Rumours abound that this year wonít see a full Assassinís Creed game in the annual tradition favoured for the past few years. Whether true or not, with the release of Assassinís Creed Chronicles: India Ubisoft manage to keep to their annualised schedule, even if it doesnít make waves as much as Unity or Syndicate. Continuing the three-title series, India is a side-scrolling 2.5D platformer that has echoes of Prince of Persia nestled alongside typical Assassinís Creed staples. Having not played China or Russia, this first encounter with a different spin on the franchise was intriguing but ultimately disappointing as well.
Itís worth clarifying that India is not a full-priced title - at around £8 itís a far easier spur-of-the-moment decision to try it out purely based on the franchise association. This, however, might be the first mistake. Initial impressions are good - the game looks the part, merging the cold, clean lines of the Animus with the dusty colour of 19th century India. Thereís a grain to the textures that makes the whole game seem as if painted with sand, a callback to the mandalas used to great effect. Hazy backdrops are littered with rounded temple domes, splashes of colour indicate paths to traverse and cutscenes are vibrant and patterned, if not fully animated.
As assassin Arbaaz Mir, the story is paper thin - on the hunt for the Kohinoor diamond, Arbaaz must defeat the nefarious templars and stop their dastardly plan. Thatís about it - the usual Assassinís Creed gubbins overlaid over history, albeit with even less in the way of character. Arbaaz is another handsome but charisma-free lead, descending further into cliche with the introduction of a love interest and a Sean Connery sound-a-like British soldier named Burns. It isnít offensive nor is it egregiously bad - itís just palpably bland. One of Assassinís Creedís main attractions is its historical tourism. Ascending Big Ben or witnessing key parts of the French Revolution went a long way to clawing Unity and Syndicate out of the franchise malaise which has enveloped the series. Despite the genuinely interesting and problematic tapestry of colonial India, not a lot appears on screen. While it skirts around real events, people and places, there isnít a key moment where you climb the Taj Mahal or witness anything particularly shocking. This was the period with the Black Hole of Calcutta, of people strapped to the front of cannon and blasted to bits. None of this horrific detail is mentioned, instead set aside for clambering around Precursor temples and rescuing princesses. It all feels like a missed opportunity to highlight the terrors of colonial imperialism. Itís not like Ubisoft has never mixed horror with light-heartedness either - its own Valiant Hearts did much the same for WW1 as was all the more interesting for it.
Of the ten levels of the game, they are pretty evenly split between those where you have to navigate the environment getting rid of guards (fatally or non-fatally) and those where you have to keep moving, whether to beat the clock or keep up with a target. Both are enjoyable enough but, in transposing these typical Assassinís Creed objectives to 2.5D, they feel diminished. While aware that itís meant to feel different, it still feels overly simplistic. There are also some things that prove hard to reconcile - Arbaaz can hide behind pillars, something that works when viewed from a side angle. However, when picturing it spatially youíd realise heíd often be in full view of everyone. Hiding behind people while they have a discussion is another such example of this weird simplified detection system that just seems odd after so many 3D worlds to sneak around.
Arbaaz has a few gadgets to help him get around each level - a grapple hook allows him to shimmy up to ceilings, smoke bombs distract guards while opening some up to attack and his Helix powers allow him to move without detection or become outright invisible. While this works in the context of the game, allowing for some harder parts to become more manageable, itís this part of the franchise that really annoys. If you canít do stealth without resorting to invisibility then youíre not doing it right, especially within a series rooted in Ďreal worldí history. Bond jumped the shark when his car could turn invisible - Assassinís Creed did the same when powers were involved as far back as the DLC for the third game.
The overriding problem with ACC: India is that it all feels rote. Ubisoft even seems to run out of ideas about the setting as it moves to Afghanistan for a level or two. While the artstyle is befitting, it too feels already done - while Far Cry was based in Tibet, a lot of the same flourishes (coloured sand, mandalas etc) were used to great effect there already. When you die in ACC: India it makes almost the exact musical tone as that of Far Cry 4. Add on top gameplay that isnít anything greater than passable (including some very annoying trial-and-error sections) and it feels like one big missed opportunity. Russia is just around the corner - what that brings to the formula remains to be seen.
Enjoyable enough, Assassinís Creed Chronicles: India isnít going to pull your attention away for more than fits and spurts. Even when done and with New Game + and challenge rooms to tinker around with, it still feels uninspiring. Itís a shame - Black Flag wasnít afraid to bring slavery to the forefront yet India feels little more than a set for a jaunty escapade that totally ignores the elephant in the room (well, except the actual elephants that trample about). This wonít satiate fans of the series - it may be too removed both for that - but if this is what Ubisoft need to do as a breather until 2017 then it is a good thing in the long run.