GAME NAME: Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Sofia
PLATFORM(S): Playstation Vita
GENRE(S): Historical action-adventure
RELEASE DATE(S): 18/09/2012 (US), 21/09/2012 (EU)
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation appears to be a gift for Vita owners; using the engine version that the astonishing Assassin’s Creed III uses, but on a handheld, that alone is a promise that you’re in for a great treat. But is it truly worth it? Let’s break it down, and help you decide.
Liberation is set in the exact same years as Assassin’s Creed III, and, for the first time in the series, you take control of a female assassin — a mild spoiler, you also meet with the console game’s protagonist, Connor (or Ratonhnhaké:ton, his Mohawk name). Her name is Aveline de Grandpré, and interestingly enough, she is of African and French descent, making her draw even more eyes on her, because of the infamous situation with the slaves back then. Trying not to spoil anything, I’ll just say Aveline had much more luck in her life than most slaves you encounter in the game.
Following my usual review formula, I’ll talk about the game’s story and characters first. To clear things up: Aveline is not a relative to Desmond Miles, and during the whole game, you do not see who is the one that sits in the Animus and relives Aveline’s memories — but you do know you are in the Animus, and there’s also hints that Abstergo is behind the whole operation. So, we have a French-African, living in the colonial era of America… convoluted, you might say. But I was impressed by how well woven was everything in the game. Almost every character felt essential and real, and everyone had their roles in the story, which revolved around the series’ staple Templars vs Assassins setting. It’s tough to describe or just tease the story without spoiling anything, so I’ll just say this much about it, and jump to the interesting characters. Most people you encounter are slaves, Africans, and your primary enemies are the colonists who are either trying to steal land, slaves, money, or anything in between — and I’m only pointing this out because, at least in recent memory, it’s one of the very few (if not the only one) games that touch such a sensitive subject, and manages to depict it respectfully and realistically. The story also is way more personal than most games in the series that came before it, and what’s good is that you get to see Aveline in all her hours of the day, and get in her shoes to prepare for the upcoming journey, which lasted me around 10 hours just for the storyline missions, and minimal messing around or side-missions. Having a beautiful, open world to explore, and powered by the improved AnvilNext engine, with a ton of stuff and people to interact with, you are guaranteed to spend much more time with the game than I did; I’m still not done with it, though, and will come back to it immediately.
Up next is the gameplay section, which is kind of rich, too. Controlling almost exactly like Assassin’s Creed III, the game is beautiful, responsive, easy-to-learn but hard to master, and most importantly, has enough content to keep you going for hours upon hours. The highlight was, at least for me, the revamped climbing system. Holding down R, you enter the free running “mode”, and from that point on, everything flows so fluidly that I caught myself just messing around for a few seconds, to watch the animations or see just how easily I can scale tall trees and cross swamps without touching the ground. The combat system also got much love, and there’s also a Vita-specific mechanic with which you can chain kills by “touching to kill” whoever is close enough, using your pistol, machete, tomahawk or hidden blades. This gives Aveline the ability to wipe off groups of people in a matter of seconds, provided you amassed the “power” needed to execute the move by landing successful attacks. Having weapons old and new alike (for example, blowpipes with poisonous darts or a whip), Aveline is a walking death-dealer, but not all the time. Another new mechanic is the “Persona system”. You can switch between three personas: Assassin, Slave and Lady. The Assassin is the best-equipped, but also most notorious of the three, while the Slave can do battle and can blend in with other slave groups, and the Lady persona can’t even free run but still has her twin Hidden Blades — it also gathers notoriety much slower than the other two. Many missions will require you to swap between the personas, and thankfully, that’s easy to do, though not perfect. The only way to switch personas is to visit a Dress Chamber, or go to Aveline’s house and walk out to pick a new persona. How the missions play out, it’s varied, and interesting enough to keep you going at least for the finish line, but it doesn’t innovate. You’ll still have the regular “escort” or “point A to B” missions, but the revitalized controls make it anything but a chore to play through. What about the Vita controls, though? The game will ask you to use every function the Vita has: tilting, rear camera, touch screen, rear pad, but apart from the “touch-to-kill” system, these controls rarely come into regular play, and when they do, they are (thankfully) very accurate and responsive, and may I say, well implemented, as in, you don’t lose grip of how you’re holding the Vita to your liking just to, say, swipe the screen, and I’d love to see more Vita games in the future have such intuitive Vita-controls.
Onto the multiplayer part of the game, where there’s not much to say, sadly. It does reach its goal, but fails to realize the Vita’s potential. Summing it up: it’s an asynchronous mode, where the globe is split between Templars and Assassins, and of course, the players side with one group when they start. From there on, you have to attack cities and claim them for your Order, using “character cards” with stats like “Defence”, and the usual. These character cards are acquired through successful attacks or defences, since there’s also a levelling system thrown in. You can choose to set up “sentries” to defend X city, or send your people out for an attack — on bigger cities you have to organize with other people from your Order, too, so that you all attack the same spot to cause massive damage. While smart, it feels lacking, terribly. It is a good thought on paper, and admittedly, I gave it a shot, but I just couldn’t go back to it as regularly as I did with many other games, and it’s a shame considering how strong and capable both the engine and the handheld are.
The sounds were surprisingly familiar, but still, quality. The adventurous tone that is carried through each game of the series is still present, and is accompanied by strong voice acting, another characteristic of the series. Seeing how the game has to pull off four accents (!!!), sometimes at once, this has to be noted. You have French, Americans, British and Africans on the same scene, speaking the same language but in their way each, and not a single time was I distracted by how bad or out of the place anyone sounded — probably, there is some bad voice acting, but I was too immersed to notice, and that says a lot.
Now, we have to note some disappointing stuff that sometimes mar the, otherwise great, experience. Especially when in the Bayou, you will notice some framerate drops, and while they’re not severe, they do hold the game back and don’t let it shine. However, I still have to give Ubisoft props for their AnvilNext engine, and how greatly it was handled by the handheld, in general. Would it have been just that, the game would have scored more than what it did — but sadly, it’s not just that. I encountered some bugs in missions, like non-obedient or straight-out dumb AI, missing mission markers, or sound cutting off for a couple of seconds. I noted down that I had to restart from a checkpoint 4 times through the whole playthrough, while these bugs were more than double that in number, so if you play the game and encounter a bug like this, try to squash it yourself; slam into your AI companion, try jumping around or exiting the area, and if you see nothing works, simply restart from a checkpoint.
For those of you also owning Assassin’s Creed III on the Playstation 3, there’s some extras to grab. Connect the game (through the Extras menu) to its Playstation 3 sibling, and you get access to goodies like Connor’s tomahawk (which I, personally, used for the best part of the game).
Closing, keep in mind the game requires a Memory Card in order to be playable. If you’re interested in the game and don’t have a Vita, fear not; a special edition Crystal White wi-fi model comes bundled with the game. What’s the verdict, though? It is an amazing game, and an accomplishment for the Vita. A powerful, open world game which carries most of the mechanics its big brother has, and while it has its lows and technical problems, they are not enough to keep me away from it.
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