Developer: Climax Studios
Platform: PC, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One
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Bolshevik Russia, 1918. The Tsars are held captive by the Bolsheviks, and the country is in turmoil. Nikolai Orelov participates in the Order of Assassins, which has been playing cat and mouse with the Templars for centuries. But for no longer! Orelov is determined to leave Russia, which means giving up the creed. Of course, the Order isn’t happy about this. Consequently, he must complete one last task or his family will not escape. As we accompany Nikolai on this mission, we are enveloped by a magnificent and symbolically charged environment.
Russia is designed with artistic flare, adopting a 2.5D appearance with careful rendering of character physiognomy. The Russian setting portrays Western archetypal associations of the country to get us familiarized; 1900s style trains remind us of the importance of the Trans-Siberian rail. The Russian cityscape is ornate architecturally but coloured a drab grey. Communist red bursts from the landscape behind, illustrating tensions between individual and state, freedom and oppression, wealth and poverty—dichotomies that really were evident in the aftermath of the October Revolution.
Maneuverability is limited due to the 2.5 scheme. Navigation through the cityscape requires a deliberate problem-solving but also the ability to adapt reflexes to fit moments of insane difficulty. In addition to Nikolai, one has the opportunity to play as princess Anastasia. She possesses the additional ability to utilize helix powers, which are fabled to be possessed only by some assassins—according to many reviews, this is one of the few positive features of Russia.
The 2.5D Chronicles partially follow 2D aspects of Nintendo games. Kind of like the Goombas in Mario, the sight range of guards is delineated for the player, emphasizing the need for stealth. Some might call it stupid, but the Chronicles hinge on this artistic revamp of old video game techniques. 2.5D allows you to switch plains, but that’s about it. It’s resulted in some awkward gameplay, and as most note, that isn’t good enough.
One lamentation is that the Chronicles make assassination tedious. But I have to ask: were you paying attention in Assassin’s Creed I? It’s exactly that. Aside from climactic moments in cutscenes, that’s really all Assassin’s Creed (A.C.) 3D plots amount to: one assassination after another, a few interrogations, perhaps a rescue. Yet, many loved it. The issue is that Russia lacks peripheral plot, it isn’t easily accessible. You start the game in medias res. There are no fancy movie-cuts apart from the propaganda art-styled opening, which gives us little on the story. Instead, emphasis is on the visual spectrum; and it just so happens to overwhelm immediate plot.
Given this, it seems that Ubisoft’s A.C. team, which is composed of individuals of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and beliefs, tried to underline the concept of culture as the basic thematic structure of the A.C. world. Bifurcating difficulty throughout the Chronicles generates surprises that are actually more realistic than pre-set difficulty levels. The scrolling screen puts cultural and social aspects on exhibit, and the sheer fact that Chronicles highlights three non-Western cultures stipulates that setting is of utmost importance here. Chronicles was the A.C. team’s attempt to emphasize the point of the animus and its powers of synchronization. I think they did a fair job. It’s not the most rounded thing ever, but how much better can you get than Black Flag or Unity? It may be the only A.C. game to be released for a while, so I think it’s time that fans cool off and be happy with what they have.