Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China Review

Lee Bradley

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is like a diet version of a full fat AC game. It's a 2.5D side-scroller that almost slavishly includes nods to many of the series' conventions; the memory synchronising, the combat, the long dives into bales of hay. But what's most notable about the game is how it ramps up the importance of something AC has never properly nailed: stealth.

When you enter a space in ACC: China, you can see everything. The game lays out a maze of moving vision cones and lets you plot the best way to weave your way through them; jumping, climbing, hiding and sliding. Playing the game stealthily essentially involves solving a series of spatial puzzles, with many of the familiar AC traversal techniques helping you along the way.

In most encounters, you enter a space, watch the enemy guard movements (there’s an Eagle Vision equivalent that helps with this), then you slowly make your way up that wall, across that gap, clinging to ledges, darting between darkened cover and sneaking your way deeper into the enemy’s lair. In terms of its main goal - making you feel like an elite assassin - ACC: China does a decent job.

Further assisting you in this are a handful of slowly dished-out abilities and tools. Firecrackers briefly stun enemies, while various noise-makers let you distract them. Using these tools, you can pull the guards around the space, creating new safe areas. It takes far too long to really get going (another AC tradition!) but at its best - when played right - ACC: China has its moments.

You know just then, when I mentioned playing the game "right"? I'm referring to the combat. ACC: China isn’t just about stealth. You can go into every encounter swinging and wipe out every enemy (Brawler), ghost through levels without killing anyone (Shadow), or silently murder everyone (Assassin). But using a combination of Shadow and Assassin is the most pleasing route, thanks to the lacklustre combat. It’s a bit arse, you see.

Just like the main series, combat in ACC: China is all timed blocks and ripostes, against baddies with varying defensive and offensive capabilities. Managing crowds, blocking this way and that, dodging incoming projectiles and flipping over enemies can, very occasionally, be exhilarating. But more often than not it’s just a slog, a punishment for ballsing up an attempt at stealth. It’s the game’s weakest link.

ACC: China does some half-interesting things with its 2.5D set-up, allowing the player to move between fore, mid, and background environments by tottering along poles or swinging from overhanging thingies. A couple of times it even goes full-on Fez, rotating the map as you clamber around an edge. It’s a half-decent way of encouraging exploration, and giving you a little more reason to go in search of the game’s collectibles and side-missions, but it feels a bit half-baked.

Hopefully the perspective shifts will be explored more fully in further Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games (there’s two more of them on the way), but what’s here at least adds an interesting little wrinkle to the gameplay. Imagine Fez, but you’re a ninja. Now there’s a game I’d play. But ACC: China only hints at the possibility. It feels like a missed opportunity.

Mixing things up a bit are the occasional free-running sections. Where most of your time in ACC: China will be spent being slow, methodical and measured, these sections take the reins off and see you legging it through a collapsing environment. As you run, you’ll stylishly slide-assassinate potential human obstacles and duck or jump various immovable objects. It’s simple stuff, but incredibly satisfying, especially as it stands in contrast to the rest of the experience.

Attempting to hold all of this together is a narrative that fails to engage. You’re female assassin Shao Jun (from animated series Assassin's Creed: Embers) in China during the end of the Ming dynasty and you’re killing Templar baddies? That’s about all I managed to take in. The story, the dialogue, the voice acting and the pretty but stilted animated comic scenes don’t engage at all. Even the art style of the game’s environments, which are capable of great beauty, far too often become dull, brown and characterless.

Which isn't to say that Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is a bad game. It isn’t. But too often it feels a bit flat and uninspired. There’s potential here for future games in the series, but Ubisoft’s other digital-only output of late - Child of Light, Valiant Hearts - feels more loved and more fully-rounded. Those games have heart and flair. ACC: China is comparatively by-the-numbers.

Looking for a truly great 2D stealth assassin game? Check out Mark of the Ninja. The devs at Klei Entertainment did most of this stuff a few years ago. And much more importantly, they did it better. Let’s hope the next Assassin’s Creed Chronicles can up its game a little.


The soundtrack touches on familiar Chinese themes while unobtrusively adding to the atmosphere of the experience, but it’s largely unmemorable. The voice acting, meanwhile, is pants. Everyone sounds thoroughly disinterested.

Occasionally, ACC: China’s painterly art style conjures a beautiful scene: rice paddies in the distance or impressionistic cherry blossoms in the foreground. Far too often though, the environments are brown and characterless. The animated cutscenes are quite pretty.

At its best, while sneaking through environments, pulling enemies silently off ledges and generally being the best mother effer in the room, ACC: China is great. But when it all goes wrong and you start fighting? It’s a bit arse. The free-running sections are a nice change of pace.

Each mission includes optional side-objectives, theres a smattering of collectibles and every encounter offers up a Bronze, Silver or Gold performance grade, dependent on your approach. Stuffed into an approximately 5-hour running time, it feels like an acceptable package.

This is a fairly drab list dominated by three big pay-out achievements, awarded for completing the game, beating it on the highest difficulty setting and doing everything there is to do pretty much flawlessly. There’s little in the way of invention.

Cramming many of Assassin’s Creed’s calling cards into ACC: China’s diminutive 2.5D frame, while amping up the importance of stealth, is impressive. But too much of the game is flat and uninspired. There’s the barest bones of a great game here. Let’s hope one of the sequels expands on that promise.

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