Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation

August 11, 2013

Assassin’s Creed III may have hogged all the glory last week, as it sold 3.5 million copies without breaking a sweat, but many might have overlooked the companion title that was released alongside it – Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. This may have been due to the fact that not many out there would have a PlayStation Vita to play it on, but for the twelve or so of you out there who actually have one of Sony’s pricey little portables, it’s a tempting title. Promising a full Assassin’s Creed experience on a handheld (forget Bloodlines, it’s for realsies this time), is this the game to convince you to finally pick up one of these bad boys?

Not quite. But, it’s a great addition to your library. Liberation takes place at around the same time as Assassin’s Creed III, in the late 18th century. However, this game focuses on New Orleans, and the female assassin Aveline de Grandpre, a girl of mixed race who enjoys a life of comfort thanks to the protection of her wealthy father. While she is a lady by day, by night she sneaks as a leather-clad femme fatale, freeing slaves and killing Templar baddies. While we don’t get as much backstory on Aveline as we do on Connor in AC3, she does have much more of a personality. She’s determined and practical, but also a flirt and not afraid to use her charm to beguile her targets.

The first half of the story is slow, but as you start uncovering details of a ‘Company Man’ in New Orleans and make trips to a slave colony in Chichen Itza, the game gets a little more interesting. At times, both Templars and Assassins are painted in poor and favourable colours, which is a nice change of pace from the ususal ‘Assassin Good – Templar Bad’ mentality.

The framing device for this story is a little more confusing. Most games in the Assassin’s Creedseries use the ‘Animus’ machine as a means of reaching into the genetic memory of the present-day Desmond, to re-live the experiences of his ancestors. This time, you’re experiencing an Abstergo (Templar) product, meant to show a grey area in their conflict with the Assassins. It just raises further questions… Who’s watching this product? Is it you, the player? Are you supposed to be using an Animus? Are Animuses mass-produced now? Or are they saying Abstergo made a PS Vita game? Ah, we’re just supposed to shut up and stop asking questions. It’s not like Assassin’s Creed has been making a lot of sense lately, anyway.

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If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed III, you’ll be right at home with Liberation. Aveline controls almost identically to Connor, with the same ability to climb walls as well as run through trees. Rather than the two cities and frontier country that Connor has to explore, Aveline has a truncated area. New Orleans is a smaller town, but Aveline also has access to the Bayou, analogous to (but half the size of) Connor’s frontier. There are excursions to Chichen Itza and New York, but these are more linear areas. Still, for what is presented, you do get a real free-roaming Assassin’s Creed experience, with all the side-quests, hiding places and assassinations you could ask for.

Aveline’s gameplay differs to her male counterparts in several ways – the most obvious being the ‘Persona’ or ‘Guise’ system (the game calls it both). Unlike other games, as an assassin your notoriety (or the ease at which you’re discovered by enemies) is always at low level. However, you can disguise yourself as a slave, or dress up as a cultured lady, to more easily pass by guards. Both these disguises come with a price – as a slave, your fighting ability is weakened, but you can start riots should you need to create a diversion. The lady disguise just completely loses the ability to climb, free run or fight with most weapons, but can charm guards into following you.

In theory, this is a great idea, but in practice it doesn’t work out so well. I hardly ever used the slave persona, except when it was required by the game – the ability to start riots is not as useful as having your full fighting ability, in my experience. Plus, the assassin outfit is just a lot cooler to roam around the city in. Early in the game especially, you’re often forced to use the lady persona for entire missions, which is extremely tiresome. Taking away the most entertaining aspect of the Assassin’s Creed games (the free running) does not lead to fun gameplay, and neither is it fun becoming the punching bag of male louts who you pass by in this guise (sadly realistic as it may be).

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Getting rid of notoriety is a pain as well. Rather than having the option of tearing down posters, bribing officials or killing witnesses, these methods are split up for the different personas. For instance, tearing down posters will only decrease the slave’s notoriety, while killing witnesses is bizarrely the way to lower the lady’s notoriety. Having to manage three notoriety bars is a chore, and overall the persona system just isn’t as much a success as it could have been.

Luckily, Aveline does get some pretty wizard weapons in the form of guns, a whip and (my favourite) a blowpipe. This blowpipe can be loaded up with different types of ammunition, to instantly kill a man or to send him beserk. It’s a really fun addition to the assassin arsenal, and is a much better weapon than the new signature tomahawks/axes.

Since this is a Vita game, that means we have to put up with a slew of Vita-exclusive gimmick mini-games. Unfortunately, they’re all pretty weak. They range from the ‘ungh’ moments of tearing open letters by sliding your fingers along the touchpads, to the almost unplayable ball maze, which relies on you tilting the Vita, yet seems to completely ignore your motions entirely. Another mini-game needs you to hold the Vita up to a light source to reveal a hidden map, but just doesn’t work at all (if you’re playing the game and are stuck in this part – just rotate the console in circles, somehow this seems to work).

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The game looks pretty decent, and New Orleans has a lot of detail in its streets, even if it lacks personality. I realise it’s a different time, but the city doesn’t exude the same atmosphere that games like, say, Gabriel Knight were dripping with. The framerate is a bit wonky, especially in action scenes, but cutscenes are well made, if inexplicably in soft focus. The music is all very nicely orchestrated and fits the period and mood well – but it’s very compressed, which is really disappointing.

Liberation is still absolutely worth picking up for your PS Vita, for the moments when you’re a full-fledged assassin running through the rooftops of New Orleans. There are some stumbles – the persona system doesn’t quite work and the Vita-exclusive mini-games could assist in the extraction of information from captured enemies of our nation. It’s still one of the most ambitious titles on the system, and a refreshing change of pace for series’ fans to control this sassy female killer.


Delivers on a proper portable Asssasin's Creed experience | Aveline's a pretty cool chick | Fun weapons | Grey-area story's not bad


Poor mini-games | Lady missions are boring | Personas/guises don't quite work

Overall Score: