Tag Archive: china


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In Russia, Chronicles crush you!

Serving as the third and final game in Assassin’s Creed Chronicles, ACC: Russia has the unenviable task of bringing up the rear guard of this series of spin-offs. Although Russia fails in some regards to capture the spirit of the main series—much like its predecessors—it at least continues the maturation process we saw between China and India, and can stand proudly as the strongest of the three.

Set in 1918 during the height of the Russian Revolution, veteran Assassin Nikolai Orelov, protagonist of the Assassin’s Creed: The Chain and The Fall graphic novels, must take on one more mission for the Brotherhood before he escapes with his family to America. This mission is not an easy one, however. Nikolai has been tasked with infiltrating where the Templars are holding Czar Nicholos II and his family, and must retrieve Ezio Auditore’s infamous box—the primary narrative link between all three Chronicles titles. Along the way, Nikolai interferes with the execution of the family, leading to the youngest child, a teenaged Princess Anastasia, surviving and suddenly coming under Nikolai’s protection. With the secrets of the box revealed, Nikolai must escape the pursuit of both the Assassins and the Templars if he hopes to save Anastasia and get his family free of Russia.

Like its antecedents, ACC: Russia is a side-scrolling platformer that focuses more on the stealth aspects of Assassin’s Creed than anything else. Each level is broken down into subsections, where players are scored upon how effective they are as Nikolai. High scores lead to character boosts, and by continuously scoring gold in the Silencer (non-lethal takedowns), Assassin (lethal takedowns), or Shadow (no interaction with enemies whatsoever) disciplines, a score multiplier will come into effect.

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Where Russia shines compared to the two previous chapters of Chronicles is in the variety of objectives each level throws at you, and how you can accomplish them. While combat is still a detriment here—with Nikolai feeling relatively underpowered compared to his foes—there is a new array of items and tools at his disposal. Their inclusion will help you avoid combat more easily and better even the odds, making the stealth elements not nearly as punishing or predictable as in Russia’s precursors.

For instance, Nikolai has a grappling hook that he can send an electric charge through to disable light generators, electrify water (and the enemies standing in it), or even overload outlets—all undoubtedly benefits of the time period. There are also new distraction techniques like using telephones to alter enemy patrol routes, or firing Nikolai’s rifle to pick enemies off from afar or make noise to divert their attention when necessary.

The rifle also allows Russia to build on the sniper sections introduced in India. Here, however, they feel more natural, since Nikolai often has to pull his rifle out to cover Anastasia as she runs ahead. Speaking of Anastasia, there are even sections where you have to play with her and her far more limited talents, forcing you to push your stealth skills to the limits. This is a rare instance in this series where narrative actually led to more interesting gameplay.

The only downside to all these new tools was how everything was poorly spread out, as certain techniques—like being able to electrocute enemies—are introduced very late in the game, making them feel like an afterthought design-wise. As well, some of the level felt noticeably weaker in terms of design than others.

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A perfect example of this is in the chase levels. In ACC: China, when Shao Jun had to get through an area as quickly as possible while being pursued, it was one of the best elements of that game and it only seemed to continue on in India. The chase levels in Russia, however, are probably the weakest of the series, with old, plodding Nikolai being something of a chore to control in those moments. It makes sense for him to feel different than the other characters, but for those differences to make him feel inferior—at least as a parkouring assassin, because his gadgets definitely give him a leg up in other ways—might have made sense for the story, but definitely detracts from the experience.

One last disappointing element about Russia was the art style. India was the most vibrant and interesting world of the three games, and Russia may be the weakest. The Sin City-esque usage of grayscale with splotches of red do make sense for the setting, giving everything a downtrodden, depressing overtone. Unfortunately, they don’t work as well as intended, making many parts of the game somewhat painful to look at—especially when you get to the handful of indoor levels that are awash in color.

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia is the best game this offshoot series has offered up thus far. Sadly, it still falls short in ways that have plagued the series from the get-go. However, if you’ve come this far with Chronicles, at least things end better than they began, with a compelling narrative, great gameplay variety, and ingenious uses of stealth that will reward those players who have stuck around.

