Publisher: Ubisoft / Developer: Ubisoft Sofia / Price: $39.99 / Played on: PlayStation Vita / ESRB: Mature [Blood, Suggestive Themes, Violence]
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is a very good game — one that could’ve easily been great had it been able to overcome some technical limitations. As the first and so far only Assassin’s Creed title for the PlayStation Vita system, it occupies the unique position of trying to deliver a triple-A console quality for a handheld system, and in most ways, it succeeds. For Vita owners who’ve been pining for a great game that can’t be found anywhere else, Liberation will probably fit the bill.
In Liberation, you take control of Aveline de Grandpré, a young woman of French and African descent, who uses her gender, her class, and her race as a means to carry out her missions as a member of the Assassin Brotherhood. The standard mechanics found in all the other games in the series are here, like plenty of weapons and costumes, missions to take out certain targets, and pick-pocketing and blending in with the crowd to escape pursuers. But the way those familiar elements are managed in Liberation is the real draw here.
Aveline has three personas that she uses throughout her game: the Lady, the Slave, and the Assassin, each of which possess their own strengths and liabilities. Without question, managing this unique gameplay mechanic helps Liberation stand out from the other games in the series.
The Assassin’s guise is the one that will be most familiar to players of other titles in the Assassin’s Creed series: free-running, stealthy kills, and a large selection of weapons give this persona an edge in combat and escape. However, the Assassin’s notoriety—how easily an enemy will take notice of her—can never drop to zero. This means that while the Assassin can defend herself ably, she’ll also draw more attention from the guards posted around the city. The Assassin’s notoriety can only be lowered from higher levels by bribing corrupt officials, which means getting noticed costs a hefty price.
The Lady, by contrast, walks around New Orleans in an elegant dress, reflecting Aveline’s lineage as the daughter of a wealthy French noble conducting business in the Colonies. The Lady can run and fight, but is restricted largely to the ground, meaning that if she’s assaulted by guards or thugs, she’s more vulnerable. Fighting her way out of situations causes her notoriety to increase, making it more difficult to operate in the open. Her notoriety can only be lowered by killing eye witnesses—a risky proposition when you’re already being watched. Fortunately, she’s eventually outfitted with a poison dart-shooting parasol, allowing for stealthier kills. The Lady’s main advantage is being able to charm vulnerable soldiers or guards into acting as a temporary bodyguard. At a few specific points, this ability allows her to slip into high class affairs to gather intelligence and sneakily kill a high-ranking target.
The Slave occupies the middle-ground between the other two personas. Her notoriety will go up the most quickly if she’s seen climbing buildings or assassinating enemies, but it’s also the most easily lowered by simply pulling down wanted posters. The Slave is able to blend in with other slaves scattered around the city by carrying boxes or sweeping the streets. At certain times, she can also incite riots, which create distractions that can allow her to slip past guards.
Juggling these three different guises offers a truly interesting and fun way to navigate New Orleans. You can take full advantage of the possibilities when Aveline takes on side missions to battle business rivals, help free slaves, or beat up unruly ship crews. The game stumbles, however, when it locks you into one persona or another, sometimes severely limiting your ability to complete missions. At early point in the game, I had been forced into combat with the Lady, raising her notoriety quite high. I hadn’t yet been equipped with the dart-shooting parasol, so I couldn’t kill witnesses to lower her notoriety without drawing yet more attention. And until I’d completed that mission, I couldn’t swap into a different guise, which was plenty frustrating.
As the game progresses, however, these instances become few and far between. Still, I would’ve preferred true open-world choice throughout the campaign instead of being locked in.
I should also mention there’s a multiplayer element that has little to nothing to do with the game, and seems more of a collectible card game derivative. I didn’t really understand how to play, and the tutorial was less than informative. It seems more or less perfunctory, just tacked on in the name of providing more bang for the buck. The less said about it, the better.
The story and writing in Liberation is a bit of a double-edged sword. The individual segments—where Aveline rescues slaves from cruel masters (certainly where the title comes from), or journeys from New Orleans to the Bayou, from the temples of Chichen Itza, Mexico to the snowy woods of New York—are dramatic and interesting, and fun to see unfold. But the connective tissue that binds it all together is less than thrilling.
