Developer: Ubisoft Sofia
Medium: Vita Card / Digital
Assassin's Creed III Liberation has the distinction of being the first Assassin's Creed game for the PS Vita, the first Assassin's Creed starring a woman, and the first featuring a character of African (and French) descent. There's a lot of firsts going on in Assassin's Creed III Liberation, and the developer, Ubisoft Sofia, has deftly woven most of them into a solid, historical new Assassin's Creed adventure. Liberation, which is a parallel side-story of sorts to Assassin's Creed III proper, also comes at a great time for PS Vita owners looking for a portable yet console-quality adventure.
Aveline de Grandpré is the assassin protagonist of Assassin's Creed III Liberation, which is set roughly around the time during the end of the French and Indian War (1765 – 1780) in New Orleans. As with most Assassin's Creed titles, in Liberation, Ubisoft has focused on a main character with an interesting and unique background. Aveline is the daughter of a wealthy French merchant and an African woman, who has lived with her step-mother since her real mother's mysterious disappearance some years back. Growing up wealthy and privileged compared to many other individuals with similar backgrounds of her time, she was ordained into the Order of the Assassin for the purpose of fighting back against slavery. Her mission starts out straightforward enough, and then twists and turns out of control when the Spanish Empire and Templars gets involved.
For a portable game deemed a side-story or spin off, AC3 Liberation is definitely a polished, well put-together experience relative to the previous console versions of Assassin’s Creed as well as Assassin’s Creed III. As with LittleBigPlanet Vita and a good chunk of recent PS Vita releases, you’re getting nearly the full console experience in Liberation with features and controls tailored to the Vita’s unique abilities. Yes, there are some gimmicks here and there, such as hold your Vita up to a light source to decode a message, or tilt to solve a puzzle, but the primary controls are definitely on the traditional side or at least offer them as an alternative. Anything that requires the use of the rear touch surface it fairly hit or miss, but those are few and far between.
Personally, I felt that the controls in the recently released AC titles were becoming too convoluted, which had a negative impact on the free-flowing, parkour climbing and gameplay. With Assassin's Creed III Liberation, Ubisoft has gone back to the basics somewhat and the result is generally smoother-feeling, more intuitive gameplay and combat. Navigating the environments, cities and even trees and more organic structures is a breeze, and Aveline had hardly any issues doing what I expected her to do. The excellent Vita buttons and dual analog sticks certainly didn’t hurt.
Combat is also streamlined to an extent with the ability to attack with a weapon, kick and counter, along with long distance attacks utilizing a blowgun, musket and smoke bombs, for example. At one point Aveline also gains the ability to unleash a multi-attack sequence which requires you to tag several enemies with the touch screen. Speaking of touch screen, Ubisoft Sofia definitely put some thought into the touch-enabled UI, and popping open the weapon wheel or enlarging and interacting with the map works extremely well and is a nice upgrade over the console interface. It looks gorgeous also.
Visually, Assassin's Creed III Liberation is among the very best looking PlayStation Vita titles yet. It appears to run at native resolution, has texture work that rivals the console versions, and a framerate that holds up extremely well. The environments, both in cities and more rural areas such as the New Orleans bayou, are rendered beautifully. They may not be as dense as those found in the console games, but they are still breathtaking at times, especially when climbing to a viewpoint way above. The animation is fantastic and even some of the new movements from AC III (which shares the same engine) are present, such as Aveline stumbling up inclines and whatnot. There are plenty of dramatic lighting and weather effects as well, and as mentioned earlier, the user interface is sleek, intuitive and nicely designed.
AC3 Liberation plays down the whole virtual reality Animus angle somewhat which is perfectly fine by me. I prefer to stay in character throughout the game and avoid the pace killing “real world” sequences found in earlier titles. Users new to the series don’t need any knowledge of prior games to enjoy this Vita installment, so there’s no need to worry about that in any way. There’s also only a bit of crossover (in terms of story) for those who are also playing the PS3 version of ACIII, though there is a decent amount of cross-game unlockables. Even more interaction between the PS3 and Vita versions would have been nice however.
Ubisoft has promised the “full Assassin’s Creed experience” with Liberation, and that is mostly true. The Memory Sequence, syncing and mission structure in the game should definitely be familiar to those who have played any previous Assassin’s Creed titles. There are far less side-missions and distractions in this game though, especially compared to Brotherhood and Revelations. I personally had no problem with the more streamlined, story-driven sequences in the game, especially as a portable title. The missions themselves aren't as long and there are generous checkpoints throughout, so you never feel like you are bogged down at any given time. Assassinations of key figures are usually satisfying, although generally not particularly difficult or as dramatic as in other games in the franchise. Load times are also surprisingly swift and unobtrusive, and seem improved over any of the console versions.
One of the most unique features in Assassin's Creed III Liberation is the ability for Aveline to utilize “personas” at nearly any time. Basically, other than appearing in her assassin garb, she can change her clothes and disguise herself as an aristocrat lady or a slave, which impacts her abilities and how she is viewed in the game world. Some missions require her to assume the identity of one particular persona, but usually it’s the player choice to decide. As an assassin, Aveline has access to most of her abilities and weapons, but is looked upon in a generally neutral way in terms of reputation and stands out somewhat. As an aristocrat, Aveline wears a frilly dress and hat, and has very limited climbing and combat abilities. She is well loved though and is infrequently looked at as suspicious and can charm her way through difficult to access areas. On the other end of the scale is the slave girl persona which gives Aveline the ability to easily blend into crowds and to more efficiently climb and run, with the side-effect of being looked at as more suspicious with a worse reputation. Some missions can be tackled in different ways by utilizing the skills of each persona, and it’s possible to use all 3 in the span of a single mission depending on how it’s structured. Certain side-missions can only be accessed while in a particular persona as well. It’s an interesting twist to the standard AC formula and one that I expect may show up more in future games.
One thing that is missing from Assassin's Creed III Liberation is a real multiplayer mode. The game features what feels like a tacked-on, asynchronous multiplayer mode, which ends up being more like a turn by turn game of checkers utilizing the system’s GPS functionality. Essentially, you take over “nodes” in your area and earn game bonuses. On one hand, it’s nice that they tried to put together something a bit different and more tailored to a portable experience, on the other hand, the Vita can easily handle actual online multiplayer. Either way, I never felt that the Assassin’s Creed series needed multiplayer, though now that it’s missing, it’s worth pointing out.
Ubisoft also squeezed in a ship trade mini-game that is barely touched upon in the game. You can buy and sell goods at ports to earn a profit, all while upgrading ships and hoping they survive undamaged while traveling from port to port. It’s a bit of a throwaway mode that might keep you occupied for a few minutes, if you even remember to access it from your Assassin HQ to check your progress.
All in all, Assassin's Creed III Liberation is another excellent console-style release for the PlayStation Vita, and fans of the series who own a PS Vita shouldn't overlook it. It’s not as full-featured as the console version, but it makes up for it with a more streamlined experience, an interesting main character and story, and plenty of unique gameplay ideas.