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Assassin's Creed III: Liberation Review

3
  • VITA

Assassin's Creed III: Liberation tries to bring a console-quality blockbuster to a handheld with mixed results.

If the PlayStation Vita does not develop into a successful handheld platform, then one need only look to a game like Assassin's Creed III: Liberation to understand why. Liberation is emblematic of many of the problems with Sony's technically advanced handheld system. At first glance, it looks astoundingly good, like the true realization of a console-quality experience on a handheld system. Then you dig further into it, and realize why maybe that's not such a great idea.

You'll want to get to know Aveline. It's a shame the game never really allows you to.

Essentially, Liberation is big where it should be stripped down, and stripped down where it should be more elaborate. In spurts, it's a great deal of fun, letting you experience the myriad thrills of stealth assassination any time you're on the go. But in between those thrilling moments are as many moments spent languishing in tedium.

Nowhere are these issues more apparent than in Liberation's plot. Taking place in the same general era as Assassin's Creed III, Liberation shifts its focus southward from the console game's Revolutionary War setting to New Orleans and its surrounding areas. This is a time of transition for the city, as French rule comes to a close and the Spanish begin to step in. You play as Aveline de Grandpré, a half-French, half-African woman raised by her white father, after her freed-slave mother disappeared as a child. As you would expect, Aveline's adult life is more than meets the eye. She is of the Assassin's Brotherhood, much like Connor, Ezio, and Altair before her. However, her mission, and the reasoning behind it, remains muddled.

Perhaps because of its handheld nature, Liberation's developers waste little time dropping players into the game's plot. You start out as Aveline as a young girl, suddenly ripped away from her mother in the crowded New Orleans streets. Then, all of a sudden, you're transported to her adult life, where she is already engaged with the Brotherhood. While some details about Aveline's life and history are touched upon, many seemingly important details remain unclear. This is partly due to the game's story framing device, namely that the simulation you are experiencing has nothing to do with the continuing adventures of series protagonist Desmond, but rather is created as part of a program from evil corporation Abstergo.

An unreliable narration device sounds like kind of a neat idea, but it's not constructed well here. The idea is that because of Abstergo's interference, you're only getting the details they want you to see. A subplot involving a hacker pops in later in the game, wherein he begins offering you "the truth" in the form of some lengthy cutscenes, but actually finding that guy and getting access to those scenes is arguably a lot more of a pain than it ought to have been.

Combat works best in the more open areas, where the camera can move more freely.

Because of this, Liberation's story never fully coheres. Which is a shame, because Aveline is an incredibly interesting character. Her back story alone is enough to pique a player's interest, but so little of it is properly addressed that I found myself less and less engaged with the story as it plodded along. Aveline's sensitive role within the hot-button racial issues of the time is fascinating, but without a strong, coherent narrative, much of that potential is wasted.

Similar issues plague the gameplay. While there is no mistaking Liberation for anything other than an Assassin's Creed game, some of those hallmark gameplay elements don't quite work as well as they should. Combat remains fluid, but enemies are often pretty brain dead. The game attempts to counterbalance this by forcing you into more required stealth sequences than in other recent franchise entries. Fortunately, the stealth functionality works well. I only ran into a few weird spots where I found it incredibly difficult to stay hidden, or otherwise keeping enemies unaware of my presence. Then again, they're not very smart to begin with, and sneaking up on them rarely requires much effort. I must have pickpocketed a dozen enemies while they were literally staring in my direction.

Still, traversing Liberation's lavishly recreated New Orleans can be a lot of fun. The controls for jumping, swinging, and climbing around the game's scenery are responsive and intuitive, and the city just looks flat-out great. Streets and corridors might be a bit narrower than what you're used to in this series, which sometimes can make fights against soldiers a bit of a pain (mostly due to camera placement), but I never felt anything but joy darting around the city like a bad ass assassin.

It's strange, then, that whole sections of Liberation either take the focus away from that, or flat-out don't let you do it. Mostly this comes into play when engaging one of Aveline's different "personas." Apart from her assassin gear, Aveline can also don a slave costume, which lets her blend in with workers and even incite riots among the people. That persona proves to be less of an issue than the "lady" persona, where Aveline loses all ability to jump and traverse in favor of being able to charm and bribe guards. While this is okay in small doses, the game has a tendency to force you into specific personas for longer periods of time than you'd like, especially early on. You're given more freedom later, but it's still a drag to have to gingerly jog around the world to get back to a costume-change area when you know you could just be jumping over a goddamn rooftop.

18th century New Orleans is rendered in tremendous detail. It's one of the few things Liberation gets absolutely right.

