Assassin’s Creed Liberation is a really odd game. It is a game of combined successes and failures that come together to make a game while original, is not totally great. Let’s talk about some high points though. You know, to kick things off.
First of all, this is a console quality game put on a handheld. The Vita is a powerful little device, and its ability to show off Colonial-era New Orleans is nothing short of astounding. While I encountered minor frame-rate issues when too many enemies came on screen, most of the game ran smoothly, accompanied by great graphics that honestly puts it on par with any of the games on the consoles.
On top of this, the free-running, made so popular by the other games in the series is as responsive as ever. Getting about from building to building is great, and in many places, it feels better than ever. The buildings in Liberation are tightly packed, and lend themselves to this sort of gameplay.This by no means a gimped version of a game, stuck on a handheld to accompany a “real” console release. In both scope, and quality of what you’re seeing, this is a fully-fledged Assassin’s Creed game, through and through.
The heart of any Assassin’s Creed game is the stealth, where you silently take out your singular prey while no one around you notices. Wait no. I am lying. The heart of Assassin’s Creed is stabbing as many people as possible. You are going to stab a lot of people in this game, as many as you’re used to really. The combat in this title, despite being a companion to ACIII, is more reminiscent of the Ezio AC titles. Instead of the sort of active approach you take to fighting with Connor; Aveline will stand and wait much in the fashion of her Italian counterpart. I could go into that, but honestly if you have played any Assassin’s Creed game, ever, you know exactly what I am talking about.
That’s not to say it’s not fun. If you’re like me and enjoyed the AC titles that have come before, the combat will feel fluid and honestly pretty satisfying. The range of weapons you have is roughly the same as ACIII, up to and including the hatchet style weapons, which keeps the amazing kill animations from the console title.
However, the combat, while fun; tends to fall a bit flat in some key areas. Now granted; Assassin’s Creed is never known for its top-notch enemy A.I. However, the enemies in Liberation got dropped on their heads as children. They will seriously stand there and wait for you to kill them. Sometimes with ranged weapons that require a substantial charge time. Oddly enough, the general sense of stupidity among the soldiers is usually needed in this game. I may make fun of the enemies of being stupid and non-responsive; but truth is, I died in this game more than any other AC title, easily. This is due to the fact that; despite the Vita being a system with a widescreen, like my TV, it is a handheld, and tiny compared to my TV. As such, a lot of the attacks from enemies in Liberation come from off-screen, and will end up stabbing you, a lot.
Not that the attacks on screen are much better. The essential countering mechanic; so typically part of the core of an Assassin’s Creed game is handled pretty badly in Liberation. In every game, an indication would come up slightly before the enemy was about to attack, giving you the right amount of time to set up your counter attack. However, this time around, the counter indicator seems to sometimes come during the attack, severely reducing the time you have to not get run through. Could be better.
On top of this hardware limitation, you are further reminded of the fact you are playing a handheld with a weird amount of bells and whistles by the hardware-specific minigames. Every time you find a letter in this game, which is a lot, you have to do two things which kill me as a person wanting to play this game.
First, you need to open the letter, which involves using both touch screens to pretend you and slicing the top of the envelope open. Whatever, fine, I even kind of get that. However, the second part almost made me quit in frustration more than once. To decipher each Templar letter, you have to hold the letter to a source of light. Now note…this part is not in game. Each time this happens, you need to find a bright source of light, and hold the Vita’s back camera to it, hoping it does not compensate too fast. If this works, you get to move on. If not, you get to repeat this process until you are angry, and still no closer to how this works. This process was never well explained, and felt completely arbitrary in execution. I get Sony wanting to take advantage of all the resources the Vita offers with one of the bigger titles, but this was one of the things that almost killed the game for me. Though, there were other reasons.
I guess we should talk about the story. Was there a story? While the other Assassin’s Creed titles are told through the framing device of Desmond Miles, this game is told through the horribly-thin idea of being a mass-marketed version of the Animus device, sold by the Templar-led Abstergo industries. This preface is used to the detriment of the player, as since your experience is controlled by “the man”, the story is purposely made opaque, keeping you from learning as much about the main character Aveline, as you do about the ancestors of Desmond. It feels whenever a scene is about to get personal in a way that is good, the camera yanks away.
Now this can be somewhat corrected by the in-game element of hacking collective Erudito. While Abstergo controls the overall experience of AC Liberation, this other group seeks to show you what is hidden by arbitrarily killing a civilian to reveal more of the story. While these extra scenes do shed light on whatever gimped story-beat you got before, it requires no challenge besides stabbing a random person and watching the new scene. Thematically it makes sense, but really did not need to be there and adds an layer to the story that was not needed.
To add to layers not needed, like ACIII and the Wilderness; AC Liberation adds to the beautiful city of New Orleans by adding the surrounding, horrible swamp of New Orleans. This area is filled with basic tree-traversal, horrible bogs that slow running speed, and deeper water that features some of the slowest swimming I have ever encountered in a video game.
All of the issues I have talked about seem to pad the gameplay by either making you traverse a large amount of land very slowly, or by tracking down and killing some guy just so you can get the story you should have been told in the first place.
None of those issues though hold a candle to the horrible outfit changing system. Unlike the older Assassin’s Creed titles, where you run around whatever city you’re in dressed like a psycho compared to everyone, people in New Orleans actually notice if you look different. I guess swamp gas makes you more aware of fashion n0-nos.
Because you can’t run around in whatever white garb suits you best, Aveline will have to change outfits, and often to blend into her surroundings. At the start of the game, you will actually spend the least time in the Assassin’s garb, which is the most practical of the outfits, and mirrors the gameplay an AC veteran is used to. However, a lot of the game will force you to disguise yourself as a slave; taking advantage of Aveline’s half-French, half-African lineage. In the slave persona, you can incite riots…which never help. But to balance that useless ability out, you have half the health, can carry less weapons, and seem to gain infamy for simply existing; which I guess is actually accurate for the time.
As pointless as the slave outfit can be, the third guise of Aveline is downright terrible. At many points in the game, you will have to dress as a lady, in the large dress so customary of the time. As a result, this dress prevents you from climbing buildings and running…you know as is the hallmark of the Assassin’s Creed series. I get the practical reasons why this is the case, and I actually love the fact that Ubisoft has given you a protagonist that is a strong woman. However, I detest that this change in the status-quo comes at the expense of so much of the gameplay.
It almost serves as a sort of argument against making women the stars of Triple-A games. If Ubisoft made the noble-lady parts of the game cutscenes that explained how Aveline had to keep up her social appearance, that would have been great. But we did not get that, we got a ton of gimped gameplay that forced itself upon you way too much of the time.
That pretty much sums up Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. Tons of forced extras that distill the accomplishments this title shows. The Vita is obviously capable to delivering an experience comparable to that of consoles, but the need to feel different was too apparent here. Between the hardware of the Vita, and bad story choices, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation proves itself to be a title that could have been great, but very much falls short of the mark.