What's most puzzling about Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia is who its target audience is. Anyone who didn't like the previous two games has no reason to play this, yet because of the carbon-copied formula, anyone who did like the previous two games has no reason to play it either, because it's quite literally same thing.
What's annoying is that this could've been so much more, thanks to the setting: 1918 Russia, the middle of the Communist Revolution which would shape the world's landscape for the rest of the century. Developer Climax Studios has admittedly gotten the visual style bang-on target, with harsh greys and crimson reds punctuating the environment, while tall smokestacks billow out ash in the background. But the buck stops there in terms of unique selling points.
The story, instead of being an interesting one about the clashing ideologies of the Assassins and Templars – since, y'know, the game is set in the middle of possibly the biggest ideological war in history – is another dumb wild goose chase between the two factions, this time for the last surviving member of the royal family, Princess MacGuffin – sorry, Princess Anastasia.
Just like previous games, the dialogue is dull and uninspired, with protagonist Assassin Nikolai Orelov playing the part of the bitter old man, and Anastasia the damsel in distress. Conversing soldiers repeat the same lines over and over again about increased security and such. If you're lucky, you may also hear some horrible Russian accents, as it appears that some of the voice actors haven't heard an Eastern European before.
Once again, you're presented with three ways to play through the game: pure stealth, pure killing, or a hybrid of stealth and stabbing. You can rule out pure stealth right away, because thanks to the unpredictability of the AI's vision cones, it's pretty much impossible to get past them without killing them. Even though you're given a whistle ability to distract them – as well as the use of telephones that can side-track enemies in other rooms – it's highly unlikely that they'll be distracted long enough to sneak by. Not only that, but a couple of times we experienced failures in stealth-only segments of the game despite not going near an enemy or a spotlight, so hopefully that bug gets fixed sooner rather than later.
In fact, the best way to play the game is by just killing everyone in sight non-stealthily, despite the fact that it's not "the Assassin way" – combat has gone from slightly difficult in India to an easy button-mash fest in Russia. While the last game focused on countering, in this title it's just as easy to push square [Ahem – Ed] and then triangle for a quick kill, which is much faster than distracting and sneaking past bourgeoisie baddies, and much less frustrating.
The usual enemy types also return from India: axe-wielding grunts are the cannon fodder, while riflemen look on from afar, and sentries step into the background to survey the surrounding area. Despite their strengths and weaknesses, none are immune to a sword, and, apart from the riflemen, it's easy to dodge their attacks, too.
It's not like Climax hasn't tried to add new mechanics to the game – Nikolai, while still having a whistle and smoke bombs to bypass enemies, now has a rifle and, strangely, a grappling hook. The former can be used to shoot out spotlights as well as enemies, while the latter can be employed to pull off vent covers and short out electrical circuits using an electric pulse. These don't really add much to the game, though, apart from the ability to turn off lights, shortening the enemy's vision cones, so it's nothing to get excited about.
You can also trade in Helix Points to activate a mode in which you can't be caught by enemies for a limited amount of time, so if you're stuck in a situation, you can simply run right through it. It does feel a little cheaty, but it's appreciated for the more frustrating parts of the game.
The addition of sniper spots is a weird one, too – when used, your view turns to a first-person point of view. You're then given the ability to shoot enemies/spotlights in the background with your infinitely-supplied sniper, which makes the game much easier as you can just shoot every enemy on screen and waltz through the wasteland that you just created.
Overall, the campaign lasts a decent seven to eight hours, with a Challenge mode in which you go through certain scenarios adding a couple more hours. The big question is whether you want to play through them at all.
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia Marx the end of the ill-fated Chronicles series, but instead of making a final stand, Climax's latest treads water. While the visual style is pleasant and the atmosphere is strong, attempts to inject the game with innovation fall flatter than the Berlin Wall in 1990, and the title hasn't really got much to offer to fans old or new in terms of stealth or combat. There are far better Assassin's Creed games and far better platformers, so this spin-off has nowhere else to go but the gulag.