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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Assassin's Creed: Chronicles.

Transcript Edit

You may have heard, as I did from The Gratuitous Stabbing Murder Quarterly Digest, that Assassin's Creed is being put to bed for a year so it can stare at its bedroom ceiling through a film of tears and wonder if she's ever coming back. And I was all like, "A triple-A game publisher acting with a modicum of self-awareness? I'm pretty sure that was in the Book of Revelations somewhere! I'm totally on board with this plan! Fuck, I'll come and tuck Assassin's Creed in if it wants, lay down the rubber sheet in case Assassin's Creed 3 shits the bed again." Of course, within days of saying there won't be an Assassin's Creed game in 2016, Ubisoft purged itself by releasing an Assassin's Creed Chronicles game, but I guess as an episodic 2D Assassin's Creed, it hardly counts as an Assassin's Creed-Assassin's Creed, but more like one more bedtime story before we put the lights out. 

And now I've said "Assassin" so many times the word's gone weird on me. It's got two asses in it, fucking crazy. Ass ass, sounds like would you'd call somebody's bottom after it got bitten by a radioactive donkey. 

Anyway, two episodes of Chronicles are out with a third penciled in for February I think, and the reason I've chosen to cover them is I've realized after the one-two-snore-fest of Unity and Syndicate that one of the main things dragging down - I'm bored of saying it now - Stabbing Enthusiast's Dogma is all of the stuff that isn't stabbing-related. If I were interviewing murderers to find a suitable candidate to shiv my ex-wife, it would be of little interest to me whether or not they had any experience at real estate development or collecting the twenty hidden snotty handkerchiefs. What Murderer's Ideology needs to do is get things back to basics and focus on the ideological murdering. What better way to do that than with a linear 2D platformer, to get so enthusiastic tearing out features that you also lose a dimension somewhere along the way. 

The first one was set in 16th century China, the second in 19th century India, but it hardly matters. They're both the same plot as usual: Assassins and Templars both chasing after another magic MacGuffin, shit gets stabbed. So if you are fielding suggestions Ubisoft, how about a plot that's actually based around how the two groups differ ideologically rather than yet another gritty, violent remake of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World? I mean the whole Sasso-Templar is just he-said she-said at this point. All ideological movements with no specific end goal inevitably descend into just another group with no purpose except to sustain its own existence and shun the opposition. That's why debating on the internet is like trying to headbutt a brontosaurus to death. Unity sort of gave the game away with its star-crossed lovers plot, showing that Sassos and Tempos could find a lot of common ground if they got around a table, and maybe organize some kind of good-natured sports day. But I digress.

Chronicles is a stealth platformer somewhat reminiscent of Mark of the Ninja by way of Prince of Persia, so has boiling things down to this level helped get Executioner's Catechism back on track? Has it brontosaurus bollocks! I think the problem was the same one I have making bolognaise in that they didn't boil it down enough. Trying to keep a three-way gameplay thing going balancing pure combat, stealth assassinating or pure stealth, which is hard enough to balance with three dimensions to play with, in two it's like a chimney swoop trying to juggle. 

The combat really is spectacularly bad. Enemies run up and don't so much stab you as wipe their swords on your midriff and for most of the game can kill you in two or three wipes. Meanwhile, you can block or you can do a roll thingy to get on their other side, in case your midriff has been wiped enough and you feel it's time your back gets some attention as well. What, you think you could use it to run away? There's only one direction to run in, and everyone's got projectile weapons. The button prompt for dodging projectiles is about as reasonable as a hungry shark. The question is, Mr. and Mrs. Chronicles, what reason is there when an enemy spots me to not just lower my weapon Obi Wan Kenobi-style and let them curb-stomp me back to the last checkpoint? The game hits the autosave button every three steps like Michael J. Fox with a TV remote. So I'm not gonna lose more time than I'd lose trying to combat my way out. Plus, the game looms over me constantly with a clipboard, making it abundantly clear with every checkpoint how many points are getting deducted for every time I don't perform up to the standards of Batman in the last ten minutes of a Batman film. 

And let's not forget, as I've implied up to this point, the act of playing the combat on a moment-to-moment level is about as fun as trying to free your genitalia from the workings of a grandfather clock, which may imply that the stealth is more fun than prising the shreds of the tattered shamula that was once your nutsack from between a pair of merciless steel gears. But I assure you, no such implication was intended. The enemies have visibility cones the length of your average high street, which have a tendency to suddenly appear or swing around without warning as a character slightly offscreen turns around or unexpectedly comes through a door.

So all in all, besides a few somewhat open-ended levels, there's not a whole lot to recommend the core gameplay. Of the two episodes thus far I think I prefer China over India, but then I am a communist. The combat is marginally worse because the block move requires two controls for no particular reason unless Ubisoft have shares in a thumb injury clinic. But as we've established, getting into combat at all is fucking up, so it doesn't matter so much.

China's a bit more focused, with more straight-forward get-to-X-and-stab-Y missions while India has the Assassin's Creed 3 problem of being 99% tutorial, because every other level introduces a new gameplay gimmick that will immediately afterwards get dropped like a sex offender from a parent teacher association. It also got a great, big, curry-scented stiffy for timed levels, most of which also obnoxiously demand perfection, but at least they mainly have the decency to just kill you when you fuck up. They don't try to convince you you could escape from your fuck-up because it wants an excuse to beat you up in front of its girlfriend. 

And finally, you know how Assassin's Creed games always have the in-game encyclopedia to fill in details on characters, places and history? Well, I think they must have fobbed that job off onto the intern this time around, 'cause the writing's atrocious! It can't seem to get through a paragraph without at least one run-on sentence, and the mix of tenses makes me unmixedly tense. One entry I noticed at one point included the phrase "way too dangerous". Who the fuck wrote that, the girl from Clueless? "Yes, so like there were Templars and they totally did bad things and stuff." A highly subjective gripe, I know, but I don't think this industry can afford to let writing standards slip any lower. They're already wheelchair-accessible. 

So in summary, Ubisoft is correct in thinking that Sasso Credo needs to go away and think about what it's done. But my question is: now we've had a Revelations and a Chronicles, could this series go on long enough to eventually use all the subtitle cliches? Fingers crossed for Assassin's Creed Armageddon!

Addenda Edit

  • These are the voyages of: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Maybe the series should end with India, actually, since it's now come full circle back to Prince of Persia
  • Assassins sadly disqualified from egg and spoon race for using knives

Screenshots Edit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2

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