Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia is the last release in the 2D sidescrolling spin-off trilogy that Ubisoft commissioned for their flagship franchise. The Chronicles games have always held a lot of promise, if only because they finally promised to take Assassin’s Creed to some visually interesting settings that fans have been demanding for a very long time, China, India, and now, Russia. Unfortunately, both the previous games in the series have squandered the rich possibilities that their historical and geographical backdrop provided them with, and now, much like them, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia does the same.
The entire game is one of missed opportunities- Russia does ask some interesting questions: how would a purely stealth focused Assassin’s Creed game work? How would Assassin’s Creed do if it shifted its focus away from western centric settings? How would a relatively more modern Assassin’s Creed game do? Unfortunately, Russia, while good at posing these questions, is not quite as good at answering them.
"The entire game is one of missed opportunities."
The problem is evident in the mechanics right from the get go. Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia bills itself to be a stealth-focused game- and indeed, it does act on that predication. Your character has incredibly low health, and is terrible at combat- this basically means that one hit (maybe two, if you are lucky) kills him. You’re left with a very narrow window to get your hits in before you die.
There wouldn’t be much of an issue with this if the levels were designed around the expectation of scenarios that can only handle one-on-one, maybe two-on-one, combat. Unfortunately, they are not, and you are often left to fend for yourself against multiple enemies, a lot of them with ranged weapons such as guns, which becomes all the more frustrating, given Nikolai (the eponymous Assassin in this game, at least for the first half) and his general ineptness at withstanding blows. How the man got to be a master Assassin in the first place baffles me.
There is a dodge mechanic that attempts to fix the issue, and to its credit, it does- but it’s more of a band aid plastered on top of the problem that tries to fix the symptom, and not the disease- Russia just has poorly designed, ill conceived levels that are not suited for the combat scenarios that it regularly places you in. The fact that you are all but forced to engage in combat at times makes it even worse.
"The stealth is, indeed, the best part of the whole experience- the encounters are generally tightly scripted, and ones that come close to legitimately make you tense."
And why are you forced to engage in combat? Russia, after all, bills itself as a stealth focused Assassin’s Creed game. That’s one of its big selling points. It even backs it up by having some excellent stealth mechanics, generally managing to translate all the typical series conventions (such as hiding inside things or blending in with the environment) excellently into the 2D plane, using stealth far more effectively than even some of the mainline games do. The stealth is, indeed, the best part of the whole experience- the encounters are generally tightly scripted, and ones that come close to legitimately make you tense.
The problem with stealth, then, isn’t in the mechanics- unlike the combat and encounter design, stealth in Russia is immaculate, except for a few AI bugs (pertaining to things such as faulty enemy vision cones and the like). The problem is that being spotted once instantly triggers combat. You don’t get any chance to run away, hide, or even trigger a high alert state such as the one found in Metal Gear or even 3D Assassin’s Creed games- instead, if you’re spotted once, you have no chance but to fight, often more enemies than you can handle.
By the end of the game, you have an almost Pavlovian response to being spotted, and you’ve been trained, basically, to avoid combat at all costs. In a way, this enhances the stealth by upping the stakes, by making you want to not engage in combat in a very real sense. On the other hand, it can get tiring and exhausting, and it basically demands a perfect run from you in each level, which can easily test even the most patient player’s persistence after a while.
It’s the same story once you consider the game’s narrative and story- on the one hand, I actually really enjoyed the characters, especially Anastasia; I also really enjoy the narrative, which has some real meaning and heft to it. Much like how Assassin’s Creed Unity took the backdrop of the French Revolution to tell a more personal story, Russia takes the backdrop of its historical setting to tell a more personal story, too. The problem here is the same as it was back then- a perfectly fine, multilayered historical setting that could have provided for so much intrigue and hooks into the series’ lore has been wasted. I appreciate the story, and I like the fact that Assassin’s Creed dares to tell a story not focused on a world spanning international conspiracy every now and then- but I do also lament the fact that such great historical settings are often completely wasted, especially when one of the big appeals of the franchise is its historical pseudo-authenticity.
"I appreciate the story, and I like the fact that Assassin’s Creed dares to tell a story not focused on a world spanning international conspiracy every now and then- but I do also lament the fact that such great historical settings are often completely wasted, especially when one of the big appeals of the franchise is its historical pseudo-authenticity."
At the very least, Russia translates its setting into gameplay mechanics extremely well- telephones are now a thing, for example, and you can easily ring one in one room to distract the guards and sneak ahead. You can blow a fuse and cause a blackout, reducing the guards’ field of vision. Ventilation exists for you to hide in and look for an opening. While the game may fail to fully utilize its setting from the storytelling perspective, I can hardly fault how it does so from a gameplay and mechanics point of view.
On the whole, I have mixed feelings about Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. But at the same time, it has a plethora of problems, ones that were immediately apparent to me from the get go. I appreciate some of the things the game does from a mechanical and narrative perspective- but I also lament at the missed opportunities it leaves in its wake in both cases.
How would a purely stealth focused Assassin’s Creed game work? How would Assassin’s Creed do if it shifted its focus away from western centric settings? How would a relatively more modern Assassin’s Creed game do? These questions still stand, and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia is not an answer to them. What it is, is a fairly reasonably fun game that fans of the series should be able to enjoy.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Excellent stealth mechanics, utilizes its setting very well from a gameplay point of view.
Terrible combat, badly paced encounters, the story fails to utilize the setting all too well.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles Russia is a reasonably fun game that fans of the series should be able to enjoy.
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