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Developer: Climax Studios • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 02.09.16
7.5
Shortcomings that haunt the entire series remain here, but more gameplay choices and a compelling narrative make Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia the strongest of the three Chronicles titles.
The Good Largest variety of gameplay of the three Chronicles games, interesting story that ties well into greater AC universe.
The Bad Combat is still a chore, poor pacing.
The Ugly You can almost see the osteoporosis setting in on Nikolai as he sluggishly runs around.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia  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.

A story better left untold

Once a series reaches a certain point, it becomes more and more difficult to keep things fresh. This problem only becomes compounded the more frequently new chapters are released, so a yearly franchise like Assassin’s Creed is definitely a prime example of something that’s begun to fatigue the gaming community.

I had hopes, though, that the latest entry in the franchise, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China, might jump-start my excitement again for the never-ending Templar-versus-Brotherhood conflict—even if it only comes six months after the one-two punch of Unity and Rogue last fall. A new developer, a new protagonist, and a new take on the series’ definitive gameplay were all things that even a tired fan could look forward to.

ACC: China follows a female Assassin named Shao Jun in the early 16th century during the Ming Dynasty. She’s the last of the Chinese Brotherhood, who were all but wiped out by a powerful group of eunuchs called the Tigers. In reality, the Tigers are Templars, and with the rest of the Brotherhood eliminated, they now control the Ming emperor like a puppet.

Driven by vengeance, Shao Jun returns home against almost insurmountable odds—but armed with special training from Assassin’s Creed II protagonist Ezio Auditore. She knows that her mission may be nearly impossible to accomplish, but the only way to free China and start her branch of the Brotherhood anew will be to eliminate the Tigers one by one.

The most striking thing that ACC: China has going for it—and immediately helps differentiate it from other games in the series—is the fact that Ubisoft and developer Climax Studios have shifted from the 3D open world we’re used to with the Assassin’s Creed franchise and instead made a more arcade-like 2.5D side-scrolling platformer. Besides the shift in viewpoint, ACC: China also touts a novel art style where every brandish of Shao Jun’s sword or stealthy elimination from the shadows is punctuated by a flourish of red-and-black watercolors, giving the game a sense of a painting come to life. It’s definitely a far throw from the more realistic-looking adventures in the main series, and I found it served as a much-needed twist on what we normally get in an Assassin’s Creed game.

The level layout is also meticulously crafted to take advantage of the protagonist’s nimble nature. Even considering the fact that this is a 2.5D game, Shao Jun still has a stunning amount of freedom to parkour, with multiple paths often available to reach each level’s end point. Finding different routes through the foreground and background—and switching perspectives as Shao Jun shimmies around the edges to another side of a building—gives the level design depth that you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

Most surprisingly, though, the stealth gameplay for which Assassin’s Creed is known lends itself well to the shift in perspective. Shao Jun still hides in haystacks, crowds of people, and shadowy alcoves to strike at her unsuspecting foes as they pass by. The 2.5D viewpoint, combined with each guard’s “cone of awareness” that allow you to see where their focus is at a given time, makes it easier to plan a path and memorize patrols. Of course, the guards aren’t the smartest ever programmed in an Assassin’s Creed game, either, so luring them to their doom is relatively easy with the assistance of firecrackers, whistles, and special noise-emitting darts.

Playing stealthily is heavily encouraged here for two different reasons. The first is the game’s arcade-based scoring system that rewards clean play, with the highest possible score only achievable by working through checkpoints unseen and without eliminating a single opponent. The second reason? The combat sucks.

For as many cool weapons as Shao Jun has—her hidden toe blade, rope dart, and Jian sword—any direct confrontation against more than one foe almost guarantees certain doom. The 2.5D aspect proves to be flawed here, since it makes it incredibly easy for enemies to surround and overwhelm Shao Jin. This gives her a frail quality unbefitting an Assassin, and it’s easily my least favorite part of the gameplay. Even her counter, the only way to defend herself against an attack in combat, is unintuitive—it requires pushing the analog stick toward the attack instead of away, as one’s instincts would dictate. But why bother with any directional input at all here?

