When the original Assassin’s Creed game launched in 2007, who would have guessed just how thin the series would have spread itself just nine short years later? With a number of main games equal to said years and an honestly ludicrous amount of spinoff content, I’m willing to bet there are more than a few players out there that would like to see the franchise take a long break — but I’m even more willing to bet we won’t see that happen as long as the cash keeps rolling in for Ubisoft.
So yes, here we are, taking a look at Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia, the third game in a spinoff series announced last year that previously visited China and India. And yes, here we are again, wondering how anything in the video game medium could possibly make a task like assassination as boring as it is in this passable — and also skippable — offshoot.
If you’ve played either China or India, you pretty much know the deal here: this is a 2D side-scrolling take on the stealth gameplay found in the main Assassin’s Creed series, albeit with an increased focus on platforming. With that said, this entry does just as admirable a job of translating the bigger games’ mechanics to small-scale two-dimensional environments as the previous instalments.
Your characters can scramble up walls, sneak up behind enemies to silence or pickpocket them, switch between a number of useful gadgets on the fly and just generally use the environment to their advantage. Naturally, sneaking past enemies to take care of your target is always the main objective in the levels, but you’ve got a handful of side missions at your disposal as well, with collecting hidden objects being the most common of these.
As great as it is to revisit these mechanics for a third time in under a year, the Chronicles action feels awfully tired this time around. For one thing, you’ve got to wonder why some of the stealth sections — which were handled fairly well by the previous two games — are so unintuitive and clumsy here. While Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia sees fit to guide you through most of the opening moments and teach you the ropes (a rather pointless hand-holding exercise if you’ve been through all this before), as soon as it sets you loose it’s clear that you’re not going to have much more direction.
Several stealth sections give you no room for error, failing you instantly once a trace of your presence is left behind. That’s frustrating enough on its own, but it’s downright infuriating when you take into consideration just how obtuse the solutions to these mini-puzzles really are. But even when the game is going smoothly — something it most often does when you’re allowed to explore and experiment a bit — there’s a sense of déjà vu that permeates the experience. If you’ve got any sort of history with Assassin’s Creed games, this will most likely be a tedious affair.
If there’s any energy in Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia, it’s in the presentation. The highly stylized visuals, which take cues from Russian art and Soviet Union propaganda posters of old, are a delight to look at, and I particularly enjoyed the game’s selective use of color, washing levels in heavy shades of reds, oranges and browns to really bring out the feel of the country. The sharply-defined lines and deep pools of inky black water, which seem almost comic-book-esque, are also quite striking.
Beyond graphical appeal, the music and sound design do a nice job of setting the stage for your stealthy activities, though they’re nothing to write home about. You know what else is nothing to write home about? The voice acting. The English work played during cutscenes has to be some of the clunkiest, most phoned-in junk in the entire series, as you can almost hear the actors’ impatience to be paid for their rushed performances. That’s sort of a double-whammy when you consider it’s the only thing to really pay attention to during the cutscenes, which — like a lot of other “budget” titles — take the “slideshow” route and keep the animation to a bare minimum.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia is by no means a terrible game, but it does serve as a microcosm of how tired the series is getting after more than 20 entries in just nine years. While the franchise’s free-flowing movement and tense stealth gameplay seemed exciting and new back in 2007, they generate little more than shrugs and eyerolls in 2016 — and the dumbed-down versions of them here, while mostly solid mechanics-wise, are even less interesting. Sure, this is a competent and inoffensive little excursion through familiar territory, but let’s be honest: of all the words you’d like to associate with a game that lets you assassinate people, “competent” and “inoffensive” are probably the furthest from your mind.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia continues the Chronicles series' tradition of stealth mediocrity, offering up a handful of uneventful 2D side-scrolling missions. As usual, the visuals are nice and the mechanics are solid, but assassinating people should never be this tedious.