Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation review

When the end of October finally rolled around, gamers’ eyes were all on Assassin’s Creed 3. But what about AC3’s little sister? Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is the first AC game for the PS Vita and the first real portable version of the AC franchise.

Okay, so there have been other AC games for handhelds and smartphones, but they never came close to the experience of the real games. So how close does Liberation come to being a “real” Assassin’s Creed?

The game opens with an introduction from Abstergo. It’s a nice touch that implies you yourself are playing a game using your very own animus. It adds a bit of background to what’s happening whilst also making it clear that Desmond is busy elsewhere.

In Liberation you play Aveline, the daughter of a respectable Frenchman and a freed African slave. If that sounds like an interesting premise then you might be disappointed with what the story does with this. Nothing. The story is very underdeveloped, with Aveline starting out as an assassin with no real why or how.

The longer the game goes on the more it feels as if the writing team were trying to make something interesting but had to compromise at every step. In fact “compromise” is a word that can probably sum up a lot of this game.

The story jumps jarringly and never seems to flow very nicely. It doesn’t help that some characters apparently change their mind on a whim without any hint of their motivations. At least Aveline and her pals are likeable and even fun to listen to. The voice acting does a fairly good job for the most part.

Liberation’s big premise is that it utilizes the use of three “personas” that Aveline can change in to. There’s the “assassin”, a form that can fight and climb but is always on level 1 “notoriety”. If you’ve played the previous games then you will recognise the system that determines how quickly guards will notice you (blank to yellow and guards will generally leave you alone, red and you better run!).

The next personas is the “lady”, a smart appearance that raises little notice but can get mugged, can barely run and can’t climb. She can “charm” people to get jewellery or bribe guards to gain access to certain areas, but she’s such a drag that you’ll be rushing to the nearest dressing chamber to put on a different outfit.

Then finally there’s the “slave”, someone that can climb, is okay at fighting but most importantly can blend in with other slaves or pass by guards simply by carrying boxes (depending on her notoriety level).

It’s a fairly decent idea until you get stuck with a persona you never asked for. You’re offered more of a choice in later missions, though trust me, you’ll only be wearing that dress when the game forces it on you.

The big problem with the personas is one I realised fairly late in the game. I suspect the personas are the developers’ way of offering you that typical assassin’s gameplay but in a way the game can handle easily. It’s as if certain elements were chopped up and separated like the casual blending and the use of courtesans (who are sadly absent but let’s not dwell on what that says about me).

So what about the important bit? The part of the game that’s been the highlight since the beginning? Running along rooftops and jumping into the thinnest piles of hay like a crazy person. Honestly, the way the character runs and climbs is really quite impressive. It’s the one thing that will really make you feel like you’re playing an AC game. Even the controls are basically identical.

The Bayou map provides “nature” areas where all you have to climb are trees and branches in a style similar to the console big brother. The movement is fluid and the fun of climbing to the top of a church or exploring a cavern is still there, if a little diminished by the lack of a big city. Everything still looks pretty amazing; it’s just on a smaller scale.

The fighting system is similar to the other games too, though the counters can be tricky to get right. No doubt players will find a fighting style that suits them.

Also present are the side quests and mini games. The most irritating of which being the ones that crowbar in every little Vita trick. There’s something that uses the camera, touch screen and tilting functions for little to no purpose. They just seem out of place and don’t even work that well. A game involving rolling a ball through a tilting maze was just irritating because it never seemed to act in the way it should do, meaning you could probably close your eyes and get the same result.

There’s also a side quest where you send ships off to buy and sell goods on a map. Other than treasure chests it’s pretty much your only way to make money, so either get used to your beginning weapons or be prepared to waste some time.

In the past games there were always the “find the clues” or “solve the puzzles” side quests. The Desmond storyline has slowly been progressing throughout the games and has always been a clever way to link the games together. Whether you were a fan of the present day shenanigans or not, they at least helped to add the feeling that you were getting to the bottom of a big conspiracy.

It’s something that is absent from Liberation with the exception of a sideline where you have to find and assassinate “Citizen E”, a character that offers to show you the “truth”. Unfortunately it never feels as if these sections gain you anything and with Desmond and pals being absent, you miss out on that feeling of progression.

Liberation also suffers from a few bugs and glitches. It does nothing to harm the experience. Though characters randomly changing gender might give you the odd laugh. There are also some frame rate issues though it’s understandable with a game that looks as good as it does.

So, the final opinion? This is AC3’s little sister in every respect. It looks and acts the part whilst making a few compromises. It’s good fun to play, if a little short, mainly due to a lack of any real distractions.

For fans of the franchise I’d recommend giving it a look. If you’re waiting on that pesky PC release of AC3 it could also be a nice way to pass the time until that comes out later this month.

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