My detailed review for Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India, a stealth focused 2.5D platformer

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India is an extremely stylish 2.5D stealth/platformer hybrid with a focus on fast-paced sneaky action and exploration of some rather memorable vistas.

As a big fan of stealth games I went in to it expecting something similar to Mark of the Ninja and while Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India definitely has the makings of a truly great stealth platformer it is sadly full of untapped potential.

 

The story follows Arbaaz Mir as he attempts to retrieve the fabled Koh-i-Noor diamond amidst a war between the Sikh Empire and the East India Company. Your journey will take you from the grand Indian palaces to mystic ruins, ancient castles and everywhere in between.

It is this journey that is the most inspiring part of ACC: India given that the art style is simply gorgeous to look at. The environments are bright, colorful and filled with little details you probably won't even notice unless you stop to smell the virtual flowers. While the character models and buildings are mostly done in a realistic style the background details and cinematics have a "hand-drawn" feel to them which contributes greatly towards India looking so cheerful.

There are small problems here and there, mostly related to really low quality background textures but in general the graphics and artwork of ACC: India are simply a joy to behold as you're choking down your twentieth guard that morning.

Assassin's Creed Chronicles India features some rather dashing graphics

Aaaaah, what a lovely sunny morning

While the visuals had me instantly hooked in to the world of ACC: India the story, what little of it there was, had me rolling my eyes throughout it. I don't expect a tale that will have me weep tears of joy from an 8 hour stealth game but the one present in ACC: India is less of a story and more of a loosely bundled pile of excuses to send you through various zones.

The dialogue is done through beautifully drawn "cutscenes" and features some great voice actors but neither of those two can save a thoroughly uninspiring script where everything seems to be done by the numbers and where characters are mere caricatures rather than actual people.

It is clear that a great deal of effort went in to the game's presentation so what exactly went wrong with the story that it ended up being this, for the lack of a better word, boring is something I would love to find out.

Assassins Creed Chronicles: India cutscenes have very pretty art to look at

The main baddies admiring their precious

But the presentation alone isn't what makes a game good or bad, it is the actual gameplay experience that truly matters and for the most part ACC: India is well balanced and fun to play as a stealth game. The missions, especially later on, are cleverly designed and will require a good degree of both skill and planning from you if you hope to succeed. Rushing in with your sword swinging is simply not a viable strategy.

You will instead need to temper your bloodlust with a good degree of stealth and cunning since the enemies aren't as dumb as the usual stealth game henchmen. Their cones of sight are fairly large and patrol routes planned in such a way that you will most likely get your ass handed down to you a couple of times before you figure out the optimal way of taking them out. They do suffer from the usual stealth-game induced amnesia though so even if you kill someone in cold blood in-front of them they will forget all about it in 30 seconds.

Things get trickier later on when more advanced enemies get introduced as some have better vision and range on their muskets, other are more perceptive and can't be ambushed and so on. To help you out ACC: India gives you four gadgets, three if you don't count yourself whistling as a gadget, which go a long way towards making some impossible encounters quite possible.

The chakram allows you to disable alarms from a distance and turn the environment against your enemies, the smoke bombs are basically an I-WIN button that give you a few seconds of free reign over your enemies and the final two, the whistle and noise bomb share the same purpose of drawing enemies towards or away from you. They're all fun to use and their skillful application will do you wonders during some of the tougher areas as well as make you feel like a true sneaky assassin.

Assassins Creed Chronicles India has some tough stealth sections

The hard life of an assassin, feat. annoying poppup

You might be wondering at this point why did I start the review by saying ACC: India is filled with untapped potential when I am seemingly just praising the game. This stems from the fact that the core gameplay principles are extremely solid. It is fun to creep through the shadows and ambush unsuspecting guards, to execute a plan to perfection and never even get seen or to simply pickpocket your objective leaving everyone none the wiser to your presence.

All of the elements that make a good stealth platformer are present in ACC: India but its the mechanics of it all that hold India back from being truly great. Arbaaz has an impressive array of moves, attacks and gadgets he can use which is excellent as far as variety goes but the problem comes from the fact that many of them share the same command and are contextually activated.

When you translate this in to gameplay it means that in a stealth focused game where you require precision your character is anything but. This is especially apparent when you're doing anything near ledges as even a single "wrong" tap of a button will either glue you to a nearby wall, send you hurtling off a cliff, or simply make you dry hump a piece of furniture.