Simply put, the game suffers from its inclusion within the Assassin’s Creed series. While I was pleased to be spared the pain of having to deal with present-day protagonist Desmond Miles while he’s busy in the console version of ACIII, the game instead casts the player as an unnamed user of one of Abstergo’s memory-machines. When the game tried to make connections with the larger series’ storyline, sense went out the window. It doesn’t help that even the main plot—like why and how Aveline was inducted into the Brotherhood in the first place—is barely mentioned. Characters’ relationships and motivations are difficult to keep track of, and on the whole, it’s a mess when viewed in total.
Even still, the dialogue and the ways the twisting plot fuels the game’s various settings is interesting, and it’ll certainly hold your attention. To me, the fact that the game’s protagonist is a female of mixed-race is what’s most laudable about it. Even better, these aspects of Aveline’s character are never made two-dimensional or reduced to stereotypes, helping her to seem like a well-rounded and interesting character. I can forgive the larger plot’s nonsense because of Aveline’s excellence.
Liberation’s controls work really well—most of the time. Free-running works better than I would’ve imagined possible on a hand-held, but about 90 percent of the time, I was able to go pretty much exactly where I wanted to. Only a few times did Aveline miss her intended landing, or simply perform the wrong action. In addition, the development team made sure to include elements of the Vita’s unique features, such as the rear camera, gyroscope, and touchscreens—all of which combined into something of a mixed bag.
Pick-pocketing was tough, in that it requires a certain kind of motion on the rear touchscreen. Sometimes it worked—sometimes it didn’t. One puzzle tasks you with moving and rotating the console to move a ball to the center of the maze, and in this case I was impressed by how well it worked. Other times, you have to hold the Vita’s rear camera up to a bright light source to see hidden imagery in letters you obtain—though, what the images actually depicted were never quite explained—another failing of the messy Assassin’s Creed plot trappings. I’ll give the developers props for trying.
On the other hand, combat was one of the game’s biggest weaknesses. While it should work more or less identically to the combat featured in its big console brothers, something always seemed off. I think, perhaps, once I felt confident in a combat situation, like what I was doing really mattered. More often than not, though, I wasn’t able to counter when I wanted to, and winning fights was mostly a matter of mashing buttons or just running away. I was still able to complete the single player campaign despite this handicap, but if the combat were on more solid ground, this game would’ve been the total package.
Visuals and Sound
Like the controls, there’s a lot of good and bad in the audio-visual aspects of Liberation. The textures and details of 18th-century New Orleans are impressive, to say the least, and there’s lots to explore in all of the other environments as well. Most of the voice acting and music, likewise, are of high quality, and make you forget that you’re playing on a handheld system.
But it’s impossible to ignore the hardware’s limitations, on full display when the game’s framerate drops to a slow chug during fast-moving sequences. Framerate drops were never so prevalent that it kept me from playing the game, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t very noticeable. The same can be said for a few strange audio quirks that took me out of the experience. The grating sound of streets being swept was, at random times, inexplicably loud, cutting through every other sound effect or bit of dialogue—which is even worse when wearing ear buds. And speaking of dialogue, while most of the voice acting was top notch, there were more than a few awful French or Spanish accents that made my girlfriend look up from what she was doing and say, “that sounds really dumb.” It was tough to convince her otherwise.
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation definitely has its share of issues, many of which are a result of the hardware on which it’s running. I have a feeling if it had been released on standard consoles, many, if not all of them, would have been eradicated, though I’ll never know for sure.
Despite these problems, though, Liberation brings a hugely engaging and interesting gameplay mechanic to the series, one that’s informed by the character herself. For that reason alone, it’s impossible for me not to recommend this game. And even with my aforementioned issues, I had a hell of a time putting this game down—it rises above its limitations and becomes extremely addictive. Just be careful: after you start playing, you may be shocked to discover how much of your free time it’s killed.
+Intriguing “Persona” gameplay mechanic
- Clunky, frustrating combat
+Unique new protagonist Aveline adds a new voice to the male-dominated series
8 / 10