Since combat isn’t really a viable option, ACC: China has a very one-dimensional feel. A first playthrough shouldn’t take more than six hours, but you can’t help but start to become bored by it all around the halfway point. No matter how pretty the game may look, enemy variety is minimal, and the stealth patterns quickly become evident.

I might’ve been able to forgive monotonous gameplay if there were at least an interesting story to tell. Unfortunately, ACC: China falls completely flat here, too. Ever since Shao Jun debuted in the animated short Assassin’s Creed: Embers, fans have clamored for more of her. With nothing more than a thin revenge plotline to push her forward, however, Shao Jun’s time to shine feels wasted, and it does very little to expand the Assassin’s Creed universe in China. Her backstory is told through a few meager paragraphs that you find in collectible form, and the game’s cutscenes do her no favors either, only giving a brief explanation for why she’s assassinating her next target.

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China has a beautiful art style and distinct viewpoint compared to the other titles that share the Assassin’s Creed brand. The stealth works, but it also serves as too much of the gameplay’s focus. The combat and the story—or lack thereof—are both gaping holes that can’t be ignored, keeping the game from reaching its full potential. The one hope is that perhaps India and Russia, the next two games in this spin-off series, can remedy some of the mistakes seen here while building on what China does well.

Developer: Climax Studios • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.21.15
6.0
Assassins Creed Chronicles: China offers some solid building blocks for this spin-off series, including beautiful art and decent stealth gameplay. The poor combat and sad attempt at storytelling, however, both leave far too much to be desired.
The Good A colorful art style that really helps the world come alive.
The Bad The gameplay gets very repetitive very quickly.
The Ugly Shao Jun seems like such an intriguing Assassin, but it feels like her story is wasted here.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China 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.

I had a chance to go hands-on with Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China and get an early, firsthand look to see if the open-world action-adventure gameplay of Assassin’s Creed could transition into a 2.5D side-scrolling world. Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is the first in a series of three new, standalone downloadable titles from Ubisoft and developer Climax Studios.

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China will be downloadable to your PS4, Xbox One, or PC starting April 21. The next two chapters in the series, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India and Russia, were also just announced and will be available sometime later in 2015.

China has temporarily lifted their ban on foreign consoles, the BBC reports. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft will now be able to build their consoles in a designated free trade zone in Shanghai, where Chinese government officials will then inspect the consoles before they are allowed to finally go on sale.

Back in September 2013, the Chinese government announced its intentions to lift the ban, but no one knows how long its current suspension will last. Many speculate that the announcement and subsequent lift are the byproduct of an economic slowdown in China after years of rapid growth.

Another theory is that this policy change—possibly serving not only as the next step in China’s globalization, falling in line with other, wider economic reforms and liberalization in recent years—could be a response to the illegal gaming trade.

The ban was first instituted in 2000, with Chinese officials growing concerned about the effects of games on young people. Since then, Chinese gamers have had to acquire consoles via black market exchanges, which remains active and thriving despite governmental attempts to hinder it. Even with a gaming black market, most people in China have simply turned to PC gaming, which reportedly comprises two-thirds of the estimated $13 billion dollar market that China represents.

No matter the reason behind it, the question now is how Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft will take advantage of this lift respectively, and what it means if and when China decides to re-institute it.

“We recognize that China is a promising market,” Sony told the BBC after the news broke. “We will continuously study the possibility, but there is no concrete plan at this stage.”

Carving out a decent slice of a $13 billion dollar market could easily offset any initial losses caused by setting up shop there. But if the ban were to come back down quickly, this potential new branch could prove to be a costly error, something The Big Three are surely considering.

Should one, or all of the big companies decide to make a play here, though, Sony and Nintendo’s proximity to China provides an obvious advantage. Others believe that Microsoft, based on its history outsourcing hardware, could be in the best position. In theory, they could quickly team up with a third-party electronics contractor to set up shop in Shanghai and start producing the consoles. Either way, this could mark a significant day in the gaming industry’s economic history if China decides to keep its shores open.

Originally Published: October 20, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed Samurai Warriors: Katana for the Nintendo Wii from Koei.