Assassins Creed Chronicles India has quite a few issues with controls near ledges and objects

Dislike ledges? Here's an entire portion of the game focused around them, oh and you're chased by a laser wall, have fun!

If it was just ledges that had this issue I'd be a lot more forgiving but the same problems happen with ladders, hidey-holes, pillars and other such background elements whose cooperation you really need when you're trying to navigate tight enemy patrols. Being uncertain about whether your input is going to produce the desired effect is a big no-no when it comes to precision stealth games.

On the topic of precision stealth game no-nos forced "puzzle" sections are on the top of the pile carved in stone and embossed in gold. If they were actual puzzles I would understand their inclusion but every single one of them relies on you doing an insultingly easy series of events which always end with you turning a few wheels to lower something to jump on.

For a fast-paced game such as ACC: India they are needlessly slow and tedious and completely break the pacing. The last thing anyone wants to do after getting an adrenaline rush by going through a tough section is to take a break in order to do something ultimately pointless.

The problem with these puzzles is that they are far more common than they have any right to be so every few areas you're going to run across the exact same roadblock which is a massive waste of what could've been a cool section if only it was better positioned and more cleverly designed.

Assassins Creed Chronicles has some really pointless puzzles

I wonder if the solution has anything to do with the four glowing wheels...

The difficulty faces a similar problem. First of all, the balance in ACC: India is for the most part extremely well done and features a constant increase in challenge and enemy numbers as you improve in both abilities and personal skill. I consider myself a stealth game veteran and even I had tons of trouble completing some of the later stages and challenge modes through pure stealth.

The whole gameplay system is seemingly tailored to a pure stealth playthrough in mind because through a combination of gadgets, careful planning and execution you're able to, with great effort, get by almost any area of the game without raising a single eyebrow in alarm. Each zone will take you a decent chunk of time as you scout enemy patterns, loot lore-based collectibles and peel off enemy defenses as if they were an onion. All of the good stealth game stuff is present here.

On the other hand, if you just decide you're tired of sneaking around you can complete each level in record time through a combination of simply outrunning enemies, using the somewhat cheap-feeling smoke bombs to completely obliterate them, or just by fighting them and then fleeing if the situation gets too tough.

Assassins Creed Chronicles India can sometimes be easily cheated through

He disappeared in this meter long smoke cloud... guess he's gone forever, better stop shooting now

And if that wasn't enough you also unlock what is essentially a bunch of super-powers which allow you to instantly kill multiple enemies in a row, move unseen in clear line of sight, and so forth. All of this unfortunately trivializes the nicely balanced and prepared challenges ahead of you. Obviously you can simply say that you won't use any of them and stick to pure stealth but then you're going to be ignoring half of the game's moves and tricks which never feels good.

Its hard to explain why exactly but it feels like ACC: India has a bit of a crisis of identity. It features some incredibly well designed stealth-focused levels which require clever thinking to get through them but then it gives you abilities which can completely negate any challenge you might run across. Personally I ended up choosing not to cheese the game and had a good deal of fun doing a "purist" playthrough but even so I was constantly tempted to just instakill a room here and there instead of figuring out a nifty way around it.

As far as the balance between violence and stealth goes the challenge levels did it the best because the constantly ticking timer and nasty enemy positions simply don't allow you to stand around and loot more smoke-bombs all day.

Instead you will be sneaking, stabbing, dashing and throwing all of your gadgets in quick succession to reach the end in the fastest possible time. It might not sound like much but its a great way to challenge all of your skills against some exciting encounters though the mechanical issues do rear their ugly heads here once more.

Verdict

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India is not a perfect game, far from it, but it does feature a beautifully visualized world with really fun and challenging stealth based gameplay that is unfortunately mired by some inconsistent mechanics and forced pace-breaking puzzles.

As it stands I feel I can only really recommend ACC: India to hardcore stealth enthusiasts who will be able to overlook some flaws in favor of challenging gameplay and Assassin's Creed fans who would like to experience a more exotic setting for the series.

I personally enjoyed it, despite the flaws, but I am aware that if I have to add so many caveats to my recommendation it simply isn't something the vast majority of people will enjoy. Which is a real shame because the series truly has vast untapped potential so I do hope that the developers listen to player feedback and polish the upcoming ACC: Russia to a mirror sheen.

You can grab Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India over on Uplay.

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