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Diamonds are forever

It’s not always easy to provide fresh takes on an established game universe—especially when it’s an annual release like Assassin’s Creed. This hasn’t stopped Ubisoft from trying to approach their crown jewel franchise from different angles, however, and one of their more recent attempts was in the form of the spinoff series Assassin’s Creed Chronicles. Forgoing third-person action adventure for a side-scrolling arcade-like motif, the first chapter in this series, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China, left much to be desired. Nine months later, we now have the second chapter in that series, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India. While it’s improved on several of its predecessor’s shortcomings, enough issues remain to keep this title from being as notable as its open-world brethren.

Set in 1841, ACC: India follows Arbaaz Mir, protagonist of the Assassin’s Creed Brahman graphic novel and father to Jayadeep Mir, better known as Henry Green from Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. After being lost for nearly three centuries, a precursor box once owned by legendary assassin (and fan favorite) Ezio Auditore has once again emerged in Templar hands. The Templars believe the Koh-i-noor diamond—a known precursor artifact, and the focus of the aforementioned Brahman book set two years earlier—could be a power source for the box. Arbaaz must now prevent the two items from coming together, or risk unfathomable power falling into Templar hands.

On the surface, ACC: India plays similarly to China. Arbaaz must work his way through intricately-designed levels while platforming and parkouring his way past Templar soldiers. Each subsection of said levels are scored on stealth and combat efficiency, with the added bonus of high scores leading to character boosts and in-game rewards.

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There are some striking differences between the two games, however. The most noticeable from the get-go is how India is artistically divergent from China. A wide array of bright colors and floral patterns mark Arbaaz’s sword swings and dot the vibrant landscape as visual markers for you to follow through the levels—a stark contrast to the muted backgrounds with splashes of sharp red and black watercolors seen in China. This is, of course, also a welcome reflection of each setting and our respective protagonists, helping subliminally show their differences beyond what we see through the game’s limited dialogue and cutscenes.

ACC: India also offers more gameplay variety compared to its antecedent. There are several sections where Arbaaz will have to cobble together a costume in order to bypass heavily guarded gates, or use cannons and sniper rifles strewn about the conflict-laden region of 19th-century India to clear out and open up new sections of a level. This increase in interaction with the environment helps immerse players into Climax Studio’s version of India—even if Arbaaz’s adventures only begin to scratch the surface of what could have been done in the game.The varieties of objectives these interactions afford are also a nice respite from the constant sneaking the game otherwise promotes.

This leads us to one major weakness that both Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games have in common: combat. You have to be stealthy and sneak around everywhere, because much like China’s protagonist Shao Jun, Arbaaz Mir is easily overpowered if he ever finds himself in direct combat. Countering and blocking remain unintuitive; even with Arbaaz’s superior gadgetry and the returning Helix glitch system (that temporarily makes Arbaaz almost unbeatable), most of the time open conflict is the last place you’ll want to be. This makes Arbaaz feel extremely weak—a far departure from what we have come to expect from the protagonists of Assassin’s Creed—due to how limited your options feel when combat is all but removed from them.

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Also returning from ACC: China are the timed sections, where you have to get through a level as quickly as possible—stealth-be-damned—usually because Arbaaz just blew up something he shouldn’t have. Much like before, many of these levels are a highlight and we see more of them in India than in China. That’s good, because they not only provide more fun, but also lengthen ACC: India by several sequences when compared to its forerunner.

As good as many of them are, though, there are a couple that fail to understand the importance of speed in making them enjoyable. These levels usually require either a great deal more climbing, or stricter timing from Arbaaz’s movements, with platforms that swing, switch, or rotate in ways reminiscent of the puzzle-platforming levels seen in older, mainline Assassin’s Creed games. It’s hard to have a sense of urgency while you’re waiting for platforms to move back into proper position before you can continue on, obliterating any rhythm you’d hope to get into.

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is an improvement when compared to the first chapter of this ancillary Assassin’s Creed series. It does a nice job filling in more gaps in the universe’s massive timeline, while uniquely linking itself to the previous tale, which took place 300 years earlier. It’s also a longer game, with a larger variety of gameplay to help keep things fresh, and its arcade scoring system provides some replayability if you’re into setting high scores. The combat and pacing still need some work, but the improvements seen from ACC: China to India make me at least remotely hopeful for what we can expect when ACC: Russia concludes the series next month.

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Developer: Climax Studios • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 01.12.16
7.0
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India learned from the missteps of its predecessor, as gameplay is more varied and its colorful, vibrant levels are both pleasing to the eye and fun to interact with in most cases. Open combat is to be avoided at all costs, however, limiting how you play the game—and some of the puzzle-platforming levels drag in term of pacing.
The Good Better variety to the gameplay, another story that helps fill in the blanks of the franchise’s timeline.
The Bad Direct combat still feels unintuitive and clunky, new climbing sections slow down pacing.
The Ugly Alexander Burnes sounds like a bad Sean Connery impersonator.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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