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Assassin's Creed III: Liberation Review

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  • 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 Canteu

I saw this and thought it was the AC3 review.

Posted by dicnose

anti ea bias strikes again...........

Posted by Delta_Ass

@Canteu said:

I saw this and thought it was the AC3 review.

Ditto.

I was like "...well it didn't look that bad in the quick look."

Posted by deano546

@dicnose said:

anti ea bias strikes again...........

Not sure if serious...

Posted by jayjonesjunior

why couldn't they just port the real deal to the vita?

Posted by SniperXan

@dicnose: hehe... that was almost funny anyway.

Posted by leejunfan83

Ryan is so lazy

Posted by TheBioLover

@dicnose said:

anti ea bias strikes again...........

Wat.

OT: I have the game and sort of agree in some places, but I think the game is pretty fun, not as good as ACIII but still worth buying.

Posted by kerse

@dicnose said:

anti ea bias strikes again...........

Pretty sure its an ubisoft game. I really hope you're just trying to troll.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

I love that the review for the portable spinoff has come before the review of the actual game.

Posted by CornBREDX

The fact that this is up and the AC3 review hasn't come yet made me laugh for some reason.  
Sorry if that's inappropriate but I legitimately found that funny. Not entirely sure why.

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

@TheBioLover said:

@dicnose said:

anti ea bias strikes again...........

Wat.

OT: I have the game and sort of agree in some places, but I think the game is pretty fun, not as good as ACIII but still worth buying.

Same here.

Posted by DanTheGamer32

I'll probably get this, just not yet. I need something to play on this Vita of mine, and this doesn't seem overly terrible

Posted by Scrumdidlyumptious

This game is fun.

Posted by BlackLagoon

A fair review, especially from someone I gather isn't a fan of the series. I'm enjoying it though, so I guess its quirks don't bother me as much as they did Alex, and being able to have it in sleep mode and pick it up and play instantly whenever I feel like it is a big plus.

Posted by WJist

You know...if they are going to add a card game to the multiplayer, why not just build on ideas of the terrific Assassin's Creed Recollection on iOS? That game was super addicting and had simple enough mechanics to do a sideshow for the Vita ACIII.

Posted by MiniPato

@dicnose said:

anti ea bias strikes again...........

It's ubisoft you clown.

Edited by zombie2011

I have been so bummed out by AC3's world, the smaller flat cities just aren't as enjoyable as the cities in all the previous games.

New Orleans looks pretty cool though, however, too bad the rest of the game isn't as great.

Posted by RazielCuts

Does this and the PS3 version of AC III talk to each other? And if so, what do they share? Also, any multiplayer like the console release?

Posted by BlazeHedgehog

That happy medium is Assassin's Creed II on the Nintendo DS, which turns it in to a Prince of Persia-esque side scrolling game. It's pretty good!

Posted by Nettacki

Well I got this game as part of the limited edition Vita bundle and I like it. I haven't played an Assassin's Creed game before though.

Posted by RustySanderke

What's up with that 2880x1632 screenshot?

Posted by BlackLagoon

@RazielCuts said:

Does this and the PS3 version of AC III talk to each other? And if so, what do they share? Also, any multiplayer like the console release?

In Liberation, linking with PS3 AC3 gets you Connor's Tomahawk as a weapon, ammo pouch upgrade, an extra multiplayer character, and an exclusive mission where you play as Connor. And, as it says in the review, there is multiplayer, but its an asynchronous strategic card game thing.

Posted by RE_Player1

I agree 100%. It's nice having a portable AC game but the story and characters are forgettable, frame rate is awful and the sound in general sounds like it was filtered through a tin can.

Posted by LarryDavis

@RustySanderke: bullshot.

Posted by Enigma777

I still want to give this a shot, but I'll wait till its cheaper.

Edited by rjayb89

The person who uploaded the first and third image placed in the body of the review clearly had a low-end Vita system. Really puts the game in the wrong light, I'd say.

