January 11, 2016
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is the second in a trilogy of spin-off 2.5D stealth action platformers from Ubisoft, following last year’s flawed but enjoyable ACC: China. Remixing the original’s core gameplay and adding a handful of new features, it’s a better game than its predecessor. But only just. Let me explain why.
In ACC: India you play as Arbaaz Mir, an assassin who gets caught up in a conflict between the Sikh Empire and the Templar-infested East India Company in 1841. In a spin on the events of graphic novel Assassin’s Creed: Brahman, Mir sets out to save his girlfriend, retrieve a precious stone and score some points against the Templar scum.
Retaining much of ACC: China’s core, ACC: India sees Mir navigating a series of environments dotted with platforms, shadowy alcoves and nasty guards. There’s a far greater focus on stealth in the ACC games than in any of the core titles, with rudimentary guard patterns and vision cones dictating the safe and unsafe spaces and Mir’s abilities allowing the player to carve a route to the exit.
At their best the ACC games channel the likes of Stealth Inc. in creating a series of puzzles for the player to solve. If you enter a heavily guarded area it can be hugely satisfying to work out the timing and execution of a perfect run. Grabbing the attention of a guard with a whistle, choking them out, then leaping to a safe platform in the nick of time can be thrilling. Yet ACC: India, like ACC: China before it, muddies the clarity of this approach a little.
You can technically take on levels in one of three different ways; as a silent pacifist, a stealthy assassin or a noisy murderer. In most of ACC: India you kind of have that choice. So if you can’t work out how to complete an area without being seen, you can silently face stab some gaps in those pesky vision cones. And if you're seen? You’re either going to have to retreat to a safe space and watch the alert meter tick down or fight your way out.
Combat in ACC: India is largely unchanged from ACC: China. It’s all about parrying and dodging with timed button-presses, before attacking with light or heavy swipes from Mir’s blade. It’s clunky and unenjoyable. What should feel like a desperate fight to regain control and slink back into the shadows ends up feeling like a tedious punishment for ballsing up. Perhaps that’s the point. But it’s really not fun.
Sidestepping this are a few levels in which Mir’s weapons and tools are taken away from him and a pure stealth approach is enforced, as well as a sprinkling of purely platforming levels where weapons and abilities are not needed. The escape missions from ACC: India return too, which see Mir running from a collapsing castle or exploding tower. They’re joined by a handful of inconsequential new levels that Mir must travel through as quickly as possible without being seen.
Also new is the ability to pickpocket enemies, allowing you to stock up on the various items Mir needs on his journey. There’s chakrams to cut ropes and drop objects, smoke bombs to blind and confuse, as well as noise bombs and a whistle to pull guards out of their patterns. These are the tools of Mir’s trade.
The final new addition to the campaign are a couple of Hitman: Sniper Challenge-eque sniper sequences, in which Mir has to take out guards without raising the alarm. Unfortunately, they’re barely fleshed out and feel like an afterthought.
All of this contributes to a game with greater variety than ACC: China, something which helps the flow and pace. Yet a series of dodgy decisions mar the experience. Stuff like over-animation reducing control and responsiveness (fatal in a game that so often requires precision), the combination of 2D vision cones in a 3D environment leading to confusion (especially in one of the late missions), and at least one scenario where the game breaks its own rules to enforce a new challenge.
The latter comes quite early on in the game and right at the end of a level. Approaching a guard post, Mir has the ability to throw a smoke bomb at the guards and wander past them undetected. Like he has numerous times before. Yet throwing the bomb immediately results in a failure screen. In this situation alone, you’re not allowed to do it. Instead, the game insists that you disguise yourself in a stolen outfit and hide in a cluster of similarly clothed people, so you can casually stroll through the post.
It’s a silly complaint, really. The game clearly communicates what it wants you to do. But it’s odd that it should break its own rules merely to enforce an action that you never repeat. Making it all the more strange, the only other time in the game that you steal a uniform, you don’t have to hide in a group, with the new outfit making you entirely undetectable. There’s no consistency to the rules.
These kind of grumbles are a shame. The ACC games are at their best when they’re relatively pure, providing the player with a bunch of tools and an environment that allows a handful of solutions. When the game does this and does it well, it’s really rather fun. Yet the niggling issues, inconsistencies and half-baked ideas hold ACC: India back. Just like its predecessor, there’s a good game here. It’s just compromised.
For a decent stealthy diversion to the main Assassin’s Creed games, ACC: India is well worth checking out, but if you want to play a game that explores many of these concepts and does most of them better, Klei Entertainment’s Mark of the Ninja is the still sub-genre’s king. It’ll be interesting to see if next year’s ACC: Russia can do anything to steal its crown.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India’s soundtrack is characterless and the voice acting is stilted and wooden. All in all the audio work is rather forgettable.
Like its predecessor, ACC: India provides the odd ethnic visual flourish to enliven the look of the game. Unfortunately many of the environments are just dull beige buildings.
A handful of relatively minor niggles aside, ACC: India is an enjoyable stealth action game with evidence of great design. It’s just compromised by some poor choices.
The six-hour or so campaign ends with a bit of a wet fart, but what comes before is much more varied than its predecessor. A handful of Challenge Rooms and a couple of New Game Plus modes give players a reason to return.
ACC: India has a load of bog-standard “do this 100 times”-style achievements, but there’s a couple in there that will make you complete the game almost flawlessly. A massive challenge, but one I think will be super rewarding.
An improvement on its predecessor, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is a more varied game that at it’s best, is pretty damn good. But a handful of poor choices and underdeveloped ideas hold it back.