January 12, 2016

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India - Review

When the Chronicles series was announced, I believed it to be a clone of Mark of the Ninja and when China was finally in my hands, I realised if it was, it was a very poor attempt. It may have taken longer than planned, but India is finally here and this time they have gotten things right.

For the first time, the Assassin’s Creed series takes its first steps onto the sub-continent of India and we are introduced to Arbaaz Mir an Assassin who is caught up in the war between the East India Trading Company, also filled with Templars and the Sikh Empire. Arbaaz, before we met him had stolen back the Koh-i-noor diamond and fallen in love with the Princess, Pyara Kaur, but of course, things never go right for the assassin’s and shortly after the game starts, the diamond is stolen from them by the Templars, Sleeman in particular, who is calling the shots over everything and Brune his right hand man.

As things progress, Arbaaz enters a precursor site located within India itself and after a series of events that result in the destruction of the site, makes his way to Afghanistan, where the Templars seek another precursor site, to further their goals. While the story is not spectacular, it does provide context to events and keeps things moving at a brisk pace, but perhaps the best thing is that the cutscenes are used sparingly, but when they are used, they make an impression. The cutscenes play out as 2d drawings, but with the history of Indian artwork and colour, they have a look that is very unique, with elements appearing and splashes of colour.

The colour however, does not extend out to the game itself, while there are moments of colour in the opening scenes, the bulk of the game is considerably duller. What colour there is to be found in the world, is used to highlight specific enemies and parts of the world that you can interact with, green for example is used to highlight a hiding place, whereas red will allow you to climb to higher platforms on move away from or towards the camera. What this allows is for a very easy method of instruction, there is nothing that says red means you can climb, but as you move on, even to the underground caves, seeing something red gives you a sense of what you need to do.  It is this faster paced progression that keeps things moving along, but while that is fine in parts, there are times when the game actually forces you to go faster, but the heavy controls put a damper on that.

Arbaaz moves really well, he can climb, leap and shimmy as well as any other assassin, he also has a rope dart that allows him to pull himself up to the ceiling and wait for his target out of sight and while he has all these moves available to him, when you need to move at speed, he becomes as controllable as a tank. There are a few missions where it is all about sticking to your target, which requires you to keep up with them, sadly when you want to move faster the game tends to hold you back some, with clunky animations and cheap deaths. Scrambling to climb up a wall, jump to another, then back again, all while dodging enemy fire or something worse can prove to be a very frustrating challenge.

The other times when the game can become a fight against breaking the controller, timed challenges, they don’t happen too often, but when they do, they are frustrating to say the least. There was one instance, after at least a dozen attempts, when I finally killed all the guards, got to the switch and opened the door, the game marked it off as done, but then the timer hit zero and I failed, even though the doors were opening. I had to do it all again, which really made me rage at the game, the other instance of a rage inducing event is when you have to use a gun to shoot guards on a nearby tower, this requires a mix of eagle vision, to see those that are hidden and patience, however if you shoot a guard and another guard is anywhere nearby, they will be alerted and you fail. The issue is, you are never shown were the guard was that spotted your kill, so you have to keep learning and hoping that this time you get past it.

But by far the most annoying and questionable decision by the developers is making one of the boss fights, a sword fight, because the game never holds back when you are spotted up to that point. Being spotted, usually does not mean you fail, but you either have to fight your way out of it, or run and hide to they lose interest. I would always just stand there and take the death, because it kept whatever combo I had going, the few times I actually attempted combat, especially later in the game was proven to be a pointless endeavour. In combat, you have two attacks, standard and heavy, but when a guard is alerted to your presence, you can’t take them down with a single attack. However once a guard sees you, they will immediately call in for back up, but as you can only attack in one direction at a time, you are left defenceless on your back, which usually results in death. So getting into open combat, is not ideal, even at the best of times, so while I did enter it a few times, I never beat all the fighters, so to make a boss fight all around this part of the game, which the game never really forces you into beforehand is quite a strange decision.

As mentioned before, there are combo’s that you can get going, which are given to you when you complete sections of the game, getting through a section without being spotted or killing anyone results in the best score possible, doing that twice in a row will get you a multiplier of two, again a third one and so on, which is all used to earn upgrades at the end of each mission. The only time when this does not matter is in the speed run missions, where you are tasked with getting to the end within a set time, but this become an issue when you have to deal with the controls, it can be hard getting the best times. Should you get to the end of a mission and not have the score you need to unlock an upgrade, you can replay them, which is nice and even then, once you beat the game, you can start new game plus, with all your existing upgrades, to try and get the rest.

The game has this quasi 3d look, even though the camera is stuck to a 2d plain most of the time, there are times when it will turn, zoom and such, which does provide a level of depth. As stated earlier, the game features a washed out look with most of its environments, but even those maintain a level of charm, thanks to the water colour inspired look the game has, while the characters are detailed, the walls, ground and even sky has this painted look to them, that does look impressive. The game however does have issues with loading, not when the levels first load, but when it has to put you back to a checkpoint, the game struggles to load things up in time, which does give this strange look of pop in, all around the screen.

The audio does not really ask for your attention, there is a main theme, which is used sparingly, but is really well done, but the rest of the games audio never stood out to me. The voice acting is also a strong point, but there is just not enough of it, Arbaaz speaks the same lines all the time, repeating lines so often, it is hard to take him seriously when he just escaped a tunnel collapse, but says the same thing he did 20 minutes into the game. The guard are even worse, there is nothing wrong with their delivery, but boy do they repeat, the amount of times I heard a pair of guards talking about what they will do in the future was irritating, even more so when they were supposed to be on high alert, explosions going on around them, but there two of them are, having a quiet conversation, by that time I had heard many times before.

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is a much better game than the first, though it has some serious problems to address. There is enough here to bring you back for a second visit, especially if you are into getting every collectable and while the game is not perfect, it does show off a new part of the world of Assassin’s Creed.

Thanks to Ubisoft for supplying the game for review

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