Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China PS4, XB1, PC

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China PS4, XB1, PC
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Much like blockbuster movies, triple-A games have gotten bigger in recent years. While this can still result in great pop-cultural products, the sheer cost of making them, and the impact they have on a corporation's stock market value, forces developers to play it as safe as possible.
 
Ubisoft has always taken advantage of downloadable and handheld games to experiment outside of its main series, which is how they got to Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China. But unlike adventures like Freedom Cry or Liberation, which were basically smaller-scale versions of AC's traditional game design starring characters of colour, China takes the series in an entirely new direction — literally.
 
It's a 2.5D sidescroller that applies what the company has learned with recent Rayman games and Child of Light to the Assassin's Creed universe. As it turns out, stripping away the massive open-world structure works pretty well here, as does replacing the series' usual photorealism for a beautiful brush-painted art design. Set in the early 1500s at the end of the Ming Dynasty, the game stars Ezio-trained female assassin Shao Jun, the last of her order in China after a brutal purge by the new emperor, who is out to take down the Templar group Eight Tigers. 
 
Still, as with most sidescrollers, the story is more about scene-setting — you'll visit the Forbidden City, Macau, the Great Wall and other iconic locales — with level design and gameplay doing the heavy lifting. China relies heavily on stealth and all the challenge that implies, with the violence associated with the series kept to a (relatively) bare minimum. You do kill people — it's still got "assassin" in the title, after all — but the emphasis is on doing it sneakily rather than in open combat, and the sound design provides most of the visceral impact.
 
ACC: China may not interest people opposed to this style of gaming, but for those who do, it's a great way to get back into the franchise and recharge before the next main series sequel. (Climax Studios / Ubisoft Montreal)