Originally released more than a year ago, Assassin’s Creed Liberation was pegged as a heavy hitter for Sony’s shiny new handheld. Complete with its own open world and a bold new protagonist, there were high hopes for the PlayStation Vita exclusive.
For the most part Liberation delivered on its promises; despite a few omissions and alterations it genuinely felt like a full-on Assassin’s Creed experience. However, behind its show of technical prowess, there was little on offer. Liberation was more or less a redux of its console counterparts, whatever new ideas it brought to the table being mostly half-baked. Bundle this in with a disjointed narrative and what you got was a fun game yet one that didn’t quite live up to its potential.
Roll on fifteen months and Liberation is back once more, this time showcased in high definition for now last-gen platforms. In this time Ubisoft hasn’t gone back to reinvent the whole game. No, as the name suggests, this is a simple port from handheld to console, albeit one that fans of the series will still want to try.
Set in eighteenth-century New Orleans, Liberation whips up a tale of slavery, revolution, and Templar deceit. Through the eyes of Aveline de Grandpre, you will venture beyond the city and into the Bayou as well as the Mayan settlement of Chichen Itza. Throughout your journey you will go from initiate to master while trudging through a web of lies and plot twists.
It sounds intriguing, even if it does follow the same template passed down from previous iterations. However, after one or two sequences the story becomes hard to follow. As in Assassin’s Creed III, characters come and go in an instant and it isn’t long before the thread is lost and almost impossible to pick up again.
The only redeeming factor is Aveline herself. She may be the first female assassin to join the series’ ranks but this doesn’t override the experience. Instead of being overtly sexualised or feminine, her gender traits are applied subtly and have no real weight on how the game plays out. It’s just a shame that the journey she embarks on is quite forgettable.
Gameplay and mechanics mostly derive from Assassin’s Creed III with its revised stealth and combat mechanics. Bar one or two innovations, such as the whip and blowpipe, it’s exactly what fans would expect though on a slightly smaller scale, geographically speaking.
The two marquee features championed by Liberation are its Persona and Chain-Kill systems. The latter, which can be activate upon filing an on-screen gage, allows players to idly select targets as time stops after which Aveline dispatches of them automatically. In truth it’s actually kind of helpful but just feels out of place, though not quite as much as Persona.
This offending inclusion gives players the option to switch between three appearances, each with their own pros and cons. Aveline can alternate between her Assassin’s garb, a slave outfit, and the rather elegant lady’s attire. The differences between the first two are minor yet the lady persona cannot sprint or even climb the smallest of obstacles. What’s worse is that players have to visit designated areas on the map just to switch which the Persona they want. Most would agree that disguises are something that the Assassin’s Creed franchise needs though not in such a contrived, exhaustive way.
Content-wise, you can expect to get a solid eight to ten hours from the campaign alone. It may not be as long as other entries in the series though there are still plenty of side missions and collectibles to work your way through. During its transition from handheld to console online multiplayer has been dropped but it’s no biggy. Essentially it had players trawling through menus for hours on end with no sense of meaning or reward.
What most gamers will be interested it just how well Liberation holds up visually. On Vita it was great looking game, especially when you consider the mass of people milling around all at once. On consoles it’s more or less the same. Textures yield enhanced detail and lighting is more dynamic and realistic all-round. Some character models have also seen a moderate boost though facial animation is still limited and stiff. The only thing that doesn’t work well are the blocky buildings and structures placed around New Orleans; from above the city looks regimented and inorganic.
In-depth analysis aside, there still remains a rather large, eyepatch-wearing elephant in the room. You see, no matter how good of a port Liberation is, last year’s Black Flag is leagues ahead, putting both it and Assassin’s Creed III to shame.
It just seems a bit odd that Ubisoft didn’t get around to porting Liberation sooner. Given the game’s moderate success on Vita and the ongoing “HD upgrade” trend, a Summer release back in 2013 would have been much more suitable.
Even with a one-year gap between them, there are enough similarities between Liberation and Black Flag to recommend the former. It’s certainly not the best game in the franchise though does open up yet another chapter in the Assassin’s Creed saga. Still, those who have become particularly attached to Black Flag may find it hard to hoist up their sails and touch down in New Orleans.