Posted by Cybexx

I've been playing this a bit here and there and I've been enjoying myself. This is a much much better game than Assassin's Creed Bloodlines (the PSP game where you played Altair). That game with its teensy environments, lack of animation blending, lack of crowds really showed why you needed the power of the current generation of consoles to pull off an Assassin's Creed game. This game feels much more like a real Assassin's Creed game, after having played a fair bit of ACIII I can say that in term of character control its somewhere between the Ezio trilogy and ACIII, you have a lot of the new moves it just not quite as fluid or fleshed out.

I do think the personas mechanic is an interesting way to differentiate Aveline, and plays well to her character. Each persona gains notoriety at a different rate and each has a different way of loosing that notoriety. The cool thing is that since each persona has an independent notoriety meter you can switch personas (assuming your not restricted by the mission) and perform the activity that lowers the notoriety on the former persona (IE: If the slave persona is in the red you can switch to the lady and rip down wanted posters which lower the slave's notoriety). But yeah it does suck to be stuck as the Lady for too long.

Posted by algertman

It's a Vita game. BOMB CITY!

Posted by HazeMisoSoup

I just really wish this was a console game and not a hand-held.

Edited by Reisz

I must be the one guy who bought a Vita just for this, I held out until the White bundle was released this week. It's a sad state of affairs but my expectations were always that there would be some compromise. Since I am going to wait until ACIII comes out on PC, liberation actually seems like a really good way to get used to the setting. Hey if nothing else it will improve my reaction to ACIII when I play that.

Good review though Alex, cheers.

Posted by dezvous

It would be a damn shame if the PS Vita suffers from the same developer failings as the PSP. All of the problems listed her point to a half baked afterthought.

Posted by cavemantom

I'm rather enjoying this.

The persona system is a nice twist on the Social Status systems from the prior games. Each persona has its own set of risks and rewards.

The sound quality is weirdly inconsistent. Sometimes, the dialog and music sound fine, but they sound really low bitrate just as often. It's not too noticeable through the Vita's speakers, but it's very noticeable through headphones.

Also, it's cool to have a female protagonist who isn't all tits and isn't constantly talked down to. I'm really curious to see where Aveline's story goes, and how it ties in to the greater fiction. I'm planning on playing AC3 on PC, so this is tiding me over spectacularly, what with all the swamp-tree-running and blow-dart-assassinating.

Posted by NTM

I don't have a Vita myself, but if I did, I know it's lacking truly great games, and maybe this isn't great, but I'm sure this is one of those few titles that's worth purchasing. Or maybe I'm totally wrong, about everything.

Posted by jasondesante

hey at least its got the same rating as mario kart 7 which was a fucking amazing game......so 3/5 aint that bad

Posted by Shirogane

A lot of the points made here are how i feel about AC3 strangely enough, having just finished that game. Mainly the plot/story stuff though, that feels exactly like how Alex is describing this game, it was kinda disappointing.

Posted by Questionable

@jayjonesjunior said:

why couldn't they just port the real deal to the vita?

They did not want to taint the main AC line with a inferior product.

ACIII would be allot worse if they tried to bring it to vita, This has been designed for the Vita from the ground up leading to a impressive mimmicking what the big consoles do. Reading the review the game sounds like everything you should expect from a handheld AC game

Posted by DG991

The screenshots look a little jaggy but for a handheld that is damn impressive. It is a shame the gameplay seems to suffer a bit.

Edited by Supersoaker

3 out of 5 is "60", meaning average. Anything above a 3 should be considered above average or great.

Edited by Dan_CiTi

They need to just make a game that is either essentially Assassin's Creed but in the gameplay & graphical shell of either A Link to the Past or Ninja Five-O (with obvious additions to make it more like AC) to make it feel right for portables in my opinion. Getting something like this game is interesting but also pretty depressing.  
 
It is too bad Aveline doesn't get a more fair shot, as she sounds like an awesome assassin. 

Posted by Cold_Wolven

It just feels like there is no 'one' game to make me go out and purchase a Vita since most of the games tend to be average or good, never great. The only thing that would have me buy a Vita at this point would have to be a price drop on the handheld.

