Assassin's Creed III on the go.
What AC III: Liberation Got Right
- + Great protagonist and setting
- + Satisfying AC combat system
- + Graphically optimised for Vita
- + Voice-acting and dialogue superb
What AC III: Liberation Got Wrong
- - Narrative is severely disjointed
- - Camera is sometimes crazy
- - Persona system limits player
- - Collectibles are a chore and aren't marked
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is the Vita-exclusive spin-off title of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. While it’s not the first time the series has made the transition to handhelds -- Altair Chronicles, Discovery and Bloodlines all come to mind -- this is the first time the full-scale Assassin’s Creed experience has truly been translated to a handheld console.
Liberation has had a lot of pressure to be the Vita's next killer app -- one that Sony is so confident on, they've released a new Vita bundle with it. Liberation does live up to its expectations in many ways, and in many others it falls short -- though by no lack of trying.
Watch the official trailer.
The storyline of Liberation is as complex and intriguing as Assassin's Creed is known for. The game is experienced through the memories of Aveline de Grandpré, a half-French, half-African-American woman of 18th century New Orleans who lives a triple-life of privileged lady, impoverished slave and deadly assassin in the midst of the end of the French-Indian War and the beginning of the American Revolution. Aveline is the daughter of a rich French shipping magnate and an African slave; because of her father’s social status and wealth, he was able to liberate both Aveline and her mother Jeanne -- who became his wife -- and thus allowed Aveline to escape slavery and poverty.
However, the plight of the slaves around her does not escape her mind, and her mother's mysterious disappearance and her father’s second marriage makes Aveline a vulnerable target and ideal candidate for the Assassin Brotherhood. Her acquired skills and her views on the injustices within the French and Spanish colony spurn Aveline to rid New Orleans of conflict, poverty, slavery and exploitation and extract deadly justice on the powerful who take advantage of the slaves and general population.
While the historical backdrop of the French-Indian War, Spanish conflict and American Revolution in a slave-populated New Orleans is interesting and rich, the narrative mostly fails to articulate the broader details into how and why Aveline is driven to become an assassin and use her deadly skills, nor does it use the unique heritage of the protagonist and explore her own personal struggles in one of the darkest times in American history. After all, it isn't often you play as a French-African woman in the 1700s.
Aveline herself is a charming and likeable protagonist who shines in cutscenes, but due to the nature of the disjointed narrative and the way it bounces Aveline from assassination to assassination, her underlying personality and goals are clouded by the bloodshed, and are never given the spotlight they deserve. It feels like a massive missed opportunity.
Aveline is both charming and a bad-ass killer, but not enough of her personality is truly explored.
The setting of Liberation at least is used to its fullest potential. New Orleans, while not as expansive as its console location counterparts, feels alive and authentic as a cultural hot bed of French, African and Spanish influences. Other locations such as Mexico and the Bayou -- which is Liberation's version of the Frontier -- are also equally great and offer exotic locations for missions and exploration. Jumping tree-to-tree and stalking prey in the swamp is very enjoyable and is a refreshing change of scenery from the main city setting.
The core gameplay of Assassin’s Creed is present in all its glory on the Vita. Liberation shares the same game engine as Assassin’s Creed III, Anvil Next -- albeit optimised and modified for the Vita -- but the trademark parkour navigation, stealth and open-conflict combat have all mostly translated well to the Vita and playing as the swift and lethal Aveline is just as satisfying. Aveline shares a similar aptitude and taste for hatchets and hidden blades like Connor, but she also has some unique weapons at her disposal with specific emphasis on the use of poison -- a blowgun, a ‘berserk’ inducing poison shooter, and a poison-dart firing umbrella.
Liberation also incorporates a multi-kill system, where Aveline can chain together a series of one-hit kills for as long as she is uninterrupted. These kill animations are particularly gruesome but spectacularly awesome to pull off and watch. Particular weapons are limited to specific personas, which can restrict the level of choice depending on your favoured “costume” -- which would obviously be Assassin, unless you like running around slowly in Aveline’s impractical dress.
