Review – Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India (PS4)

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles India is the second instalment in the new Chronicles trilogy, a set of games that are perhaps best thought of as spiritual sequels to the classic 2D Prince of Persia games. With 2.5D platforming and a focus on stealthily avoiding lethal guards, Chronicles instalments are quite far removed from the primary open world Assassin’s Creed games.

Chronicles: India stars protagonist Arbaaz Mir, who previously appeared in the Assassin’s Creed: Brahman graphic novel. You play Arbaaz for the entire game, as he clambers and kills his way through five hours or so of story. The plot is the usual Assassin’s Creed fare of stern Templars being jerks, while the charismatic Assassin sneaks around under their noses. Arbaaz is an entertaining enough character but there just isn’t really a whole lot going on here to get anything more than a loose grasp of who he is.

The story is delivered through sparsely animated pictures, which string the separate levels together, bookending each 20-30-minute or so slice of gameplay. They do a good job of sticking with the vibrant aesthetic of the game, but they’re notably barebones in both appearance and function.

For anyone expecting new insights into the Assassins’ Creed mythos you’ll leave fairly disappointed. Chronicles: India definitely captures the flavour of its predecessors but the story remains a fairly unambitious backdrop. Luckily, the rest of the game is able to stand on its own.

 

It wouldn't be Assassin's Creed without a leap of faith.

It wouldn’t be Assassin’s Creed without a leap of faith.

Chronicles: India is almost always about being as sneaky as possible…

The average slice of gameplay in Chronicles: India goes like this: You arrive in a new area that has a few guards on patrol, to get to the other side you have to avoid the guards by finding both the right route to take and the right time to move to avoid their vision cones. Sometimes you’ll make use of items like a smoke bomb or your grappling hook to make getting by easier. Once you clear that segment, usually only about a minute or so long, you’re onto the next section. Repeat as appropriate.

The whole .5 in 2.5D is put to good use as the game is built in layers. Sometimes you can spot upcoming segments in the background before swinging on over there momentarily. As the game goes on levels make more use of this tiered design which makes for some fun platforming segments. Although this can occasionally get a bit messy in terms of working out if that incoming vision cone is looking right at you, or if it’s actually looking beyond you in the foreground. Overall it allows for some more strategic playing and does add some extra depth to the gameplay, no pun intended.

 

The layered level design is one of the best aspects of the game.

The layered level design is one of the best aspects of the game.

 

If you slip up and get seen by the guards, then you’re in for a fight. Combat is clumsy and surprisingly difficult in Chronicles: India, compared to the more fluid counter-heavy combat of mainstream Assassin’s Creed. Here every hit must be individually blocked or dodged, including bullets, to protect your anxiously shallow health pool. If you find yourself flanked by a group of enemies, then you’ll be cut to pieces in seconds unless you stay focused on countering all of your enemies at once, which is easier said than done. Therefore, combat is more of a last chance to salvage a screw up, rather than a legitimate playstyle. Instead Chronicles: India is almost always about being as sneaky as possible.

Occasionally though the game does make it clear that you’re playing a segment all about moving, throwing stealth aside in favour of speed. Although there’s only a few brief times that it does this, you’ll find yourself running away from collapsing scenery or other hazards; jumping, sliding and killing your way along without pause. At this point Chronicles: India becomes a kind of linear Mirror’s Edge, you’re challenged to rely on colour and familiar props to react at a second’s notice. These enjoyable segments borrow a lot from endless runners and are much more focused than other areas of the game. Although they’re maybe a little too straightforward, offering no alternative paths or shortcuts, they’re a welcome break from the standard gameplay.

Mostly Chronicles: India is a low-frustration game, but there are some perplexing choices that do up the possibility of controller hurling moments. Specifically, about half-way through when tripwires are introduced. It’s painful when you’re paying so close attention to that upcoming guard patrol that you blunder into a trip wire and detonate your recent progress. Essentially you’re suddenly forced to pay closer attention to the scenery, lest you bring in an unwelcome element of sudden and random death. Encouraging you to slow down and play at a more thoughtful plodding pace would be fine if the game didn’t so often push you to move as fast as possible. In fact, levels are split between measuring your progress with a timed clock or measuring by how expertly you made it towards the goal. However, there’s often not much of a difference in the gameplay between these two and even point-based levels will occasionally toss a timed segment at you. Thus it feels like you’re supposed to play Chronicles: India in an acrobatic parkour-esque lethal run to the finish, which makes frustrating progression blockers such as trip-mines all the more irritating. Thankfully at least checkpoints are numerous, ensuring you rarely have to replay more than a minute of gameplay after a mistake.

 

Multiple times throughout the story the game’s backdrop will be swapped for something entirely different…

The actual presentation of the game is somewhere that Chronicles: India shines. Warm environments are colourfully rendered, with a setting pieced together from a gorgeous blend of 3D models and a painted watercolour effect. It was a pleasant surprise early on when the scenery swapped out to a new location, bringing with it a new colour palette. Multiple times throughout the story the game’s backdrop will be swapped for something entirely different, contributing a completely alternate atmosphere.

Meanwhile the game’s soundtrack is suitably strong. In a franchise that’s always had high-quality music, it’s nice to see the same attention was given to this small spin-off. Likewise, sparse as dialogue is, it’s all delivered in the familiar dramatic fashion of Assassin’s Creed.

 

The game's setting is swapped out often enough that it never begins to get dull.

The game’s setting is swapped out often enough that the game’s backdrop never begins to get dull.

 

In terms of bonus content, there are a small handful of challenge rooms included which add a little slice of extra value to the package. They come in three flavours; Collect, Contracts and Assassinations. Collect trials are as straightforward as they sound, tasking you collect a number of pickups in a pair of fairly linear levels. Contracts has you tasked with killing a particular target, with the challenge cutting short in failure if you’re spotted or end up killing the wrong person. Finally, Assassinations trials are perhaps the most fun, involving two more open levels and leaving you to experiment in what’s the best way to take out all of the targets in one run.

All the challenges use an intentional glitchy, building block-like aesthetic, as if the game world has fallen to bits. If nothing else, it makes these challenges completely visually distinct from the rest of the game. Each individual trial also has a set of objectives to complete within it, rather than just having one goal. These challenges don’t have to be completed in a single session, meaning you’re encouraged to replay the same map with different strategies. These maps are a solid idea so it’s perplexing why there are so few, but those included are at least fairly fun to play around in.

In terms of replayability, there’s also an unlockable New Game+ mode, allowing you to roll right back into the story from mission one, retaining all your obtained gear and abilities. If you’re looking for something tougher, finishing the game also unlocks a more difficult version of the story, where Arbaaz is capped at a weaker skill level and his enemies are even sturdier than they were the first time around.

 

Conclusion…

Altogether Chronicles: India is a fun platformer. It’s sometimes a little unfocused, with clunky combat and yawningly easy mini-puzzles, but it also cleverly makes use of its layered level design throughout. The visually vibrant stages provide an entertaining backbone to the entire experience, which keeps the core platforming gameplay worthwhile.

Furthermore, there’s a healthy amount of variety to the game and I never felt like things were growing stale. Both gameplay and visuals are switched up plenty of times along the way, and although the story is very dry, it’s easy to stay engaged and invested in progressing further.

Ultimately, it’s a flawed experience but one that balances out well enough in the end.

 

Author: Mia Violet

Mia has been blogging about comics and video games for several years from her home in merry ol’ England. She invites you to take a look around the blog before saying hello on Twitter, where she can be found tweeting about pop culture from @PanelsAndPixels

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