Liberation also falters when it comes to supplementing the core gameplay with more objectives. When you get outside of New Orleans, only some of the late game areas are particularly fun to explore. More often you'll find yourself in the swampy bayou just outside the city, and that area is a terrible slog to dig through, not to mention surprisingly bereft of any additional activity outside of story missions. The game also features a multiplayer component, albeit a barely amusing one. Here, you're asked to choose a side (Templars or Assassins) and a hometown. It's not a fleshed-out multiplayer mode like in the console games, mind you. It basically boils down to a card-battling game, and how it actually works is poorly explained within the game itself, meaning you'll have to spend more time than you'll likely want to figuring out how to play it effectively.

Liberation is a game you'll want to like. Its protagonist is an intriguing one, and her mission frequently teases greatness. But it never quite arrives, due to the developers' inability to marry the "full-fledged" Assassin's Creed gameplay to the Vita's form and function. There is undoubtedly a happy medium out there somewhere for this series on handhelds. There are things you can strip away to make a game like this more palatable to handheld players, and there are as many things you can keep to ensure that the grandiose spirit of the larger games is kept. Unfortunately, Liberation never quite nails those things down, resulting in a game that only delivers the goods in fits and starts.

Alex Navarro on Google+
89 Comments
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Posted by dvorak

@dropabombonit said:

Good review Alex, seems spot on from what I heard of from my friend who is playing it. Also where is the AC3 review? Ryan has been super lazy with reviews of late

ACIII is long as fuck, and there's an incredible amount of stuff to do. Also, I'm pretty sure he only got the game on the Friday before it came out. I'm not saying that's an excuse exactly, but he is a busy guy these days.

Posted by nickux

This review reads like a checklist of every problem I'm having with the game. Make no mistake, I am enjoying it more or less but damn Alex nailed all the issues. It's kind of tragic because the game has so much fucking potential and they squander it little by little. I'm currently in Sequence 3 and will no doubt finish the game. It's still a worthwhile addition to the Vita's library, in my opinion, but might not be the homerun I was hoping for. Also, I couldn't help but notice Alex didn't mention the framerate issues. Maybe it's just me but this game seems to chug sometimes. At the very least, the framerate varies wildly in some parts, running through town feels choppy.

Posted by gaffyh

Quick Look?

Posted by beard_of_zeus

@AmericanNinja said:

Dont listen to reviews. Buy the game and play it for yourselves.

If that's the case...then why do we even have reviews? I understand your sentiment to some extent, but if you have a reviewer whose opinions mesh with yours pretty often, and/or you check out reviews from many different places and digest them, and you come to conclusion that a game isn't worth your money, that seems pretty reasonable.

Also, if people have to choose between your 2 sentence (almost non-)opinion, and Alex's well-thought out review, I think the choice is pretty obvious.

Posted by beard_of_zeus

@gaffyh said:

Quick Look?

Probably not. They have no Vita capture gear, so I don't think Vita QLs are a thing at this point.

Posted by dragonzord

@AmericanNinja said:

Dont listen to reviews. Buy the game and play it for yourselves.

Going to give me 40 bucks?

Posted by Solh0und

Keep in mind that Alex isn't a big fan of AC though but he gave it a fair score otherwise.

Posted by louiedog

@dropabombonit said:

Good review Alex, seems spot on from what I heard of from my friend who is playing it. Also where is the AC3 review? Ryan has been super lazy with reviews of late

I've seen a bunch of people on twitter complaining about problems with quest bugs. Maybe he's running into similar issues that are slowing him down.

Posted by TwistedGamer

This game is awesome. A 3 seems low IMO

Posted by louiedog

@AmericanNinja said:

Dont listen to reviews. Buy the game and play it for yourselves.

Don't listen to the carefully and thoughtfully written opinions of people who have shared their thoughts on a ton of other similar products which helps give you an idea of where they're coming from. Instead, listen to some guy on the internet who can't even bother to tell you what's good about the thing that he recommends.

Posted by ICantBeStopped

Score seems low for the experience I'm having

Posted by mutha3
@louiedog said:

@dropabombonit said:

Good review Alex, seems spot on from what I heard of from my friend who is playing it. Also where is the AC3 review? Ryan has been super lazy with reviews of late

I've seen a bunch of people on twitter complaining about problems with quest bugs. Maybe he's running into similar issues that are slowing him down.

He said on TNT that he finished the game.
Posted by AmericanNinja

@louiedog said:

@AmericanNinja said:

Dont listen to reviews. Buy the game and play it for yourselves.

Don't listen to the carefully and thoughtfully written opinions of people who have shared their thoughts on a ton of other similar products which helps give you an idea of where they're coming from. Instead, listen to some guy on the internet who can't even bother to tell you what's good about the thing that he recommends.

