Ubisoft is constantly trying to move its biggest brands to mobile platforms. But this time it deserves applause, because instead of combining their popular franchise with typical, crappy smartphone mechanics or hackneyed gameplay models for iOS and Android, they're trying to recreate a console experience on the phone screen.
Earlier in June, I had the chance to check out The Division: Resurgence on mobile, and now it was time for the upcoming Assassin's Creed: Jade. In both cases, I felt like I was playing the main installment of the series known from the big-screen, only adapted graphically to the capabilities of mobile chipsets, and with controls adjusted to touch screens. As you might expect, this has both pros and cons.
Is this mobile or just low-deets PC?
Assassin's Creed: Jade takes us to ancient China and offers a gameplay model from full-fledged installments of the series. There’s TPP and an open world, there are leaps of faith into stacks of hay, hiding in bushes, and stealth kills. There’s parkour and seamless climbing on buildings, as well as melee combat with the option to attack, parry, and using special abilities. And how does this work in practice?
The game surprises with beautiful and quite detailed visuals. Of course, it doesn't attain the level of Valhalla on PS5, but the mobile Assassin looks better than the mobile Division, in which New York had to undergo a harsh downgrade. In Jade, likely because of the lack of a huge city, impressive buildings in the historical climate of the Middle Kingdom, and an open world full of flora, the differences aren't so noticeable.
For the first time in the series we have a character creator at our disposal, and I must admit that it's quite detailed, allowing you to change a lot in the appearance of the character. It's even too detailed, dare I say, compared to how the protagonist looks later in the game, although there are dialogue cut scenes in which he’s presented in a more cinematic way. These narrative bits are based on static drawings.
I found myself positively surprised by the terrain drawing distance in the open world. The furthest layers have no details, but it was done in a way that it absolutely doesn’t look like a "potato mode;" there’s just the artistic vision of the graphic designers. However, I have to point out that I used the highest level of detail, and there will be several to choose from due to ACJ's compatibility with older smartphones. Assassin's Creed: Jade was made available to us on a Samsung Galaxy S23. Perhaps for this reason, the game seemed very colorful, even saturated.
I heard from the devs that the minimum requirements start at iPhone 11 level. And another important hardware issue, after about 20 minutes of playing, the smartphone became unpleasantly hot. It's hard to say whether it'll be the same in the final version on other devices.
Touching the screen
The second most important issue when trying to recreate a console experience on mobile phones is the matter of controls. In The Division, I used a controller connected via Bluetooth and there were no problems – even the key layout turned out to be identical. When asked about controller support in Assassin's Creed: Jade, devs couldn't answer me whether there would be any at all. So how do touch screen controls fare?
On the right-hand side, we have quite conveniently placed buttons, or rather discrete icons, responsible for attacks, dodging, parrying, climbing and jumping. Next to them, occasionally, i.e. when needed, fields activating looting or special attacks appear. On the left, there’s a virtual analog knob that allows you to move around. It appears where we normally rest our thumb. And that analog knob gave me the most trouble.
It was very easy to activate full speed movement by touching the screen with my thumb. Sometimes it's problematic when you want to position yourself precisely in a specific place. A little too much attention and effort, for my taste, is required for such a basic activity. A double-click option to switch between a steady walk and the regular free run controlled by extending the virtual analog further would have been more useful. From what I've been able to find out, nothing has so far been said about adapting the control icons to tablet screens.
Full experience on small display
It's hard to expect sophisticated combat mechanics in a mobile game, but Jade can provide quite a lot of satisfaction in this respect. Everything depends on the intuitive use of two icons responsible for attacking with melee weapons, ranged weapons, as well as dodging and parrying. Sometimes special abilities come into play. Sneaking and quick stealth kills work quite well, as does parkour. Animations look great, and movement is smooth and intuitive.
We can also explore the open world, complete quests, develop our character – simply do pretty much everything that we do in the console installments. For the fans of the series, the opportunity to play literally anywhere on a device that’s always in your pocket, and for free, is definitely a treat. And if controller support will be added, once you switch to a TV display, you'll really get a console-like experience. I only hope the game will not melt people’s phones, as head is bad for battery. Fingers crossed for the final product, though! Mobile games are pushing their limits and Assassin's Creed: Jade is currently at the cutting edge.
Darius Matusiak | Gamepressure.com