Here’s a controversial opinion: the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games do a better job of capturing what the blockbuster Ubisoft series is about than the core games in the series.
Being an assassin brings with it a number of expectations. You’re supposed to be silent, stealthy, and deadly peering out from the shadows and moving nimbly to achieve your task. This involves maneuvers like hiding, sneaking past guards, and using tools to distract, confuse, or kill from a distance- all of which are key mechanics in the Chronicles games.
But it’s the 2.5D perspective that makes these games feel truly special. Instead of an open world environment filled with crowds and other obstacles, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India places you on a semi-flat plane with a very clear layout of enemies and routes to take. There’s a trial and error element to everything that makes it all the more challenging, especially at the outset. It’s more of a puzzle game than an action game, and the many stealth elements of it help it to shine.
India does a great job of layering mechanics and challenges on top of each other slowly, allowing the player to become accustomed to the different controls and strategies. The first level involves a non-lethal run through a palace garden and teaches the basics of stealth and platforming, whereas combat makes an appearance on the second, slowly building on abilities as they’re earned after each mission. There are a lot of options and tactics available to you, but never so many that you’ll forget or rely on just a handful for success. The added incentive here, of course, is the grading awarded to players at the end of each section. Through this score, players can see how well they did in the previous area via stats on who they alerted, who they killed, and so on.
The game is also gorgeous, sporting a watercolour-esque brushed aesthetic coupled with intricate designs. Cutscenes are fully voiced and presented in the form of painted stills with small details for added flair, animations of the main character and enemies are smooth, and there’s a distinct personality trapped inside this faux-3D world of India.
It being one of the better representations of Assassin’s Creed, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t dogged by many of the issues the core series faces. This is essentially a puzzle platformer, and more than once I became frustrated with parts requiring a certain precision the controls simply wouldn’t allow. The slightest wrong angle on a directional stick frequently resulted in my character leaping to his death, jumping up in front of guards, or missing a parry and dying of a sword to the stomach. Button presses have a strange, detached delay to them that often left me wishing for luck more than relying on my own skill, and this lack of precision got in the way so frequently I often felt the greater enemy in India was the controls themselves.
However, when they do work, they work brilliantly. Dropping down from the ceiling into a stealth kill, sneaking into a hideout right under a guard’s nose, and slowly picking off a group of unsuspecting enemies was satisfying. But even the best of these moments can’t excuse all the Hail Mary cliff jumps and awkward arguments between fingers and buttons, and the frequency with which they took place slowly began to border on maddening.
This isn’t the massive, expansive open world we’re used to from the Assassin’s Creed games. And that’s a good thing. By remaining focused and paring down the extra content, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is a stealth game through and through. Its controls are at times hard to love, and the story itself is nothing significant, but its use of smart stealth mechanics and a brilliant art style make it a wholly mediocre game with flashes of brilliance throughout.