Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia ends the current trilogy of Chronicles games on a high, though its conclusion is signalled not by the rousing fanfare of a military bugle but rather a wet blow on a broken, paper party horn. Assassin’s Creed: Russia is certainly the best game in Ubisoft’s series, but it’s still a frustratingly limp ending to what’s turned out to be a forgettable trio of bite-sized platformers.
Having endured Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India, granted, we weren’t expecting to be bowled over with a rousing finale, but we were at least hoping that lessons would have been learned from the two previous games because at its core the Chronicles series certainly has its highlights.
They all look pretty good, for one. Like the two previous games, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia adopts a water-color art-style that captures the mood of the country and the era with a color scheme that complements as much as it contrasts. Bold reds fill the skies with drama and the streets with blood, which works well against the industrial greys of building facades, while splashes of color throughout each level – the yellow shine from a torch or the lime green outline of a hiding place, for example – combine impressively to deliver an eye-catching production, albeit one that offers more style than substance.
This final game in the 2.5D platforming adventure series casts players back in time to 1918 Russia during the aftermath of the October Revolution. In the role of family-man Nikolai Orelov, who takes a shine to a beautiful Russian princess, you’re on the hunt for a precious artefact; a piece of Eden that’s been hidden away by the Bolsheviks. Though the setting is impressive, the story does little more than give your actions some context as you sneak and assassinate your way through its four-hour campaign. Nevertheless, a surprising twist prevents it from being a complete washout, and the voice acting and writing is the best in the series so far.
Gameplay is identical to the previous games, with a few new gadgets and ways to tackle puzzles thrown in for good measure, which elevates this third game above its counterparts. Orelov can once again use his climbing skills and grappling hook to navigate environments, while an array of gadgets, such as smoke bombs, and a winch that you can shoot out from your rifle to pull platforms and disable electrical pulses, allow him to sneak through levels undetected. Using stealth has been a highlight of the series, and in Assassin’s Creed: Russia it’s no different, with stealth assassinations, ledge takedowns and the challenge of finding a way through an area undetected offering a level of satisfaction that encourages you to plod on.
Being awarded with more points for completing levels the stealthy way is an indication that being sneaky is exactly how Ubisoft wants us to play all the games in the Chronicles series, but doing so can also be very painful. The margin for error throughout the series has been tiny, and patience is tested to the limits again during stages where it’s so tough to work out how to bypass guards and security systems that you have no choice but to adopt the trial and error approach, and repeat sections over and over again. We do like a challenge – and there are levels where Ubisoft gets that balance towards accessibility right – but you need the patience of a saint to get through Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia without getting incredibly frustrated.
This frustration often forced us to go for the direct route, and try our hand at combat. Orelov has a rifle, which works well and comes in handy for head-shotting enemies from a distance, but once you run out of bullets and have no smoke bombs left there’s often no choice but to get up close and personal. Considering the main Assassin’s Creed series features a brilliant combat mechanic, you’d expect Russia to follow suit with a finely-tuned series of blocks and attacks in each encounter. Sadly, close-up combat in Russia offers nothing more than button-mashing and hoping for the best. Consequently, we often came out of the wrong side of most close quarter battles due to the alarm being raised and enemy support arriving in numbers. Combat wasn’t a highlight in the previous games, and here it’s not much better without having a sword to trade blows with opponents.
Nevertheless, Oerlov’s rifle does come in handy during sniping sections, which breaks up the platforming play rather nicely, requiring you to scan the environment through a scope and headshot guards with pin-point accuracy and timing. It also doubles up as a winch, allowing you to move platforms, switch off lights and disable generators to turn off electrics. There are also some decent new ways to navigate through locations, which are a little different to previous games. Orelov can use telephones to distract guards in other rooms and steal magnetic keys to sneak past pressure mines on the ground, as well as his usual tricks of whistling guards or dropping a smoke bomb. Players even get a chance to play as the princess, though these sections feel pretty much like it’s just Orelov with a new body.
While the impressive backdrop of Russia and some of the new ways to get through levels make Assassin’s Creed: Russia the standout title in the series, mistakes made in previous games haven’t been rectified. Timed mission are once again incredibly frustrating, where the margin for error is so ridiculously tiny that you’ll repeat these sections over and over again until you get it right. They’re not as punishing in this instalment, but they’re still here and still have the ability to make you walk away from the game to cool off before re-trying.
Overall, the Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles series has been quite disappointing. With an impressive setting, a better storyline, and some standout moments of stealth play, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia is the strongest out of the three games, but it once again delights and frustrates in equal measure. Tough challenges, annoying timed missions, and the boring ritual of repeating sections to try and work out the optimal path through its linear adventure don’t do it any favors, but it is fun in parts, feels more action-packed than previous games, and worth playing if you enjoyed the other two games in the Chronicles series.