Posted by DedBeet

The review seems to indicate that the Vita failed the AC franchise, but I believe the reverse is true. The act of actually playing liberation is mostly fine, aping the console based games fairly well. Sure, the usual Vita only gameplay mechanics (pick pocketing, back touch canoe paddling, ...) are more miss that hit, but combat and world traversal, the hallmarks of AC gameplay, feel not to dissimilar from the console cousins. Where Liberation fails is story. Remember Ezio's development from baby to brash, young hothead to man avenging his family to master assassin in Assassin's Creed 2? Aveline goes from child to assassin with no explanation whatsoever (at least in what i've played so far), leaving her reminding you more of Altaïr, than the now, more famous, Italian counterpart. The game then just jumps into missions that don't seem to be connected in anyway. For some, Aveline is helping her father's business, others, well, I really have no idea where they're headed at this time, leaving me with the feeling that Ubisoft has delivered us with a game where story compromises were made to meet deadlines. I'm curious how many copies of Liberation Ubisoft is predicting to sell since the game doesn't feel like Ubi had much confidence in it. From what I've played, I believe the Vita is more than capable of delivering a solid Assassin's Creed game, Ubisoft just chose not to do so.

Posted by JimmyPancakes

I want to hug all the Vita owners that are "enjoying" this game because if they didn't its just another game they'd been hoping to justify their purpose but disappointed. Its going to be okay guys.

Posted by jayjonesjunior

@Questionable said:

@jayjonesjunior said:

why couldn't they just port the real deal to the vita?

They did not want to taint the main AC line with a inferior product.

ACIII would be allot worse if they tried to bring it to vita, This has been designed for the Vita from the ground up leading to a impressive mimmicking what the big consoles do. Reading the review the game sounds like everything you should expect from a handheld AC game

NFS Most Wanted says otherwise.

The only differences to the console versions are graphical, like number of particles or objects on the screen, refined visuals, etc.

I don't think an approach like that taints the name of a product much more than a generic product like this or Golden Abyss.

Posted by dropabombonit

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

Posted by Questionable
@jayjonesjunior

@Questionable said:

@jayjonesjunior said:

why couldn't they just port the real deal to the vita?

They did not want to taint the main AC line with a inferior product.

ACIII would be allot worse if they tried to bring it to vita, This has been designed for the Vita from the ground up leading to a impressive mimmicking what the big consoles do. Reading the review the game sounds like everything you should expect from a handheld AC game

NFS Most Wanted says otherwise.

The only differences to the console versions are graphical, like number of particles or objects on the screen, refined visuals, etc.

I don't think an approach like that taints the name of a product much more than a generic product like this or Golden Abyss.

I would not call the absence of civilian traffick insignificant in a criterion game. That does significantly impact the fun factor.

Not saying the vita factor is not impressive but it does suffer for trying to be a carbon copy when the hardware just is not there
Posted by GooieGreen

@JimmyPancakes: I'm sorry, what is there to be condescending about? A game that has some issues on the first round of handheld development from a studio that has no experience making a game for it? Vita owners should be giving you a hug because your need for attention knows no bounds.

Someone liking this game doesn't make them stupid, nor does owning a Vita. Gamers have different thresholds for games and franchises and a review doesn't always change that.

Posted by geirr

This is one of the games I had the highest hopes for this year, damn. Especially interested in how they handled the protagonist's story. Oh well.

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.

Posted by mattoncybertron

@Reisz said:

I must be the one guy who bought a Vita just for this, I held out until the White bundle was released this week. It's a sad state of affairs but my expectations were always that there would be some compromise.

Nah, I picked this up for my gf's bday. Shes digging it and the game practically comes free if your getting the bundle so its still very much worth getting imo. I've enjoyed a sequence or 2 but a better narrative definitely would've helped, that being said I'm totally still looking forward to playing through it when shes done.

Posted by AmericanNinja

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

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