Right off the bat I feel it’s important to say that Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia is a very hard game for me to review. There were parts of my time with the game I honestly loved. It scratched that merciless old-school stealth itch in ways the previous two games in the series, let alone any other modern game, only dreamed of doing. But simultaneously, there were other parts of my eight-hour journey through the Russian Revolution that managed to be some of the most aggravating stretches of any game I have played in a long time.

ACC: Russia follows in the footsteps of the other two Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games, China and India, all three now released as a individual purchases or as a single collective game. For those that may not know, the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games are a 2.5D take on the series, each set in a different time period and a different protagonist, mapping many of the Assassin’s Creed series staples to side-scrolling gameplay. In many ways they’re the Assassin’s Creed version of Hitman Go or Lara Croft Go.

It’s therefore important that the ACC series, despite its connection to the Assassin’s Creed franchise, not be mistaken for its open-world action-game big brothers. The ACC games are much more based on actual stealth, the usual run-in-and-stab-everything Assassin’s Creed approach actually just the fastest way to die. This is doubly true in ACC: Russia.

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Put simply, Russia assumes you have played China and India, both in terms of gameplay and narrative. There’s no handholding or easing into the experience for new players here. After a few quick first encounters to remind you of the basic controls (and by this I mean how to move, not combat or anything else), ACC: Russia gives you access to all the gadgets in the game, and you are off and sneaking.

Not only does the complexity of the stealth engagements start high and get higher, ACC: Russia is just a fundamentally difficult stealth game. While firearms are nothing new to Assassin’s Creed games, accurate firearms are. And playing into the time period, everyone has guns. While ACC: China’s sword-wielding Shoa Jun could earn points as a “brawler,” ACC: Russia’s protagonists are allowed “Shadow,” “Silencer,” or “Assassin.”

If you’re spotted, chances are you’ll die. Sometimes it’s a mission failure for being detected, but most of the time it was simply the ability for everyone everywhere to turn and shoot. Think something along the lines of more classical stealth games like Metal Gear Solid 1. While you have the ability to fight, run away, or even shoot back, staying stealthy is by far your best, and safest, option.

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With this in mind, I died. A lot. Much less the action-packed adrenaline-fest most fans of the larger franchise might expect, ACC: Russia is a wonderfully hard stealth puzzle game in which patience, careful planning, and exact timing is key. It also happens to be a puzzle game where the price of getting a puzzle wrong is dying. Even with the comparatively short loading screens, it’s likely enough to turn off most gamers. While I personally found the challenge exciting, every room a new puzzle to solve, others, less inclined to the steep challenge, or wanting something other than stealth, will doubtlessly be disappointed.

Looking beyond the game’s difficulty for a moment however, it’s worth noting just how many new, interesting things ACC: Russia brings to the table.

The predominantly black-and-white-with-splashes-of-color art style isn’t much to gawk at, but it’s definitely unique, giving the game itself a tone very different, not only from the other Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games, but also the majority of games today.

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Set in 1918, right between the February and October Revolutions in Russia, ACC: Russia is the furthest forward in time an Assassin’s Creed game has taken place. Aside from the already mentioned well-armed guard forces, this also means electricity. Shooting out or turning off spotlights so snipers can’t see you, finding and blowing fuse boxes to disable electrified traps or even turn off the lights to shorten how far enemies can see, and using telephones to distract and occupy guard patrols are only a few of the new elements at play. There are even radios that superior officers will call for reports from their men. If you’ve knocked out or killed everyone nearby and no one answers, the officer will send reinforcements.

Following the example of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, ACC: Russia also has two protagonists (though you certainly wouldn’t know it from any of the promotional material). I haven’t mentioned the game’s story much until this point, because, truthfully, it’s just not the focus of things. You begin as Nikolai Orelov, the main character of the Assassin’s Creed: The Fall and Assassin’s Creed: The Chain comics. He is an old man planning to abandon the order and take his family to America. To afford the trip he agrees to retrieve a precursor artifact, the same strange box that was stolen from the Chinese assassins’ brotherhood three hundred years earlier in ACC: China.

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Soon he finds the box is in the possession of the Tsar’s daughter, a young girl named Anastasia. Through a fun call-back to the rest of the series, Anastasia becomes entangled with Nikolai’s plot to steal the artifact, and together they have to escape across Russia.

Overall, the story not only does its job of tying things together and giving motivation from one level to the next, it also manages to be interesting. While not delivering much in the way of engrossing characters or witty dialogue, it does break out of the standard Assassin’s Creed revenge story mold, which is refreshing all on its own. Even more than that, it accomplishes something few video game stories actually manage: it adds mechanical complexity to the game.

Throughout Russia, you switch back and forth between playing as Nikolai and Anastasia. A trained assassin, Nikolai has all the gadgets and all the skills you’d expect. Anastasia, on the other hand, does not. Untrained, not equipped with gadgets, and not strong enough to lift, carry, and hide bodies like Nikolai, but outfitted with a few unique stealth skills all her own, Anastasia plays very differently. This is only made better in instances where you provide sniper support as Nikolai, while Anastasia sneaks down below you, or in instances you play as Anastasia, luring guards into view so Nikolai can clear the path. All in all, it added some variety to the gameplay rarely found in even the mainline Assassin’s Creed games.

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Despite all of this praise however, and how much I legitimately loved the majority of ACC: Russia, I simply can’t give it the glowing recommendation most of the game deserves. As mentioned before, ACC: Russia steps up the difficulty from the other Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games. Building on the complexity already established in China and India, it makes the through-line of all three essentially a single, cohesive difficulty curve. Where this goes wrong however, is in the action-oriented running sections. And boy does it go wrong.

The levels during which you’re running away from something (a fire, mortars, elephants, etc.) were some of the most enjoyable parts of China and India. While they were fast, fun, and hectic palate cleansers for the largely methodical stretches the games, the same can’t be said of Russia’s. The running segments in ACC: Russia are brutally hard. Not just engagingly challenging, but unnecessarily punishing. Even the smallest half-second hesitation or even the absolute tiniest misstep results in death or failure.

What’s worse is the failure or death, more often than not, isn’t immediate. At one point you are tasked with running and catching a truck. Given 50 seconds to get there, a flawless run, with zero hesitation, every single jump exact and practiced to perfection takes 49 seconds. If you grab a railing, but don’t grab it just right, or make one of the any dozens of possible, miniscule, missteps, its not until the timer runs out, and the truck pulls away a single second before you get there, that you know it’s too late.

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More than any other part of the game, I found myself slogging through the running sections, forced to repeat every single checkpoint a dozen times until I could move to the next one. By the end of each, having spent twenty to thirty minutes on something that should have only taken two or three, I was left frustrated and annoyed, completely removed from the game I was otherwise enjoying. The insane level of difficulty in the running segments not only felt out of place in the rest of game as a whole, but managed to taint the fun I was having with it. Thinking of playing through the game again on new game+, I find myself hesitant to force my way back through it.

To a lesser degree, but just as painfully, the unnecessary difficulty extends to a handful of instances in the stealth components. The methodical fun of planning and executing goes out the window as you’re forced to sneak through an area, undetected, while on a timer.

Simply put, there is ‘challenging,’ and then there is ‘just not fun.’ And no matter how entertaining and fresh the majority of the game felt overall, the inclusion of mandatory pieces that are nothing but annoying and painful to play makes it very hard to recommend as a whole. If you’re able to look past those faults however, there is a satisfying stealth puzzler buried beneath.

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