The "Assassin's Creed Chronicles" series has been an interesting couple of side stories, looking at different corners of the "AC" universe the main games just haven't had a chance to look at. While the games themselves haven't been particularly great, the trip into different historical settings has at least been novel. "Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia" takes a slight step further, not only going into a different period of history, but also stepping into the boots of a previously-established character. Unfortunately, even with that novelty, "Russia" brings back some of the worst tendencies of the series.
"Russia" puts players into the role of Nikolai Orelov, a character that's previously appeared in an "Assassin's Creed" comic book series. Much like Ezio Auditore in "AC Revelations," Nikolai is at the end of his road, now an old man looking to leave the life of the Order behind him. However, there's a small matter of the Russian Revolution that's currently unfolding around him and amidst the chaos, the Templars have apparently gotten hold of one of the Pieces of Eden.
For those that haven't made the jump to "Chronicles," there are certain elements that set these games apart from their 3-D compatriots. The 2.5D setting allows for a more experimental art style, one that maintains the watercolor style of "China" and "India," albeit with an emphasis on grays and reds. The reds are particularly emphasized, since they mark the interactive parts of the stage, like ladders, climbable walls and more. It's a novel style and one that adds to the game's atmosphere.
"Russia" also introduces two distinctively different characters. Orelov will have his limited arsenal (given the game's brevity, coming in at around six to eight hours) of a rifle, smoke grenades and mechanical winch. He'll also bump into Anastasia, the daughter of the deposed Tsar of Russia, who becomes playable, thanks to a neat plot twist that won't be spoiled here. She becomes far more stealth-oriented, since she only has Nikolai's dagger and often won't use it. In fact, if face-to-face with a guard, she'll just stand there and wait to get stabbed or shot. If that sounds frustrating, that's because it is, but that's just the beginning for "Russia" and its issues.
While there's plenty of novelty in "Russia," the game has managed to reproduce some of the same feelings from other "AC" games. None of those feelings are positive. The frustration factor, the finicky controls and the many, many cheap fail states all seem to be present, just in slightly different forms.
Now let's take a moment to talk about the sniping objectives, which rank up there with the game's most irritating features. Aside from unconventional controls (scope and firing are tied to the bumpers, not the triggers), sniping feels like a timed objective in itself. When you're scoped in, you're completely helpless. There's no option to duck or dodge at all. You're stuck in the zoomed-in state, so if an enemy lands a hit, prepare to die and start over.
"Russia" does its best to keep gameplay varied, but some of the other additions don't quite work so well.
Had "Russia" stuck to some of the roots of the main "AC" series, this could have been an interesting departure from the 3-D games. But making the main characters feel paper thin while stacking the deck with inconsistent stealth mechanics, fussy controls, and timed objectives starts to make "Russia" feel like a weekend in Siberia. There are unlockable upgrades for those that can complete runs without being spotted and there's an intriguing story for fans of "AC" lore, but this one won't really call for more than one playthrough.