Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia Review0 Comments
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also available on: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows
Developer: Climax Studios, Ubisoft Montreal
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia is the third and final game in the Chronicles series, which tells the story of Nikolai Orelov, a disenfranchised Assassin looking to get out of the game and flee the country with his family. The story is set between the comic books Assassin's Creed: The Fall and Assassin's Creed: The Chain, and focuses on Orelov's struggle to free himself from the systems he's trapped within.
The game narrative plays out in 1918 Russia, which has been a setting I've been waiting for in an Assassin's Creed game for years. The Bolsheviks have got the Tzar and the royal family on their knees, and Nikolai finds himself caught in the struggle between the two groups during what he thought would be his final mission for the Assassins. Generally, the Assassins are on the side of the revolutionaries during these struggles, so it's interesting in this game that they are between the two parties without picking a side.
Nikolai's mission takes him on the typical path to recover a piece of Eden, but things get much more complicated as he reaches his destination and finds the device in the hands of the sole-surviving member of the royal Romanov family: Princess Anastasia. Being caught in the juxtaposition between Russian autocracy and Bolshevik socialism is not the best place for Nikolai to be when he's trying to end his life as an Assassin, and the plot gets a little thick as he both works for and deceives the Creed, while his new companion takes on the memories of a former Assassin.
The gameplay in Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia is generally the same as the previous two entries in the series, blending platformer-style stealth tactics and a little bit of brawler combat running along a 2.5D plane. The environments look great on the Xbox One, and Ubisoft's take on the atmosphere of the time is on point. The Russian cities of Moscow and Yekaterinburg were portrayed brilliantly, except for the fact they maybe went a bit overboard with the Soviet-Red motifs, seeing as the Soviet Union hadn't been established yet.
Even if the timing was off by a few years, the developers hit the nail on the head with the Russian propaganda-style posters and background art for the game, which could have been torn straight from an early Soviet textbook. The consistently dark setting is perfect for a country that was undergoing its most dramatic change in centuries, and it makes the reds stand out starkly in contrast to the monochromatic backdrop. You can also expect to come across some characters from the period with Ubisoft's typically brilliant depiction of their personalities, with Leon Trotsky standing out as a personal favorite.
I found that I only really enjoyed Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia's combat in short bursts, so thankfully the game is mostly geared towards being a stealth-platformer. You have the option to play a large portion of the game overtly if you so choose to, but the meat of the product is in using the environment to distract or dispatch your foes before proceeding onward. I especially loved that I could enter a building and call the telephone on the floor below me, by using the telephone located directly above it.
The major difference from the gameplay in Russia from the previous two games in the series is Nikolai's rifle, which is certainly a handy addition for taking care of guards. If you're choosing to go the stealthy route, the gun is mostly useful as a distraction tool; to hit items and pull guards away from you. The grappling hook is another new addition to the Chronicles series, and allows Nikolai to either ascend quickly to ledges or use it to interact with the environment. Since I mostly tried to stealth every mission where possible, there were a lot of moments spent staring at the screen and looking for contextual objects to grapple, or ways to distract enemies using the new tools.
A few of these moments ended up feeling a little bit tedious to perfect, but mistakes force you to press on and evolve your tactics on the run. As much as I wasn't a fan of getting into close-combat with the Red Army, a poorly-timed jump after grappling a moving crate forced me to get very comfortable with the mechanics quickly. My biggest issue was that the melee combat felt like it was a little technically stiff and repetitive, and could have done with some of the series' flair for the dramatic in hand-to-hand encounters.
While AC Chronicles: Russia is generally pretty open-minded with how it allows the players to proceed through any mission, there are several instances through the game where Nikolai is pigeonholed into taking a very particular course of action. It wouldn't have felt so out of place if the entire rest of the game didn't allow you to choose between stealth and action, but the mandatory sneaky missions or chase scenes felt a bit forced. The latter also made up some of the more annoying instances through the game, where constant restarts were necessary for a successful pursuit.
The gameplay expands in much-needed ways after you unlock the second character, the rescued Princess Anastasia Romanova, who immediately becomes an expert Assassin through instituted plot devices. Unfortunately, the missions that allow you to switch between her and Nikolai are seldom, because her Helix abilities add necessary variety to the stealth mechanics of the game. While playing as Anastasia opened the game up in ways that made it more enjoyable, her gameplay soon after fell victim to the same repetitiveness issues.
Contrary to the forced gameplay of certain sections there are some options, like snipers nests, which allow you to fully tilt the game to one end of the spectrum or another, which is a nice and welcome feature. It felt at times, bouncing between forced and open gameplay, like the Chronicles games were a bit lost in their own identity. In its defense, every time I found myself frustrated with one aspect, the game would usually come full circle back to its platforming enjoyment in a short period. For someone who usually loathes platformers, AC Chronicles: Russia combined most of my favorite and hated features present in the genre, but stumbled trying to implement them with its own brand of gameplay.
If you're looking to round out your experience with the Chronicles series, then this game is certainly one that you won't want to miss, with some throwbacks to the previous games intended purely for those who played China and India. As someone who has been a staunch follower of the Assassin's Creed series since its conception, Chronicles isn't quite what I was looking forward to during the franchise's much-needed year off, but it does provide an occasionally entertaining digression in the AC universe.
I had a fun time playing through Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia, but the instances that pulled me out of the open gameplay and deep story felt glaring. I've been looking forward to an Assassin's Creed game set within a Soviet narrative for a long time, and Ubisoft didn't disappoint me personally with their storyline. That being said, choosing to set their game between the events of two established comic books may leave some gamers scratching their heads and thinking "что?", Russian for a confused and questioning "what?"
Much like Nikolai Orelov finds himself caught between two rival systems, Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia feels like it is stuck between identities, unsure if it would rather be a stealth or action platformer, and finding difficulty seamlessly blending the two. When the game flows, it flows brilliantly as you would expect from a series nearing its tenth year, but the expanse of the universe and an attempt to amalgamate a decade of gameplay and story are perhaps its greatest downfall.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.
Not the best way to say Da Svidanya to the Assassins for a year.