who is introduced in a series of cut scenes that resemble paintings more than video games.

One of the most interesting things about “Chronicles” is its aesthetic, one that I presume will hold for “India” and “Russia” later this year. It’s like a piece of art brought to life with swooping brush strokes and left-to-right action (mostly, you’ll occasionally be able to go “deeper” into the painting or come forward to give it a slightly third dimension).

Shao Jun was trained by the familiar Ezio Auditore de Firenze (first seen in “Assassin’s Creed II”) and has returned to China to exact revenge on the Eight Tigers, the group that destroyed the Chinese brotherhood. The game takes Shao Jun through relatively standard environments populated by guards that must be avoided or killed. Their vision is marked on the screen, allowing you to avoid it when possible, as combat is generally inadvisable. You can fight your way out, but you’ll often be overwhelmed. Avoiding enemies and distracting them with tools like firecrackers, noise darts, and even your whistle is the way to go. You’ll also climb a lot—standard practice for assassins in the video game world—and there are even a few levels based on escaping under a certain time threshold.

The developers of “Chronicles” recognize that the gameplay of “China” is bound to get repetitive, and so they’re constantly upgrading your abilities and tools you’ll need to survive.

New toys and new ways to hide keep “China” fresh, but a lot of the game does come down to repetition and memorization. “Watch the pattern of the guards, sneak by, repeat.” I didn’t like the occasional feeling that there was one way to get from point A to point B, as modern gaming has spoiled us with choices and authorship. The best parts of “Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China” give the player tons of choices in terms of paths to take and techniques to use.

There were times in “China” that I felt trapped by the gameplay. There were times when I felt my success was more luck than skill. But, every time I was tempted to write it off, something great would happen.

There’s something rewarding about getting a “Gold” in a section of “AC Chronicles” (you’re judged regularly in the game on a three-tiered system) that keeps you coming back for more. As much as I was regularly frustrated, I kind of can’t wait to go to India. Maybe it IS about quantity after all.