This brings us to Aveline’s disguises. The major gameplay difference between Liberation and the main series is the emphasis on Aveline’s multiple personas which she can change into at various 'Dressing Rooms' across the maps. Throughout the game you will be encouraged -- and sometimes forced -- during missions to alternate between her Lady, Slave and Assassin disguises, each of them supposedly possessing unique advantages and disadvantages.
Hatchets and machetes must be in this year.
For example, Aveline’s ‘Lady’ persona allows her to infiltrate New Orleans high society without any suspicion and charm powerful men into her favour, at the cost of being able to free-run and carry less weaponry. Aveline’s ‘Slave’ persona allows her to blend in while investigating slave plantations and worksites, but her notoriety rises much faster and she is not as protected from blows.
Aveline shares a similar aptitude and taste for hatchets and hidden blades like Connor, but she also has some unique weapons at her disposal with specific emphasis on the use of poison -- a blowgun, a ‘berserk’ inducing poison shooter, and a poison-dart firing umbrella.
Aveline’s ‘Assassin’ persona is obviously where the main action is, but in my entire playthrough it felt unbalanced in having no significant disadvantages to the other two, which made me question why I just didn’t stay in this persona for everything other than when I was forced to swap. All in all, the personas are fun for mission-specific quests, but otherwise it feels like Liberation effectively cuts off Aveline’s assassin abilities into thirds, and I found myself simply wishing I could stay as the Assassin persona permanently.
This brings us to the missions. While the main storyline grabs your attention for the most part with a tale of conspiracy, tyranny and saving slaves from bad guys, the many objectives are what disjoint the narrative and the fun of the game. Most revolve around Aveline running across the map for a cutscene, then running to another side of the map for a quick battle, then another cutscene or de-evolve into fetch-and-kill quests, and are quite repetitive. Some use Aveline's 'Eagle Eye' ability -- which allows her to see hidden clues and match targets by use of coloured identifiers -- and shake up the otherwise repetitive pattern of missions.
The stealth-based missions --- where you infiltrate areas, stalk targets or kill enemies without detection and in unique ways are a blast, and very well executed. Full synchronisation of these missions (completing both main and side objectives) offers up a fun challenge when missions are otherwise a bit on the dull or dragging side.
Don't expect AC III's Connor to appear often -- the crossover is only a brief one.
The graphical side of the Anvil Next engine is very impressive, with visuals, characters and colours crisp and lively, save for some texture-pop in now and then and a bit of a stutter when the heavier sections are loading. Liberation is easily one of the best looking titles on the Vita, though Uncharted: Golden Abyss still reigns king. For a handheld game, it's top notch.
The Vita-exclusive features of Liberation were meant well in theory. However, in execution, they feel gimmicky and overly novel. Pickpocketing involves swiping the touchscreen, opening letters make you draw thumb and forefinger along both sides of the Vita in an awkward tearing motion, and reading hidden codes in these messages requires the use of a bright light to decode them. The fact that these segments only worked around half the time and that I had to spend 10 minutes trying to work out why the light source wasn’t enough to decode the message really served to force me out from the overall experience.
The multiplayer mode of Liberation is perhaps the only truly disappointing aspect of the title. It is essentially a Risk-like board game with a touch of Facebook social game rules rather than resembling anything we’ve seen in the franchise’s history so far. You control a group of units, choose a side -- Assassin’s Brotherhood or Abstergo -- and a “Home Node” across the global map, and send your units to fight, scavenge for power-ups or defend your node. Fighting or scavenging costs energy, and you can only move your units a certain amount of times before a ‘cooldown’ is required. Because you can’t actually lose in the battles and that as of time of writing, the uneven teams always guarantee that the Brotherhood wins, it all feels fairly inconsequential and out of place in an Assassin’s Creed game.
The Final Verdict
While Liberation presents a wealth of interesting ideas and historic backdrops, the execution of these ideas -- both in gameplay systems and narrative -- has fallen short of the admittedly tough expectations this title carries in being the Vita's next true killer app. Despite its shortcomings, for hardcore or casual fans simply looking for Assassin’s Creed on the go, Liberation is a must-own experience.
By Nathan Misa