Like its celluloid peer, the video game medium has the amazing ability to transport people to exotic places, where they get to become unique and interesting characters. It’s one of the main reasons as to why the hobby has become such a large form of business, because we gamers are always looking forward to the next grand adventure. However, while that description certainly fits most of the existing genres and series, there’s one that stands out for its attention to historical detail, important figures from yesteryear and the day-to-day lives of the people who inhabited this planet before us. That would be Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise, which has become one of the most talked-about interactive experiences out there.
After several outings on our favourite high-definition devices, the assassins have migrated to Sony’s fledgling PS Vita handheld, with Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. Allowing players to take the popular series with them while they’re out and about, it presents a chance to take out evildoers whenever the mood may strike. Of course, it’s an obvious step forward, which will most-likely progress over time, as Ubisoft attempts to expand its triple-A brand. However, the question still remains as to whether this iteration does its stealthy peers justice.
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation takes a trip back to 18th century New Orleans, and introduces us to the series’ first female protagonist, Aveline de Grandpré. The daughter of a former slave who has since disappeared, the agile young woman lives with her Caucasian father and his doting wife. Helping to run a shipping business by day and stalking the rooftops of her home city by night, she looks out for the area’s unfortunate slaves without giving away her true identity. Though, while helping one’s neighbours in such fashion is a hefty responsibility, the plot in which Aveline gets caught up in ends up putting her life on the line.
Despite the fact that Aveline is an interesting and empowered female video game protagonist, her story isn’t as impressive as it could’ve been, and the strange thing is that the experience is completely confined to the Animus virtual reality system. The main problem with the plot is that its pacing is off, though it’s also important to note that it’s convoluted, meaning that the eight to ten hour-long campaign ends up becoming tough to follow after a while. It’s a shame, because the game takes place in such an interesting historical period. Unfortunately, it’s just too easy to get lost over the course of the adventure, because some of its important developments aren’t properly explained.
At its core, the plot centres upon the battle between the stealthy Assassins Guild and its rival Templars, who seek to make sure that the world is run in a specific way. Aveline finds herself intermingled within this struggle after speaking to her mentor, Agate, and ends up on a quest where she must piece together the identities and motives of important Templar figures. Over the course of her adventure, she uncovers secrets about her past, and searches for important relics, while attempting to aid local slaves. All of that takes her from the rooftops, streets and alleyways of New Orleans to the swampy Louisiana Bayou, and even abroad.
Although Liberation‘s gameplay mechanics are similar to those of its peers, its focus on personas sets it apart from the pack. That’s because, in order to succeed, Aveline must change her outfit quite often. From start to finish, there are three different personas that can be equipped, including the assassin, the slave and the lady. Each one has its own pros and cons, not to mention its own suspicion level. Unsurprisingly, the assassin is the most agile and lethal, while the lady is a cumbersome class, which cannot climb. Then there’s the slave, though that particular persona tends to share more of the assassin’s characteristics than the lady’s.
Stealth is the key to the Assassin’s Creed games, and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is no different. In order to do well, one must blend into the surrounding landscape, waiting until the time is right to mount an offensive strike. Aveline can perform that task well, though she must make use of her clothing options in order to get to where she needs to go. If sneaking into a plantation is in order, then the slave is a great disguise. Conversely, missions that require high society eavesdropping or guard charming must be completed using the lady persona. However, there are times where anything goes.
While it’s a decent diversion from the norm, the aforementioned system isn’t without issue. For starters, there were a couple of times where I got stuck as the lady, with one forcing me to restart from a previous checkpoint. Keeping with that trend is the fact that it simply isn’t much fun to play as the finely dressed aristocrat. However, with that being said, the system’s main problem regards its separate suspicion levels, because each class has to do different things to get its wanted level down. In order to decrease the slave’s notoriety one must tear down wanted posters, while the assassin must bribe certain figures. Those two work quite well, though that isn’t the case when it comes to the lady’s method, as she must assassinate witnesses to lower the suspicion that surrounds her. It’s simply nonsensical, and lessens the game’s immersion due to the fact that the supposed witnesses respawn in the same places, accompanied by two friends. Though they’re seemingly brain dead on most occasions, those two allies sometimes notice that their friend has died, which actually raises the wanted level instead of lowering it.
Thankfully, Liberation fares quite well when it comes to replicating the series’ console controls, as well as its well-known mechanics. Getting around is quite easy whenever the lady isn’t employed, and the ease at which Aveline climbs is both impressive and helpful. Her combat skills are also quite noteworthy; it doesn’t matter if she’s wielding a close-combat blade or taking a long-range shot with a poisonous dart gun, because she’s incredibly effective with both. In fact, the developers took the time to add in extra blood effects to show just how lethal some of her assassinations are.
For the most part, the combat worked as it should have. However, the heroic protagonist would sometimes become stuck for a few moments, and there were also occasions where pressing an attack button wouldn’t result in an in-game action. Adding on to that last complaint is the fact that the counter system didn’t always work as it should have, which left me open to unwanted attacks. However, even though those problems became somewhat annoying, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation was never overly challenging, as a result of Aveline’s replenishing health bar.
Touch controls rarely factor into the game’s battle sequences, although they are used for pickpocketing, menu usage and targeting. Everything else is handled through button presses, including the hero’s confrontations with angry alligators, which all boil down to brief quick-time events. The pesky swamp residents go down with unrealistic ease, and taking their eggs relates to an in-game side quest of sorts. That wasn’t the only secondary venture I came across, however, as there were others, including business rival assassinations, ship captain tasks, slave assistance ventures and collectible hunting escapades.
On top of its described single player campaign, Liberation also offers multiplayer, though it’s nothing like what you’ll find in some of the other Assassin’s Creed titles. Instead, what’s presented plays out like a bland version of global RISK. Although there are a couple of interesting ideas to be found within what is a complex, poorly explained and dull mode, they won’t compel players to return. Luckily, the campaign does offer some replay value in the form of its side missions and collectibles, not to mention its true ending, which can unlocked by finding and assassinating a mysterious figure six times.
This happens to be Ubisoft’s first crack at bringing its open world hit to Sony’s PS Vita, and that fact tends to show at times. Visual glitches are not uncommon, and they mar the experience because they’re so obvious. Non-playable characters will sometimes walk through or stand inside of walls, felled guards occasionally lay in mid-air, and Aveline has the ability to assassinate baddies even if they’ve shifted a few steps during the animation. Those issues, along with the game’s occasional frame rate dips, were notable, though they didn’t ruin the immersion factor for me. The good news is that Liberation still looks quite good, employing a more linear and confined world than its peers, though that’s understandable. However, there’s one more piece of bad news, which relates to the fact that the audio quality isn’t top notch, meaning that static sometimes appears.
From start to finish, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is an enjoyable game, although it’s rough around the edges and doesn’t possess a memorable storyline. Instead, its entertainment comes from its gameplay department, where the developers did a relatively impressive job of bringing the series’ mechanics to the touch-focused Vita. As a result, fans of the series should enjoy the presented experience, as long as they don’t go in expecting a masterpiece.
This review is based on a PS Vita copy of the game that was provided to us.
From start to finish, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation is an enjoyable game, although it's rough around the edges and doesn't possess a memorable storyline.