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

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Title: Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India
Format: PlayStation Network Download (3.4 GB) / Blu-ray Disc**
Release Date: January 12, 2016
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal / Climax Studios
Original MSRP: $9.99 (Stand-alone) / $29.99 (Blu-ray Chronicles Collection)
ESRB Rating: T
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is also available on PlayStation Vita (April 5), Xbox One and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

** Available as part of the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles Collection

The Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games embody the experiences I hoped and dreamed for when the PlayStation Vita was first announced. As I watched the E3 presser, awestruck by what the little powerhouse would be capable of, I thought that 2D platforming versions of my favorite Sony properties were imminent. I was sure I’d soon be playing awesome handheld iterations of inFAMOUS, God of War, and Uncharted.

Although the latter did in fact come true, I must say I’ve become a bit disappointed by the Indie/JRPG machine the Vita has come to be. I don’t mean to say the library is lame or limited, but the admitted lack of first party support killed my initial thoughts of the Vita’s evolution.

When one of the industry’s foremost publishers of third party games, Ubisoft, announced the then Vita exclusive Assassin’s Creed Liberation, things were looking up but responses to the game were lukewarm at best. The Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games are a move in the right direction in terms of smaller titles for the established franchise. Although they’re great on PS4, I’m excited to see them on Vita, their home, when they release as a triple pack this April.

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Gameplay:
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is the second game of the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles Trilogy, a series of three separately contained stories featuring fresh protagonists and locales previously unexplored by the bigger games in the series. The first one followed Shao Jun through China as she antagonized those pesky Templars. This time we play as Arbaaz Mir on a fetch/rescue mission for the story’s MacGuffin and his love interest.

Ubisoft developers are masters at creatively utilizing the 2.5D environments to add depth and variety to the game’s missions. It was a pleasant surprise that there were no points in the five hour campaign that were boring or repetitive.

… Areas can be deceptively large …
Compared to a game of the same style in recent memory, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, the variety is stellar. Chase scenes, combat scenarios, platforming, stealth opportunities, and more make their way into this game at a refined pace. The same sorts of mechanics are applied in different and entertaining ways throughout many of the missions.

Accessible foregrounds and backgrounds are usually identifiably marked by red ledges and/or painted patterns. Areas can be deceptively large with multiple floors, numerous paths, and open windows to explore. Between tracking a high value target, dodging death traps on monkey bars at insane heights, or sword fighting after alerting the enemy, there is no rest for Arbaaz.

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Some missions result in an auto-gameover upon detection, heartily testing the player’s skill and patience. At other points, it’s possible to fight your way out of an alert status but Arbaaz is quickly outnumbered and overpowered. Combined with a tacked-on combat mechanic and periodic rewards for stealthy play, the sword fighting is best used as a last ditch effort for buying more time to run and hide while waiting out the alert.

The gadgets in this game are delivered in a Metroid-vania sort of way as Arbaaz’s equipment isn’t all accessible at the outset of his journey. The only guard shenanigans available at first are your whistling talents.

… puzzles that sometimes require taking a breath …
Later on, you’ll create distractions by sabotaging equipment with your ricocheting chakrams, luring enemies away from their guard posts by tossing noisemakers and masking your movements through heavy surveillance by igniting smoke bombs. You’ll also gain helix abilities that allow Arbaaz to pull off some amazing, game-changing tricks that I won’t spoil here.

The most difficult areas of the game can act as puzzles that sometimes require taking a breath, assessing your options, and proceeding cautiously. With careful planning, a courtyard housing ten roaming guards can reveal a hidden path of least resistance.

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The patience-testing spots aren’t limited to avoiding combat or perfectly chained stealth kills. Speed running missions aren’t passable unless the right movements are made at precisely the correct times while the shadows will sometimes provide the only plausible cover.

Finishing the campaign doesn’t end the fun as the game’s best features make their way into extra challenge missions available on the main menu. Carry out assassinations and collect helix points all while satisfying optional objectives for supreme style.

… a breathtaking semblance of watercolor paintings …
Upon completion, you’ll be able to reload and play any or all of the ten memory sequences on a new unlocked difficulty. I wanted to remain in this world after beating the game and these tidbits allow just that.

Visuals:
The conveyance of depth perception is fantastic as Arbaaz moves seamlessly throughout the 2.5D rendition of 19th century India. The environments are brilliantly colored, showcasing the vibrancy of the animated visual style.

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A comic book-esque look somewhere in between Borderlands and Telltale’s The Walking Dead is dutifully achieved. The story is unveiled through still shots with a breathtaking semblance of watercolor paintings. The patterns on display here feel authentic to the time period and part of the world to which they’re native. The art direction is the game’s most poignant success.

… smooth mechanics, exciting gameplay, and bite-sized adventure …
Audio:
The game’s soundtrack characterizes the time period with the historical accuracy the franchise is sometimes razzed about. It feels very fitting and the highlight comes from Arbaaz’s casually uttered vocal quips which come out when he’s in a most precarious situation. He motivates himself through death defying stunts with a simple “faster, Arbaaz”.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

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Conclusion:
I struggled with validating this game’s quality for those who aren’t already fans of the source material. I wondered if there’d be any enjoyment for gamers who’ve never played Assassin’s Creed and have no interest in the lore. Ultimately, the smooth mechanics, exciting gameplay, and bite-sized adventure allow this game to hold its own amongst the worthwhile Indies littered throughout the PSN.

Fans and newcomers alike can appreciate the self-contained story and likeable protagonist. Although the sword fighting and hand to hand combat can be a bit underwhelming, the ultimate goal is to dodge most of that through sharp environmental awareness and cunning stealth tactics.

I’m always intrigued when a big IP known for Triple-A releases experiments with a new genre. How will the scope of the original vision translate to the new project? Whether the ambition is increased like the move Metal Gear made from linear to open-world, or dialed back like Lara Croft and Agent 47’s mobile escapades, I love to see fresh takes on established franchises and characters. In the case of Arbaaz Mir and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India, the experiment is a success.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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