I didn't recommend the game at all. What I'm saying is, play the game for yourself and form your own opinion about the game, instead of relying on someone else to do it for you. That's the main thing hurting the industry today is any type of "scored" reviews.

Posted by Grimhild

I kind of want to play this even though I don't own a Vita, since I actually have Creole blood in my family. Kind of funny with the whole plot device of them selling it as "This is YOUR ancestor, consumer!" and them I'm all... "I know, Ubisoft/Abstergo!"

Posted by SoothsayerGB

@Canteu said:

I saw this and thought it was the AC3 review.

Posted by Sooty

@geirr said:

If I already had a Vita I'd get this but I still can't justify the console's purchase in my budget. Hopefully they'll port it to the appstores at some point.

Playing Assassins Creed on a controller is janky enough, I don't want to imagine how this would be on a touchscreen.

Posted by algertman

@AmericanNinja said:

Dont listen to reviews. Buy the game and play it for yourselves.

It would involve me buying a Vita. So no.

Posted by Little_Socrates

@AmericanNinja said:

@louiedog said:

@AmericanNinja said:

Dont listen to reviews. Buy the game and play it for yourselves.

Don't listen to the carefully and thoughtfully written opinions of people who have shared their thoughts on a ton of other similar products which helps give you an idea of where they're coming from. Instead, listen to some guy on the internet who can't even bother to tell you what's good about the thing that he recommends.

I didn't recommend the game at all. What I'm saying is, play the game for yourself and form your own opinion about the game, instead of relying on someone else to do it for you. That's the main thing hurting the industry today is any type of "scored" reviews.

Reviews still matter, regardless of score, and scores are a fine little shorthand to center the thoughts of the writer. Unless you've got the funds and time to play literally every game that comes out in a year, reviews are still important. I'm maybe buying two games this month. I'd rather they be good and match the things I'm looking for in a game. NFS: Most Wanted reviews have been super-helpful to me by telling me "this game is deeper in multiplayer than singleplayer" so that I know not to buy it at $60 because I play racing games solo. Meanwhile, Halo 4 has a slightly weak campaign, so I'll play it with my buddy and worry about the multiplayer later.

Reviews aren't about forming the user's opinion about a game, they're about recommendations on where to spend our money, and (perhaps more importantly) our time.

Edited by Vao

Hmm, was really hoping this was going to be a mind blowing experiences so i could justify buying a vita finally,

Posted by Addfwyn

Seems a fair score from somebody who doesn't like the AC franchise. If you already like AC, I'd recommend Liberation. It's a solid entry into the series for people looking for something to play on their Vita (though so much stuff is out lately that there may be a lot of competition).

However, if you don't like AC already, like Alex, then this score seems totally reasonable. This is NOT going to be the title that makes somebody change their mind on the franchise whatsoever.

Posted by SupberUber

OMG! TEHBIAS! Alex in cahoots with Microshaft! Seriously though. Shame that Ubi didn't find a fitting formula, as the Vita needs all the good games it can get. I won't gamble on this one, as I got burned when I ignored the NFS Most Wanted reviews. That game is in serious need of life and atmosphere. Avoid!

Posted by Addfwyn

@SupberUber: I think Ragnorak Odyssey just came out stateside, I'd pick that one up right away if you're looking for Vita stuff.

Posted by EverydayOdyssey

I literally just finished the game, and, frankly, Alex is right. The game is just ... okay.

Posted by criacow

@Vao said:

Hmm, was really hoping this was going to be a mine blowing experiences so i could justify buying a vita finally,

Same here. If there's a good Black Friday special on the Vita, I might finally give in...but feeling less motivated now. Too bad.

Posted by MrKlorox

Damnit, stop changing the image for this review on the home page. I keep getting fooled into thinking this is the review for the actual game, not the impossible-to-be-good handheld version.

Posted by Rox360
@AmericanNinja said:

@louiedog said:

@AmericanNinja said:

Dont listen to reviews. Buy the game and play it for yourselves.

Don't listen to the carefully and thoughtfully written opinions of people who have shared their thoughts on a ton of other similar products which helps give you an idea of where they're coming from. Instead, listen to some guy on the internet who can't even bother to tell you what's good about the thing that he recommends.

I didn't recommend the game at all. What I'm saying is, play the game for yourself and form your own opinion about the game, instead of relying on someone else to do it for you. That's the main thing hurting the industry today is any type of "scored" reviews.

I'm curious. How do you decide what games you want to buy? How much money do you spend on games every month, and how many games that you buy do you actually enjoy and/or finish?
Posted by probablytuna

Hmm, this is a shame, I was kinda looking forward to it.

Posted by Bobtoad1

Not intending to purchase a Vita, i don't think i'll be playing this anytime in the near future, despite being a big Assassin's Creed fan.

