A Fun but Flawed Assassin's Creed Game
After a rocky start, I found myself really enjoying Assassin's Creed Liberation and I believe that Ubisoft has largely been successful in bringing an Assassin's Creed game to a mobile gaming platform. If only they'd put as much care into it as they do in the larger console offerings, I could give it a better score, but wonky Vita only mechanics, some weird bugs, and a slap dash attempt at story telling keep this as a good but not great game. However, Liberation has at least re-kindled my interest in the Assassin's Creed Universe, an interest that waned during Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.
Liberation overall has a pretty clever set up. Instead of you experiencing memories of an ancestor as the series main protagonist, Desmond Miles, you're essentially playing a product produced by Abstergo to give a slanted view of the Assassins/Templar war through the eyes of a member of the brotherhood. i.e Liberation is Templar propaganda, designed to discredit the Brotherhood though, as you'd imagine in an Assassin's Creed game, something/someone has inserted hidden information to help the player find the "truth" Abstergo doesn't want you to see. Like I said, it's a clever idea, but the story isn't delivered in a way that really takes advantage of it. The main problem is that Aveline's, the games protagonist, motivations for joining the brotherhood were never clear to me. Unlike Ezio's arc in Assassin's Creed 2, Aveline goes from child to Assassin with almost no explanation whatsoever. Being thrust into the role in such an abrupt manner, it takes a long time for the story to start coming together in a way that gives you a sense of what Aveline is fighting for. Which is really a shame, since I think Aveline is a very interesting character that deserves much better development. I hope that Ubisoft has more plans for her character in the Assassin's Creed universe.
For long time Assassin's Creed players, Liberation feels very familiar. It's not as mechanics heavy as Brotherhood, but it has the usual things you expect in an Assassin's Creed game. Parkour-like traversal, weapon upgrades, a system for increasing wealth, combat that allows you to easily handle multiple opponents, are all in there. However, with the exception of traversal, which feels spot on in my opinion, none are handled as well. In particular, combat comes of feeling muddy and imprecise to me. Fights with you usual fodder are fine and function as you'd expect but, when you come across the trickier opponents that dodge your attacks or break your counters, I don't feel like I have tools to handle them properly and often end up winning the fights in a very cheap manner.
The new system for increasing your wealth is one I really like but it's not at all necessary and only works if you dedicate time to doing it. In short, you manage your father's shipping business, buying goods low at one port, selling them high at another, while hoping to avoid storms, hurricane's, and pirates. I found it very similar to a game I used to love on the Apple IIc called "Taipan". The problem is, it takes time for your ships to get from port to port so, if you want to be successful at it, you'll find yourself running back and forth to your headquarters to ensure the goods keep flowing. Worse, travel time only counts down while you're in game and the Vita is awake, soI found myself just staying in the trading screen while I'd watch a movie, occasionally refreshing my Vita, waiting for my ships to reach port. It would've been better if Ubisoft had just used the system clock instead so that your ships would travel whether you Vita was on or not. Good thing, I guess, that you can ignore it altogether.
Where Liberation really stumbles, is in the mechanics it introduces, since most use Vita only features. The motion controls, front/back touch, and camera are all put to use but never in good way. For example, at one point you make use of the motion controls to navigate a ball through a maze labyrinth style and, to so this properly, you should be using a flat surface, like a desk or table. Luckily this only occurs once, but camera sequences that have you twisting and turning your Vita whiled pointed at a bright light, occur way too frequently and seem kind of broken. Not exactly the type of gameplay mechanics you want for your gamer on the go.
The Liberation only mechanic that doesn't require Vita only controls is the persona system, allowing you to choose one of 3 persona's to carry out a mission. The lady persona allows you to charm or bribe guards, but is limited on traversal and combat options. The slave persona can blend in the environment better, has similar traversal and combat options as the assassin, but can take less damage. The assassin has full combat and traversal options, but is more likely to attract attention. As you can imagine, some missions require you to play as a particular persona and playing as the lady can get very tedious since she's so much slower in moving around the environment. Overall, the system works o.k. but it just doesn't feel very developed, as you'll almost never willingly choose any persona other than the assassin.
Finally, Liberation has a fair amount of bugs that can affect gameplay. Guards I charmed would disappear when I needed them most and one of my ships got permanently stuck in transit between ports, but these are pretty minor. The worst one I ran into was a bug that would cause the game graphics to be very dark, almost like viewing a photograph negative. Once, this bug resolved itself by me starting a mission, but mostly I would have to restart the game to get the graphics back to normal.
While I would love a better crafted story, the bugs I ran into and clumsy Vita only control mechanics are what drop the score for me. Overall, I had a good time playing Liberation and definitely feel like I got my money's worth out of it. I just hope that, if Ubisoft takes another run at this franchise on the Vita, they'll put a little more care and effort into it.