The second chapter of Ubisoft’s bite-sized Chronicles series, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India, is not so much a thrilling adventure tale, but more of a dull jaunt for its latest stealthy executioner, Arbaaz Mir. Delivering a story about a jewel that harnesses secret powers, Mir steals the precious Koh-i-Noor but it’s soon retrieved back by the Templars. Scaling temples, cities and precursor sites, Mir attempts to steal it again, while pocketing that precious box that went missing in Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China as he pulls off all his ledge-hopping and swashbuckling moves to protect his mentor, Hamid, and love interest, princess Pyara Kaur.
God only knows what’s in the box, but most likely you won’t care much thanks to a series of shallow hand-drawn interstitials (served up with a heavy dollop of cheesy dialogue and poor voice-acting) that crop up between each mission and do little to immerse you in the tale. Mind you, by the time you get introduced to Captain Alexander Burnes, who sounds like someone doing a bad impression of Sean Connery as James Bond, you’ll probably get some satisfaction out of laughing along with it.
Though it’s a shame that ACC:India (and its first chapter) doesn’t take inspiration from some of the narrative flair from the main Assassin’s Creed series, things do at least get a little better in terms of gameplay. Taking place on a 2.5D plane, ACC: India sees you sneaking around 1841 Amritsar under the gaze of Sikh guards and Templars who are determined not to let you progress on your goal to get your hands on the jewel.
In typical Assassin’s fashion, India incorporates some of the stealth and movement techniques from the main series and, despite the restrictions of a 2.5D environment, it does so fairly well. The grappling hook allows you to snag onto certain surfaces to propel your way out of danger or to conduct brutal assassinations, while sneaky stealth takedowns and the quick drop of a smoke bomb allow you to silently take out enemies without alerting others. Ledge takedowns are supremely satisfying, while chakrams (which can be thrown to chop down the likes of chandeliers onto unsuspecting enemies), or noise bombs (used to create a diversion) prove to be an excellent way to get through some tricky levels. There’s also the welcome return of Eagle vision which grants you the ability to spot enemies and objects of interest from a distance.
Many of the missions are littered with patrolling enemies, and in order to get from A to B you can choose the stealthy approach, or systematically dispatch them all like a master assassin. Visual cones scan the environment from the beady eyes of the ever watchful Sikh and Templar guards with various coloured cones giving you an idea of their alert status, and it’s up to you to avoid their glare or face the consequences of the heavy back-up that arrives when alarm bells ring. It’s all fairly contrived, with enemy A.I. adopting the same search patterns in each situation, and proving that they’re not always quite the full ticket when it comes to tracking you down (hint: just run out the way, wait and come back to the same spot where the search patterns will have been reset), but there’s a level of satisfaction to be gained from tactically working out the optimal way through each level.
Many missions require a combination of stealth play and combat, though ACC: India works on a points system that often rewards you for taking the non-violent route. Working that out can be extremely tricky with so many guards and obstacles in your way, so it’s inevitable you’ll spend some of your time sneaking up behind enemies, pulling them over ledges and dropping down from ceilings to assassinate them without alerting others. This is when ACC: India is at its best. When you do face enemies head-to-head, the combat system works well and requires a combination of blocking, attacking and evasive manoeuvres to outwit your opponent, and the way levles are designed ensures that you can’t totally rely on stealth during some missions, where you have no choice but to kill with an entertaining combination of environmental assassinations, stealth kills and sword-fights.
As the game progresses, different enemy types are thrown at you, from snipers to stronger elites, that require varying strategies to dispatch. It soon becomes a tricky game of pin-point timing, trial and error, and utilising the right gadgets, while taking into account numerous obstacles, such as trip wires, or creaky floorboards that are designed to stall your progression. Completing missions rewards you with upgrades such as the Helix Strike, which can be used sparingly to kill guards with one blow, or the Helix Dash, to move swiftly unseen from one hiding place to the adjacent one, and it’s the levels where you’re required to really think before you wade in (and those where you are forced to use a combination of all the assassin’s skills) that provide the most entertainment and thought-provoking challenges.
Level design is largely well-thought out with a series of multi-tiered buildings to climb and rooms to search containing hidden scrolls and animus shards, so there’s a certain degree of exploration granted beyond the linear path to the end goal. Hiding places, such as alcoves and bushes, allow you to avoid enemy glare and pull off stealth assassinations, while the vibrant reds, golds and greens of some of the more detailed levels deliver an Indian flavour that’s appealing on the eye, with the the twangs of a sitar, the odd stampeding elephant, or tiger in a cage that growls and alerts enemies if you get too close, adding to the atmosphere.
However, things start to fall apart somewhat during some sections, most notably when you enter the precursor sites which consist of nothing more than huge grey concrete pillars and barely any background filler. Climbing up and leaping from one dull structure to the next, while avoiding killer shafts of light that shoot out of the cracks, isn’t much fun at all, yet ACC:India makes it all the more infuriating by forcing you to complete some of these missions against the clock. Indeed, it’s these numerous timed missions, inside and outside of the precursor sites, that can prove to be a real headache. One minor mistake and you’ll start again from scratch, before eventually realising that success depends on pinpoint accuracy and an exact combination of movements and button presses, with zero margin for error.
As the game progresses and more tactical upgrades are unlocked, ACC: India does have its highlights. Attempting to sneak through a busy area of guards requires tactical thinking and presents a real challenge that when conquered feels extremely satisfying. Overall though, the fun times to be had are limited with around half of the game providing a decent platforming experience, and the rest filled up with uninspired missions, a dreary boss battle and a finale that is so flat that there’s little to get excited about for the final episode in the trilogy.