That being said, it does make me a little sad that the game isn't a knockout. I just feel like this game being on a very thinly distributed platform, from a relatively niche franchise (for AAA titles anyway) isn't going to do well, and the end result is someone somewhere in a giant, mindless publishing house points to this and goes "Look, games without white male heroes don't sell".

Posted by geirr

@Sooty said:

@geirr said:

If I already had a Vita I'd get this but I still can't justify the console's purchase in my budget. Hopefully they'll port it to the appstores at some point.

Playing Assassins Creed on a controller is janky enough, I don't want to imagine how this would be on a touchscreen.

Haha, no that'd be a nightmare. Hopefully in this "dream version" they'd "re-imagine" the controls and.. well screw it, I just want to see the story really and maybe stab a dude here and there.

Posted by MusiM

Technical limitations are never a good excuse to make a not so great game. Ubisoft has a track record of making bad Assassin's Creed games for the hand helds. In my personal opinion, no one should have expected differently here. We're talking about a studio that makes yearly iterations of their game on console. If you look a the track record, AC2 and Brothergood are fantastic. AC1 and Revelations are not. Reaction to AC3 seems to be middle of the road. Judging the PSV on the performance of Liberation seems premature.

Posted by MikkaQ

@AmericanNinja said:

@louiedog said:

@AmericanNinja said:

Dont listen to reviews. Buy the game and play it for yourselves.

Don't listen to the carefully and thoughtfully written opinions of people who have shared their thoughts on a ton of other similar products which helps give you an idea of where they're coming from. Instead, listen to some guy on the internet who can't even bother to tell you what's good about the thing that he recommends.

I didn't recommend the game at all. What I'm saying is, play the game for yourself and form your own opinion about the game, instead of relying on someone else to do it for you. That's the main thing hurting the industry today is any type of "scored" reviews.

I think blindly buying video games is even more harmful to the industry. It tells publishers that we don't give a shit and they can make any amount of crap and we'll still buy it.

Posted by OG10

I was looking forward to this game too.. guess i'll wait till this hits the bargain bucket :(

Posted by toddacoco40

I am enjoying this game a great deal. While there is nothing revolutionary in the game play, rarely have we seen such a well crafted game on Sony's handheld system.

If you are and assassin's creed fan and have a Vita this is a recommended buy in my opinion. It controls as you expect and I personally hope we see more games of this type.

Sometimes you just want a good game for your handheld to play on the road. This will keep me happy with my Vita purchase, and entertain me for my holiday travel season.

Posted by Rabid619

I am a HUGE fan of the Assassin's Creed series, but unfortunately I have to agree with this. I'm not sure how far I'm in, but I just finished Chapter Four and just keep waiting for it to pick up, to get better, but sadly I don't think it will.

There are some really great things going on, and I am surprised at how well the base controls work on the system, but there are too many incredibly stupid things going on as well. Between bad touch screen implentation, bad puzzles, and that god damn "point your Vita at a light source" BS that never actually seems to work properly, I'm finding myself frustrated far too frequently.

It breaks my heart to say it, but this game is disappointingly mediocre up to this point.

Posted by Enigma777

I just finished the 3rd act. Really wish the colors weren't so washed out.  
 
Also I don't know if it's just me, but it feels like Aveline is constantly running through molasses. Almost like bad framerate, but it's not bad framerate since the camera spins freely without a hitch.

Edited by ozzdog12

I like it, I'd give it a 4 out of 5. I just dont think its possible to get a 'console' experience on handles. AC3:L is a great portable game even with its fault( much like the console game

Posted by Jack_Lafayette

I once said of the PSP: "Why would I buy a smaller version of my PS2 to play shittier PS2 games on?" I'll admit to wondering if the Vita is already a failure.

Posted by JesterPC238

I'm still only a few hours in, but I'm really enjoying Liberation. I think it's too bad that people are waiting on one specific game to "justify" the purchase of a Vita. I totally get that many simply can't afford it, but if you have the scratch and are on the fence I'd say you should just go ahead and pull the trigger. The system feels fantastic in your hands and while there may not be any jaw dropping, mind blowing experiences for it, there are a dozen or so very solid titles that are a lot of fun to play.

I think we are reaching something of an "uncanny valley" with Vita where the games are so close to their console counterparts that we are less willing to forgive the faults they have. Liberation is a perfect example of this, it's probably one of the best handheld games I've played all year, but when you compare it to AC2, Brotherhood, or AC3 it doesn't seem as outstanding. All the same, it's a must buy if you already like Assassin's Creed, and totally worth picking up if you have some interest, just know it's a little light on story and presentation compared to the console games.

Posted by vonFlampanker

Disappointed they couldn't eek out one more star's worth of quality for this, but I'll probably still get it. Maybe wait till it's cheaper.