For some time now, Assassin’s Creed has been venturing into time periods much travelled. The American and French Revolutions are well-known events of violence, pirates are everyone’s favourite sea-faring outlaws, and Victorian London is a mainstay in countless costume dramas. Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India, the second in this series after Chronicles: China, doubles back on this convention, producing a 2.5D sidescroller set in the rarely explored regions of 1840s India and Afghanistan. The colours here are marvellous, as is the interesting history surrounding both British imperialism and the Sikh Empire. It is then a shame, however, that the gameplay of this Assassin’s Creed remains as difficult to control as ever. Even simplistic movements are reduced to frustrating affairs, and a number of ridiculous insta-fail sections mar the experience substantially.
You play as Arbaaz Mir, a member of the Indian Assassin Brotherhood, who becomes entangled in a war against a group of British Templars over the Koh-i-Nor diamond – an immensely powerful Piece of Eden. Unlike his fellow brothers and sisters from the 3D games, Arbaaz, as Shao Jun was before him, is confined to a 2.5D landscape in which various planes can be traversed. He can climb up and down buildings, jump over obstacles, hide in hay stacks, and leap from high points just like his 3D counterparts, and although these actions are limited to linear stages, the ability to travel from one plane to another provides an interesting level of depth that makes the world seem much larger, and much more dense, than it actually is. The beautiful vistas and crowded city streets of India stretch far beyond reachable areas, creating locales that are both detailed and sprawling.
Each stage follows Arbaaz on his aforementioned mission against the Templars, and, as a result, he must stab and platform his way through temples, palaces and markets. Nothing in Chronicles feels effortless, however, as your assassin constantly controls like a wayward piece of Velcro. Climbing simple structures may cause little trouble, but ducking from one hiding spot to another, killing enemies mid-air or traversing over obstacles becomes ever more frustrating; Arbaaz sticks heavily to every in-game surface with an ungodly amount of clunk. Furthermore, due to the game’s emphasis on stealth over combat, this clumsy aspect of Arbaaz’s demeanour results in countless deaths. Enemies are given cones of vision, and will call reinforcements upon alert, but thanks to the game’s linear levels, options for hiding are slim: you must fight through British hordes unsuccessfully time and time again, as their speed and strength outmatches that of Arbaaz. Parrying is a constant struggle, while dodging bullets requires unnaturally rapid reflexes.
Frustration is not only a key aspect of general gameplay, but of specific stages that will no doubt prompt countless retries. These either involve tailing assassination targets throughout portions of levels, or making it to your objective without being spotted. While the latter form is troubled by the standard gameplay kinks already mentioned, the former is a product of blatant bad game design. It is simply impractical to include tailing missions in a game where controllable camera options are nowhere to be found, as it is not only impossible to note your target’s position, but environmental obstacles become disastrous to predict. Many of these sections result in instant failure if spotted, and in one particularly nasty sniping portion, I was forced to put the game down for a while for fear of snapping my controller in half.
Thankfully, a bout of relaxation can be gained from Chronicles’ atmospheric relish. Stages, especially in the beginning, have been given a gentle buzz of Indian life through both ambient noises and beautifully crafted imagery. Water runs with soft tingles through verdant gardens, and animals, including birds and elephants, add a pleasant touch of life to the world. These creatures, along with just about everything else in the game, are impeccably rendered. Gone are the dull browns and tea-stained yellows of Chronicles: China and in their place are shades of powdered vibrancy. Every surface is coated with beauty and colour; the greens are a standout, as dense background foliage contrasts wonderfully against the oranges of the Amritsar palace. Cutscenes also take on this visual aesthetic as darker 2D structures and character models standout amongst a swathe of watercolour lighting. These colours are not only visually splendid, but also retain an element of India’s cultural identity, as the country’s Holi festival is celebrated through splashes of coloured powder.
While the story of Arbaaz is somewhat simplistic – retrieve the diamond, save your friend, save the girl – the history surrounding its events is compelling. Small pockets of conversation can be overheard from close-by British soldiers, recounting tales of frustration and upset at being stuck in an unwelcoming and alien climate; others, and in-game notes, discuss a society full of sieges, imperialism and a clashes between modernisation and extreme poverty. These themes echo elements of the original Assassin’s Creed, with both allowing you to play through a unique era that is rarely explored. This therefore increased my interest in the title’s minutiae tenfold, as I was actually able to absorb intriguing and unheard of information regarding the Sikh Empire, for example, without worrying about how the game would shoe-horn in Charles Dickens, or how my assassin would bump into world famous Communist Karl Marx by happenstance. The main series should take note from the vibrant, yet suitably subtle time period in order to focus on a more gripping historical narrative, rather than pushing out another shallow romp through an overused city.
While some seriously awful moments of frustration burden the gameplay of Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India to maddening levels, it’s beautiful visuals and fascinating world kept me sufficiently interested throughout. Its vibrancy and relaxing ambience provide both personality and soul, however, the constant push and pull of broken mechanics may have you earnestly reaching for the hidden blade.
(Power Up Gaming does not endorse Assassin’s Creed-related suicide.)
A frustrating yet beautiful jaunt
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India improves upon the drabness of China with a swathe of vibrancy. Unfortunately, this coat of paint is only skin deep.